Zaza Pachulia called it a career this past offseason. After 16 years, the veteran big man and two-time NBA champion hung up his sneakers, put on a suit, and took on his next challenge. For Pachulia, this involved heading back to the Golden State Warriors, the franchise with which he won both of his rings during the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals. He left the Dubs in the 2018 offseason, but after a year in Detroit, Pachulia came back to the Bay Area to join Golden State as a consultant. It’s still early on in the experience, but Pachulia is getting a sense for a number of things that go into working for a basketball team.
“We were so spoiled as players, because they would provide us something already decided — thought about it, discussed, and decided,” Pachulia told Dime over the phone. “We never knew what was taking place behind the scenes, who were the people making decisions, or coming up with ideas? So sitting in the room with smart people, people who work very hard, it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty interesting.”
Pachulia has also gotten to explore some off-court interests, too. The Georgia native is the first brand ambassador for Crosty, a sneaker company started by a pair of Georgian brothers, George and Shota Mikaia. Pachulia learned about them following the Warriors’ title in 2017, when they sent him a pair of kicks to celebrate the championship, and now, he’s hopped on board as the company works to make its name stateside.
Dime caught up with Pachulia to talk the new chapter in his career, working with Crosty, and how fashion in the NBA evolved over his career.
What all went into your decision to retire this offseason?
This summer it was different than any previous time with so many free agents, with 40 percent of NBA players being free agents this year. There was a lot of movement, lot of players changing teams. Really, it was hard to keep up with what team what player was going to. And now, watching the games, it’s, “Oh, gosh, this guy is on a different team with different uniforms.” So, a lot of players were free agents, and the game changed, it became very young and a lot of teams want young. Obviously with the draft, you have a new 60 players coming in. To maintain a spot is pretty competitive.
Just to give you a little view of the league of this summer. For me, having a family, obviously … it didn’t come up, anything that was good for me and my family and my future, and meanwhile, I had an offer from the Warriors that was very, very interesting. Obviously at some point I was going to face the decision where I had to call it, so being 35 years old, either this year or next year, it was going to come. I knew that, and having the opportunity to join with the Warriors and start my second chapter with this amazing experience with this amazing team and franchise, it definitely motivated me. Nobody showed up where it was going to be interesting for me and my family, so I looked at my future and said, “You know what? It might be the time for me to go on.” So that’s what happened. Kirk Lacob, who has been a friend of mine, offered me the position where I am right now. It was very interesting and very motivating.
You always hear guys say stuff like, “It was my time, I listened to my body and it said this.” It sounds to me like you thought you had another year or so in you, is that a safe assumption?
Honestly, I wanted to, but like I said, with the right opportunity, with the right team.
Well, fortunately you landed in a really good spot. Was it something you had talked about with the Warriors front office, joining them some day? Or did it just present itself this summer and that made your decision to call it a career easier?
To be honest, I was aiming for staying in basketball in a front office, but I didn’t know what team. The last couple of years, every summer, I’ve been going to different schools to get an education from the business side. This summer, actually, I went to the NBA office for a job shadow, went there for a couple days. Met with every single department I possibly could and got a lot of knowledge and experience in that regard.
But I didn’t know the Warriors were gonna be the team who would offer me to join. I was really concentrated on playing every year, I was practicing and playing over the summer. It just … I dunno, it was great. It was very important, actually, to learn from the best, and when we’re talking about the president of the Warriors, Rick Welts, who has had an amazing career, Hall of Famer, worked in the NBA for a long time and then being the president of the Warriors. You can learn so many things from him, and from Bob Myers, and from Steve Kerr, and from Kirk as well, ownership. You have so many professionals in every department, you can definitely learn a lot from these guys.
And that’s my goal in this first year. Obviously, yes, I have 16 years of experience in the locker room from playing, but this is totally different, and that was my goal, to learn as much as possible from different angles, either the business side, basketball side, coaching, maybe I’ll be doing TV as well, calling the games and stuff. It’ll be a pretty interesting year, and since day one, I’ve been taking a lot of notes, asking a lot of questions, and learning a lot of good things.
Can you take me into what this role is and what you hope to accomplish? Is getting out on the practice floor and setting bruising screens on whoever’s checking Steph part of it?
Regarding practice, since I started working for the Warriors, I’ve practiced like three or four times, either individually or with the team. But my role is not anything specific, to be honest. I’m all over the place. What I mean by all over the place is with the business side, the basketball side, players don’t attend meetings. Sometimes meet with the coaches, attend the coaches meeting. I’ll be doing TV as well, I wanna do 10 games this year on TV. I’m doing a lot of community stuff, being an ambassador for the team, going to different events. At the same time, spending time with family. It’s a pretty good schedule for this year, because like I said, I want to learn as much as possible and see this business from different angles and know this business from different angles.
And if you look at the game on the court, it’s pretty similar. As many positions as you can play and you can understand, the better player you are, so kind of having that mentality, that I have to be great in every single aspect. But to have some kind of basic knowledge of what’s going on in business, or ticket sales, or talking to sponsors and how to sell them suites or sponsorships. Or the community, what the fans feel, what the fans expect or want from you, TV, analytics, the coaches. Obviously everybody is so focused on trying to do the best job as possible, and to have all this experience, I think it’s important. It’s only gonna make you better and more knowledgeable.
How did everything with Crosty come up and what’s your role with them?
So we won the first championship and I got a box, actually. When I opened the box, I pull out some pretty cool sneakers. They were from something I’ve never heard of, and I knew I didn’t order them, but it was my size, it was clear it was my size. I was surprised, I wasn’t expecting it. Apparently, my wife was in touch with the Crosty team and they wanted to surprise me, they asked her her shoe size and they got my size in these sneakers … there was a nice sign over there saying congratulations for winning the championship and representing Georgia, we support you. I still have the paper.
So then I asked my wife if she knew anything about this, and she said yes, it’s a Georgian brand called Crosty. They reached out to her, they wanted to surprise me. Since then … apparently it’s the first shoe brand from Georgia, and Georgia’s known for fashion — so many great, talented designers came from that country. But it’s the first sneaker brand, and I liked wearing it, it was so comfortable, it was so cool, I loved it because I was wearing it with casual outfits or suits, and I was getting a lot of compliments. Once I went to Georgia and said I wanna meet these people, the people behind the scenes, thank them for the gift and also, at the same time, they made good quality shoes, so maybe we could do something together.
I met with them, it wasn’t that difficult to reach out to them, so I met with them. We sat down and once I heard their stories and once I met the people behind it, how motivated, how talented, how hard-working of people they were, and the visions they had — one of the things, they wanted to go to the U.S. market — it was very interesting to me to partner up. The feeling was mutual, and it didn’t take us a long time to tell each other we wanted to partner up. And that’s what happened, I’ll be proudly representing the Crosty team and our values about freedom — our core values are very similar, the same vision, and we compliment each other, I think. I’m part of the team, I’m part of Crosty right now.
How important is it to you to support a business from Georgia?
I’ve been doing that since I left my country to play basketball, I’ve been representing my country. If you remember, we won the championship and I pulled out a flag and represented Georgia, dedicating the success because those people have been supporting me my whole career, I’m very thankful for it. The love is mutual between Georgia and myself, and it’s gonna continue like that.
Once I saw this kind of company exists back in Georgia — and to be honest, it doesn’t matter, wherever you are, I thought it was a pretty cool story what they’re doing, and I just wanted to be a part of this story and part of the business. I know it’s very competitive to be in the sneaker industry, but I think as of today, story is the key and is important. And those two brothers, George and Shota Mikaia, have the story how they came up with this idea and the way through, basically, to get the business started and get the brand going. It was pretty cool, and I just wanted to be a part of it, and it’s even sweeter that happened in my country and those guys are my countrymen, because we understand each other better.
How proud are you that a Georgian business is going global?
Georgians, we have a kind of mentality and we have the kind of traditions where we support each other, we’re happy for each other. You probably remember, 2016 or 2017, NBA voting, how much support I got from my country without me asking for help or for voting. I got more than 1.5 million votes and the country’s only 3.5 million people, so you can tell what’s our support level and how we have each other’s backs.
It’s always great to see when someone’s doing good things, it doesn’t matter what industry you are — if you’re in fashion, entertainment, sport, whatever it is, it’s always good to hear, because those people who are representing Georgia outside of the country are opening doors for others, inspiring others to follow their path. I always say that’s one of the reasons why I love this game, I’m so thankful for the career and opportunity I had, because I feel like representing my country, a lot of kids got inspired from there and started playing basketball. They drop the phones and computers and got away from the screens and decided, “I want to be a basketball player.” That’s the best compliment, to me, that’s what makes me most proud.
Crosty brand, I hope, that’s the case as well. I know it’s only the beginning right now, it’s only been three years, four years since Crosty was born, obviously there’s a lot of work to do, but that’s what I bring to this team, the championship mentality of how to succeed, how hard to work, and to inspire other young Georgian fashionistas or talented designers to pursue their dreams and keep working hard every single day, to open the door to introduce the world to Georgian fashion. So this is exciting, I’m really excited for the opportunity and I’m really proud of these guys, whatever they went through and how dedicated they are and how motivated they are, the story they have is pretty cool.
Basketball and fashion are two things that kind of go hand-in-hand. Has that been an interest of yours over your career?
Believe it or not, yes, actually I was the editor of SLAM Magazine’s fashion part, where every week, we’d put up pictures of basketball players and judge them on what they’re wearing. That was pretty fun. I was nominated for one of the best-dressed NBA players one of those years. It was pretty cool, actually. Being from Europe, I always dressing up properly and nice and I can’t say that I was the best dressed, but it definitely motivated me for the game. Entering the game, when you feel good and confident, when you look good — because, obviously, you’re in a spotlight, the whole world is watching you, you’re representing yourself and feeling good about it — it meant a lot to me.
We all have different personalities, so we’re all motivated from different things. That was one of my motivations. I always took it serious, what I was wearing. I don’t wanna say I was spending a lot of time thinking about it, but I was putting a lot of effort, basically, to make sure I was dressed up right, properly, and looking good. That’s been going on throughout my NBA career and now as part of this amazing brand.
You’re a guy who, over your career, had a whole lot of teammates. I don’t wanna know who had the best fashion sense, but who had the wildest fashion sense of any teammate that you had?
Oh, wow, yeah, you’re right, playing for 16 years and six different teams, obviously it’ll tell you that I had a lot of teammates. I would go to my old days, first days in the league, back then, style was different. Even style on the court was different, everyone was trying to wear the bigger size — including me, I just pulled out some outfit from my rookie, second, third year that was like a five XL t-shirt that I was wearing for practice.
Back then, baggy stuff, large clothes was pretty hot, pretty in style. Etan Thomas would always come out with interesting outfits, I remember that. Etan is one of the good teammates I had, I was lucky to play with him, he’s one of the greatest persons that I played with. But his style was killing me, all the colorful sweaters. It was weird, to me, it was something I would never wear, but that’s someone that came to my mind.