November 22, 2013

Ex-NBA Star Detlef Schrempf: From Top Scorer to Top Advisor

The former Pacers and Sonics star talked with ThinkAdvisor about his second act at Athlon Ventures and Coldstream Capital Management

Detlef Schrempf modeling a new Sonics uniform back in his playing days in 1995. (Photo: AP) Detlef Schrempf modeling a new Sonics uniform back in his playing days in 1995. (Photo: AP)

Detlef Schrempf has always been a man on the move.

From the time his family moved to Washington state from his native Germany when he was 17, to college and professional basketball stardom and a new career in the financial and philanthropic worlds, the three-time NBA all-star has never stopped.

As his basketball career was nearing its end, Schrempf, who is now director of business development at Coldstream Capital Management, realized he needed to find something to fill his days.

“I understood I wouldn’t be playing forever,” he said. “I saw some big stars retire and I started to think about what I could do next.”

He also has seen many players make big-time money and still be left with nothing at far too young an age. He expresses understanding for their plight.

“It’s hard to blame them. They are young and have lots of money,” Schrempf said, adding that most players are unprepared to make the right financial decisions.

More players today, he said, might have a better chance to remain in good financial standing.

“I think the money today is so big that I think they have a chance to keep some,” Schrempf said.

Toward the end of his playing days, Schrempf started looking around and didn’t see “a lot of options,” but realized he could find his path through the relationships he had developed over the years. It didn’t hurt that he had earned a degree in international business from the University of Washington.

Armed with that background, Schrempf co-founded Athlon Ventures, a private equity firm, in 2000. Schrempf handled fundraising, deal flow, strategic partnerships and marketing for the fund, which invested in, among other instruments, venture capital and real estate. Athlon is fully invested.

The kind of success Schrempf found at Athlon was a continuation of his on-court triumphs. As a high school senior in Centralia, he led his team to the state championship. During his playing days at the University of Washington, the Huskies won Pac-10 championships in 1984 and 1985. With Schrempf as the team’s leading scorer, the team advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen in 1984.

Part of a wave of tall players (he’s 6-foot-9) who could handle a ball and shoot like guards, Schrempf’s skills translated to 16 years in the NBA, mostly with the Indiana Pacers and the Seattle SuperSonics.

Originally selected as the eighth pick in the NBA draft, Schrempf lived up to his promise. He was named the league’s top sixth man in 1991 and 1992 while with the Pacers. He was named to those three All-Star Games and played in one NBA finals series with the SuperSonics in 1996. The Sonics fell to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.

After retiring, Schrempf moved on to Athlon. After the fund was fully invested, it was time for a new challenge, so in 2007 he joined Coldstream, a Bellevue, Wash.-based firm founded in 1996. Coldstream provides financial planning and personalized client services to high-net-worth individuals and families, among other services. It has more than $1.1 billion in assets under management.

Schrempf, 50, is clear about what is behind his success in the financial world.

“It’s mostly about building relationships,” he said. “That’s what I’m most interested in.”

Schrempf built on those relations with his namesake foundation, started two decades ago to help families and children in the Northwest. Mainly through an annual golf tournament, a St. Patrick’s Day Dash and a fashion show it has raised more than $13 million. The foundation has supported more than 100 charities and it partners with Camp Fire USA Central Puget Sound, Seattle Children’s Autism Center, Inspire Youth Project and the Healing Center.

When Schrempf feels the need to get away from his everyday routine, he heads for the wide-open spaces of North Dakota.

“I like to ride horses,” he said. “I go to a friend’s ranch once a year,” even participating in cattle drives.

Perhaps it’s fitting that a man who loves horses and country-western music (he says there are so many great artists, and names Darius Rucker as among his favorites) had a song by the group Band of Horses named for him.

The Seattle band, which before writing the song had no connection to Schrempf other than as basketball fans, has said the title was accidental.

In an interview with Artistdirect.com, the front man Ben Bridwell said the song on its 2007 album “Cease to Begin” took on its working title because of its Seattle themes. When the song was complete, the name stuck.

Bridwell and Schrempf have since corresponded by email and become friends. The musician was quoted as saying “he’s the most famous friend I have.”

Schrempf has started looking ahead to retirement. He is eligible for a lump-sum payout from the NBA pension fund, which he said is seriously underfunded.

As he waits for the information he needs to make the right financial decision about his basketball pension, Schrempf will no doubt keep moving forward.

He said he knows he’s lucky to have his financial house in order but said he worries about other players.

“Most people work 30 years and hopefully have a retirement plan,” he said. “An NBA career is short. The other guys need the pension.”

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