A Quest to Elevate Brown Athletes

Gautam Kapur, A16, is the founder of Brown Ballers and is in pursuit of an MBA to support his efforts to highlight underrepresented populations

Gautam Kapur may have landed his first slam dunk while playing pickup basketball at Tufts University, but his love for the sport developed long before that.

While growing up in India, Singapore, and Australia, Kapur found basketball to be an outlet, an international language, and a way to make friends. Throughout his childhood, the sport became an integral part of his life, from playing streetball to battling his friends in basketball video games.

Now, Kapur, A16, has turned his passion for hoops into a career.

Gautam Kapur stands on a basketball court with his arms crossed, wearing a black polo shirt and black pants.

Gautam Kapur at the NBA bubble in Orlando. Photo: Courtesy of Gautam Kapur

After earning his bachelor’s in economics and international relations at Tufts, he was selected to participate in a two-year rotational program in the NBA’s front office, working across global business operations, strategy and analytics, content distribution, and player development.

Once he completed the program, he honed his skills in strategy and innovation roles as a product manager, using contact tracing technology to minimize player exposure to COVID-19 in the 2020 NBA bubble. Most recently, he helped launch the league’s sports tech incubator, NBA Launchpad. 

In all, Kapur spent six years growing with the NBA, where he realized he had an opportunity to do more to elevate Asian culture through sport.

“Heritage months are playing an increasingly important role in business, but in the sports industry Asian American & Pacific Islander Month doesn't tend to be something that's celebrated that much. I wanted to change that,” Kapur said.

Having become heavily involved in Tufts’ South Asian Political Action Committee as a student, he understood the impact of advocacy and he felt he had a responsibility to bring visibility to Brown athletes and employees in the sports & entertainment industry.

“Tufts made me really care about elevating South Asian soft power,” Kapur said. “When you grow up in India, you don't necessarily even view yourself as South Asian. You don't even know what that image represents here. Only when I came to the states for college did I realize my passion for elevating Brown culture.”

Kapur became co-president of the NBA’s Asian Employee Resource Group (NBA APEX), and through several initiatives, worked to put a spotlight on an underrepresented group to which he belonged.

While serving in that role, Kapur successfully lobbied for the league to recognize the Islamic holiday of Eid—something no professional North American sports league had ever done. He also started the Asians in Sports & Culture Symposium, an annual event that first convened in 2018 to build solidarity amongst Asian employees across the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL.

Kapur found time to work these efforts into his day-to-day schedule with support from his supervisors in the NBA and reminding himself of the importance of his overall mission.

“I'm not the first Asian person in the sports industry,” Kapur said. “But none of these platforms or symbols existed in the past. I forced myself to find the time to do this work because if I wasn’t going to do it, I didn’t know who else was.”

Branching Out

After six years with the NBA, Kapur decided it was time to build on his existing skill set and focus on elevating the profiles of Brown athletes. In 2022, he founded Brown Ballers, a company that provides a platform for athletes and creators with South Asian roots. That same year, he also began the pursuit of an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Kapur plans to return to the NBA one day, but while he’s at Stanford he is learning the ins and outs of the media industry, taking courses he thinks will help him better tell stories. One of those stories is that of an international basketball team called India Rising, made up of elite basketball players with Indian heritage.

India Rising is the first professional sports franchise under Brown Ballers. Kapur is the team’s general manager, which involves recruiting coaches and players, fundraising, and creating content about the team that proves how brown athletes are just as capable and worth investing in as anyone else.

In its first year, India Rising played in the ESPN-aired 2022 edition of The Basketball Tournament and will return this summer to compete again. The team was also recently invited to participate in the World Vision Kansas City Cup, which will take place from June-September and feature teams from around the world.

To capture India Rising’s groundbreaking journey, Kapur is producing a sports documentary about the team’s two-year journey across India, Canada, and the United States.

“These athletes are unlike anyone else out there. When they are not playing basketball in professional global leagues or the NCAA, they are also incredibly talented off the court,” Kapur said. “They're orthopedic surgeons, business school students, computer scientists, real estate agents, social justice activists, TikTok influencers. I like to refer to this team as the Brown Avengers of basketball. They are living proof that academics and athletics never have to be mutually exclusive.”

Kapur is already working to expand the platform beyond just basketball. He also hosts the Brown Ballers podcast to inspire future generations by spotlighting athletic role models, entrepreneurs, and creatives. “Representation isn’t just about being seen in these spaces,” he said.

Looking beyond the next year, Kapur’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the cultural stereotypes that Brown athletes face today.

“This industry is ultimately about resources,” Kapur said. “I'd like to build out Brown Ballers across multiple sports and have an eye on soccer for 2024. As an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we’re focused on creating pathways for players that never had one.”

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