New Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan had a long and winding road to his first season coaching in the NBA.
Though he became famous as a college head coach with the University of Florida, Donovan had many stops before that, including a brief period as a stock broker on Wall Street.
Donovan went on The Oklahoman’s “Thunder Buddies” podcast with Anthony Slater and Darnell Mayberry and discussed the time he spent working on Wall Street.
After playing under Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino at Providence college, and playing a short stint in the NBA, Donovan was waived by the New York Knicks in 1988 and gave up on basketball after playing for a few CBA teams. He told Slater and Mayberry that people told him ex-athletes often have success on Wall Street, and one day, the father of one of the Knicks’ ball boys was starting a brokerage firm and offered Donovan a position.
Donovan said everything from the location, to studying for the Series 7 exam, to his day-to-day duties made him unhappy:
“I’m sitting in this room, it’s like just like desks against the walls, I’m having to study for this Series 7 exam, I’m having to go to these night classes, and I’m working downtown on Wall Street. And, like, from seven o’clock in the morning until, like, four o’clock in the afternoon, they’re having me cold-call, and they give me these stack of cards. So, Joe Smith from this company on wherever it is — from Dallas, Texas — and I’m trying to get this guy on the phone. And I’m like, ‘OK, I’m pushing what stock? And what does this stock do? Why is this thing gonna do well?’
“And I’m like, ok, I’m asking this guy for money. First thing, I don’t even really know what — I’m just hoping what they’re telling me about this stock being good is good, and it’s just… So, I end up passing my Series 7, and I’m like, I cannot see myself doing this the rest of my life, there’s no way.”
Donovan said one night after a Knicks game, he caught up with Pitino, who was now coaching the team. He told Pitino he was unhappy on Wall Street, and Pitino had a blunt response:
“He told me I’m crazy, he told me to stay down on Wall Street. He told me ‘You don’t wanna coach. You don’t wanna do this.’
“And I’m like, “Listen, I don’t wanna [continue working on Wall Street]. I don’t like this.'”
Pitino told Donovan he was going to start coaching at University of Kentucky, and that while he couldn’t hire Donovan for a job, he could bring him on as a graduate assistant while Donovan went to grad school. Donovan said he got married that summer and when his honeymoon was over, drove right to Lexington, Kentucky, to begin the position.
Donovan estimated his entire tenure on Wall Street lasted from about January 1 to May 1. He added, “It just wasn’t for me at all.”
Donovan then proceeded to carve out a successful career as a college coach. He won two national championships at Florida, and nearly joined the Orlando Magic as head coach in 2007 before backing out and returning to Florida. Now he enters the NBA coaching the Thunder, a team many expect to compete for a championship this year.
Based on Donovan’s displeasure with Wall Street, it’s clear that he made the right choice to return to basketball as a coach, even if he ignored advice from a Hall of Famer like Rick Pitino.
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