Kyle Kuzma's elite self-marketing skills stem from Facebook-messaging college coaches
How Kyle Kuzma learned to market himself originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
From pink sweaters to knit ski masks to appearances at New York Fashion Week, Kyle Kuzma’s knack for self-marketing and branding is nearly as big a part of his basketball career as his play on the court.
But the Wizards forward didn’t just have these opportunities fall into his lap. Rather, he had to learn how to make his name more recognizable. It was the result of two factors: lack of attention from college recruiters as a basketball recruit in high school, and the financial pressure from growing up poor.
“I just always been naturally like a hustler,” Kuzma told Chris Miller on the Off the Bench Podcast. “Ever since I’ve grown up, just trying to figure it out growing up poor, trying to make money. Trying to get money to ride the bus, trying to work at McDonald’s – I've done it all. I think I just understand kinda what works and what people kinda like.”
Kuzma grew up in Flint, Michigan, and his family's financial conditions growing up have been well-documented. Once he inked his first big contract in the NBA, his first move was to buy his mother and grandmother a new home to get them “out of the places we used to live in.”
Kuzma’s currently in the second season of a three-year, $39 million deal he signed with the Lakers in 2020. Having made it big in the NBA, it’d be easy to assume that Kuzma was a highly touted recruit out of high school and had his professional pathway forged for him at an early age.
That is not the case. Kuzma had to get creative just to get college coaches to watch his film.
“I didn’t have no [college] offers. I didn’t have nobody really looking at me, so I used to Facebook message coaches all across the country, whether it was D-I, D-II, D-III because I didn’t have anything. I just wanted to play basketball and go to college and get out of Flint,” Kuzma said.
“I would go on university websites and look at the coaches and I would find them on Facebook, and I would just copy and paste a long letter trying to introduce myself, show them what I can do, my scoring averages. I’d send them a little highlight tape and hope to get a response. I got a few during that time. I think [my marketing ability] always goes back to there, and just being proactive and just trying to make it.”
Lo and behold, a growth (and scoring) spurt during his last year of high school finally got Kuzma noticed by the University of Utah, where he would go on to play for three seasons. One thing that drew the forward to the Utes was not only their scholarship offer, but the fact that they showed they loved him.
"I’m really big on just being places where I’m loved,” Kuzma said.
Fast forward nine years, Kuzma is a critical piece of Washington’s rotation as a starting forward where he averages 21.2 points and 3.9 assists in just over 35 minutes per game – all career highs. Paired with Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, Kuzma looks to have found his niche as he’s often given the freedom to utilize his size and athleticism to power the Wizards’ offense.
Kuzma could be in line for another payday this offseason if he decides to enter free agency, but his contracts alone have never been a sole source of income. Dating back to his days as a rookie in L.A., he relied on the marketing talents he was forced to cultivate as a kid in Michigan and a few creative nicknames to make ends meet.
“Kuzmania made me a lot of money,” Kuzma said. “My rookie year I made $1.4 million because that was my rookie scale contract. Living in L.A., that’s really not a lot of money. So I had an idea and made some t-shirts, Kuzmania t-shirts. I probably made $800,000 or $700,000 off the t-shirts in the first year…I’m just a hustler, man.”