Before the game between the Houston Rockets and the World Champion San Antonio Spurs on December 9, 2004, everyone knew Tracy McGrady was a baller, one of the best. A seven-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA selection, he was named scoring champion twice.
He finished his career averaging roughly 20 points per game, and in 2017 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But on December 9, 2004, in the final minute, McGrady did what no one – not Michael, nor Kobe, nor Lebron – had done before him. With his team down by 12, he scored 13 points in 35 seconds for the win.
Now he and business partner Grant Haas of the prestigious investment capital firm Haas Portman Family Office are teaming with CRAVE CEO Charles Kim to launch 13N35, a new brand that takes its name from McGrady’s most epic moment on the court.
“There’s so much more that I can do. And on the business level is where I want to excel. We got a lot of great things brewing in the business world right now,” McGrady says about his post-NBA career.
13N35’s debut product is a shoulder bag that’s smaller than a backpack but larger than a fanny pack. It stores sundry items like your wallet, keys, and there’s even a plug to charge your phone, yet it’s large enough to fit a change of clothes.
A limited-edition roll out in China and the U.S. happens this week (on-line only at 13N35.com), just in time for Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year. A product teaser streamed live from McGrady’s court at his home in Houston last December reached 1.5 million viewers in China. Testing the waters, 13N35 sold 1,000 bags in 15 minutes.
“Social media drives everything,” says Charles Kim, whose business model dispenses with the traditional notion of a brand spokesperson, instead making the celebrity himself the brand. “We get lots of authentic content from Tracy. One of the posts did ten million views. It’s all about storytelling and how that story engages with the Chinese fans and audience. We’re telling a story and not just selling a product. We build the brand around your story.”
Under CRAVE’s analysis, China has over 900 million internet users, with social media, payment solutions, and eCommerce markets averaging 600 percent larger than the U.S. Online transactions in the U.S. average $49.3 billion annually. In China, that number exceeds $15.1 trillion. CRAVE has in place critical social media and eCommerce partnerships including Tencent Open Media, Douyin, WeChat, Weibo, Bytedance, Alibaba, AliSport, Youku, Alipay and JD.com.
“From the ideation of the brand all the way to manufacturing, distribution marketing, social media, it’s a turnkey solution. We handle everything,” says Kim, a former Investment Banker.
After seven years as Managing Director at China Renaissance Group, a leading financial institution in China, he founded CRAVE in 2019. “All I’m doing is leveraging a population that’s a billion and a half people, that’s five times the size of the U.S.”
CRAVE is designed to be a full-service platform offering global celebrities from all disciplines an entry into the Chinese market at no cost to themselves. “We are going to solve one problem – help the amazing celebrities monetize their massive fans in China and help them build their own brand and IP. I can literally add any celebrity, basketball, soccer, music, actor, as long as you have fans,” says Kim.
“I keep telling them You are the brand. What social media has done is the ability for the celebrities to connect directly to their fans without someone in the middle. They have the channel to build their own brand and IP now. In the biggest consumer market in the world, no one was helping them in China, so we created CRAVE to solve that problem.”
What makes McGrady the ideal candidate to straddle both markets isn’t just that he played a season for the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles in China, or that there are 500 million NBA fans in China, but that he was all-star Houston Rockets’ center Yao Ming’s teammate. Ming was on the court the night McGrady pulled off his miraculous 13N35 feat.
“You feel like you’re in that zone,” McGrady recalls. “You make two shots, especially my second three that I hit was a four-point play. When you hit that over a seven footer like Tim Duncan, your confidence is through the roof and you feel like you can’t miss. You just don’t know what you're really capable of. That night was just one of those nights. If you don’t take from that game to never give up, then I don't know what you need to be inspired. That applies to all fields, not just basketball, life in general.”
McGrady was a baller from a young age, often riding his bike across town to find a court to play on. He crushed it on high school teams, including Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, North Carolina, which became the number two-ranked school in the country under his leadership. From there, he graduated directly into the NBA.
“There was a mental adjustment that I had to make, cause back then it was a grown man’s league. Nowadays the league is pretty young. Back then, the jump from high school to pros was mental more than it was physical. Make an adjustment from being the man on your high school team and then you come to a man’s league.”
As McGrady went on to NBA greatness, Haas pursued monetary greatness at the family firm, with investments in Tesla, Uber China, Gyft, and Savara Pharmaceuticals to name a few.
He is also one of the world's preeminent business strategists. Introduced by a mutual friend, the two hit it off immediately and soon became business partners. In 2019 they launched a financial advisory program to help athletes avoid the monetary pitfalls that might come with retirement. You could say it’s McGrady’s way of giving back, helping young men navigate a slippery business.
Another way of giving back is putting a portion of the earnings from the 13N35 bag toward building playgrounds and basketball courts in underserved neighborhoods.
“I don’t want to just be remembered as a basketball player. If that is the case, then I will have failed in life,” says McGrady. “I don’t want to be remembered as that.”