Baron Davis: Bringing Athletes to Web3

The ex-NBA point guard is teaching sports clients to engage with communities using crypto tech.

AccessTimeIconMar 17, 2023 at 9:54 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 28, 2023 at 2:27 p.m. UTC

For National Basketball Association fans of a certain age (raises hand), we remember Baron Davis as the electric point guard who, in 2007, led the Golden State Warriors to a stirring upset over the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks. Davis was fearless and feisty and knew how to fire up a crowd.

He still does. Or, more accurately, since he has pivoted to entrepreneurship Davis has worked to excite and engage communities across a range of projects – offline and online and now Web3. With The Black Santa Company, Davis launched a mix of block parties, games, mixed-media stories, apparel, books and non-fungible tokens (NFT) to celebrate diverse and inclusive storytelling.

This interview is part of CoinDesk's Culture Week.

The Black Santa Company is a multi-hyphenate – lots of different things at once – much like Davis himself. He can rap, he can act, he can cook up savvy business plans. That was tougher for athletes to do 20 years ago. “When I was making beats and rapping, you couldn't put out an album as a basketball player,” says Davis in a Zoom interview. “Now, 20 different athletes have albums out and their fans support them.”

So as more athletes are becoming creators, Davis is building Web3 tools to empower creators and help them engage with their communities. Enter his newest venture, SLiC, which stands for Sports Lifestyle in Culture. Ultimately, Davis envisions SLiC as a multi-hyphenate mix of platform, production studio, community hub, publisher and streamer that connects fans and creators.

One of the first verticals Davis will launch is SLiC Images, which aims to be a decentralized platform, file storage product and licensing system for photographers – pros and amateurs alike. “If a picture says 1,000 words, we want to capture history now because in blockchain and Web3 those words can live for 1,000 years,” says Davis, who opens up about the goals of SLiC, how he sees athletes using social tokens and utility tokens in the future, and why even in the bear market, despite all the negative press, NBA players who know web3 are “still excited about it.”

Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Let’s start with The Black Santa Company. Was that part of your journey to NFTs and Web3?

Baron Davis: We were out pitching Hollywood every day. Some producer, director or studio exec. Finally, we got an offer from a studio and they told me that they would pay for me to basically not be attached to the project for two years while they develop it.

And I was like, "Well, I have this whole vision for being able to bring in a group of creators.” And because of who Black Santa is, this should feel communal and we should be able to license the IP to small businesses.

Right. You wanted a seat at the table.

I didn't want to go around Hollywood with the Hollywood elites and sell out my brand, sell out my community, sell out my culture.

And then NFTs came along. So that’s how Web3 came about. It was like, “Let’s make Web3 and NFTs simple for our community.”

What are the goals of SLiC Images, and what problem is it solving?

The problem we're solving is, one, photographers never had a marketplace. Another one is, think about the way that photos are shared and the way people take photos and random photos and selfies at conferences or basketball games. When you look at the LeBron [James] shot [breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record], everybody in the arena had their camera out. There are 1,000 pictures of LeBron's last shot. With SLiC, you could see, nominate and identify certain photos to use and license.

Ah, so in theory, SLiC would be a platform for everyone in the arena to store their photos, on-chain, and they would truly own them and could license them, as opposed to just giving them to Instagram?

Absolutely. If a picture says 1,000 words, we want to capture history now because in blockchain and Web3, those words can live for 1,000 years. So we look at that and say, "Well, SLiC Images should be the database where you can go back to 2023, 20 years from now, and type in a date and then all of your photos will pull up and they belong to you."

Interesting. So is this almost a competitor to Instagram, in a weird way?

Yeah, it's just a longer process [with Instagram]. If you were shooting a documentary, or if you wanted to use a photo for a flyer, right?, our goal is to create a database for those photographers, those galleries, those publishers. And now the next great documentary or Hollywood movie or festival will have the ability to have access to the photos.

Smart. What has it been like to launch this in the bear market?

I think it has greatly affected us. We’re just a small design shop, right? We haven’t had the greatest visibility. So as we were coming out the market was crashing. But we're builders.

I’m sure you’re still in touch with NBA players. What would you say their attitude is now about crypto and Web3? Have they soured on it in the bear market?

I would say for the ones that know and understand it, they're still excited about it. I think they're waiting for the right opportunity and the right platform.

For us, we want to invest in culture and we want culture to have a seat at the table of ownership, so it's a true partnership. Because I would like to buy an NFT, an image, a highlight, a photo, a trading card knowing that it's coming from the players in some way, or from someone who was actually a part of it, right?

As opposed to just uploading my picture to Instagram and waiting 10 years to figure out if I'm ever gonna get paid for content that I don't own anymore.

You’ve commented on utility tokens in the past and how you see them as distinct from social tokens. Can you elaborate?

Oh, man, I will give you all the sauce. So there's two use cases for tokens, I believe. For us, from the SLiC side of things, the social tokens allow you to socially interact with talent and content and experiences, things like that. You can earn perks, you know what I mean? You can earn and win auditions, tryouts and things of that nature. Because you're a participant, you may not have the resources, right? You may not have the financial resources but you have the talent, and there's a way to get to know people socially through social media and enjoy their work. So I believe social tokens allows you into the community.

Utility tokens are your membership, right? That means that you're a part of something. You can bid on things. You can use your tokens to participate in things. You can use your tokens to support projects. So really, when you think about utility, you think about participation.

Some people buy tokens to hold them, right? Some people buy tokens to use them. And some people buy tokens because they want to see what's going on. And so for us, as we start working through our token structure it's more so about the utility.

What’s your prediction for how athletes will use tokens? Do you think this will be widely used?

Well, if I'm predicting SLiC and if I'm predicting the future I do believe that if the token is the utility, and if we look at the evolution of the internet, if we look at the evolution of a blog site or a fan page or Instagram or followings, we are communal in nature.

Our biggest responsibility as athletes is, in no particular order, to our family, the game, our team, the city and then the fans. And you know that the fans are who make you feel good about your work. So I feel like the athletes have the ability to create an infrastructure and a system through SLiC, right?, where they can interact with their fans through their token.

So is this type of token a future vertical for SLiC?

That’s the future SLiC. That’s also the now of SLiC, you know what I mean?

Think about the New Age athlete. Back in the day, when I was making beats and rapping, you couldn’t put out an album as a basketball player. Now, 20 different athletes have albums out and their fans support them.

And as people [athletes who are also entertainers] start realizing, “I have to align myself with a community,” we want to be that destination.

Let me take a stab at synthesizing this. You point out an important cultural trend, that over the past 10 or 20 years athletes now have the ability, the agency and the tools to be creators in many different facets of their lives. Even if crypto didn’t exist, that was already happening in a broader trend. And Web3 can help accelerate this trend by removing friction from the system and empowering them to have true ownership and engage with their community? And SLiC can help with this. Am I warm?

Absolutely. I love how you worded it. I’m glad this is being recorded. [Both laugh.]

Before we wrap up, what other projects excite you in the space?

I would say on the gaming side, metaverses. We have a project, “History of the Game,” where our goal is to build the digital Hall of Fame of storytelling for basketball. We have a mini-documentary, and you’ll be able to walk around and watch this documentary in a digital tunnel.

Do you want me to show you? I can show you?

Hell yeah.

[Over our Zoom, using his phone, Baron Davis then gives me a sneak peak of a mini-documentary of LeBron James passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time scoring record. Davis directed it. He explains that it’s just a rough cut. It’s an immersive doc that you watch as you walk through a Hall of Fame-esque tunnel, with videos playing on both sides of you.]

This is really cool.

This will ultimately live in the metaverse that we’re building. It’s where we’ll store the work that we’ve done. And now we can create the NFTs in our metaverse. So SLiC, as a production entity, creates these assets, and then these assets of storytelling can now get ported into our museum. We can have award shows, concerts, or special storytelling in a virtual environment.

Congrats on this, and best of luck to you and SLiC.


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Jeff  Wilser

Jeff Wilser is the author of 7 books including Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life, The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden, and an Amazon Best Book of the Month in both Non-Fiction and Humor.