'Big Nasty' Makes Plans for Future

by Nate Hinkel  on Monday, Jul. 24, 2006 12:00 am  

Corliss Williamson is spending his off season from the NBA learning the real estate development business.

Corliss Williamson? present career as a role player with the National Basketball Association? Sacramento Kings is reliant upon him throwing up as few bricks as possible. This summer, however, the former Arkansas Razorbacks legend is spending his energy studying a career where laying bricks is money in the bank: real estate development.

Williamson, currently under the last year of a multimillion-dollar contract with Sacramento and an 11-year veteran of the NBA, could quite possibly be the wealthiest summer intern in history.

? like to call it job shadowing,?Williamson joked. ?? learning the business, but I think it goes far beyond your average summer internship.?p>And so the NBA? 2002 Sixth Man of the Year has ?at least for the summer ?shelved basketballs in favor of strip malls and traded gym shorts for property reports, all in the name of becoming a sharper businessman.

Irwin Partners LLC of Little Rock has managed to scoop up the prospective real estate investor with the promise to help guide Williamson at his own pace through the murky waters often presented by the real estate investment and development business.

?or high-profile guys like Corliss with money and a big name, there? a constant barrage of deals and offers from both friends and complete strangers,?said Ron Tabor, a partner with the firm. ?t? in the best interest of guys like that to be able to fend for themselves and be able to sort through them on their own.?p>Williamson readily admits he has naively entered some sketchy deals, which, after processing what he? learned this summer he never would?e signed off on to begin with. And though he has inconsequentially been burned financially on at least one of those deals, he says it was learning the hard way that has him battening down the hatches.

?ow I realize how impulsive I was. Basically, I was jumping straight into the pool without first learning how to swim or even to tread water, and now I?e realized it? important to take those preliminary steps rather than trusting someone else to do it,?Williamson said. ?ou have to have the time and knowledge and energy to put into a project and I definitely have learned that here.?p>Good Pickup

Williamson? summer internship naturally traces back to the setting where he? the one used to being in charge of the schooling ?on a basketball court.

David Lewis, another partner at Irwin Partners, is given credit for planting the seed with Williamson three years ago over small talk during lunch-hour hoops at the Little Rock Athletic Club.

?e thought it? be great to bring him in the office, if he agreed, just to see what we do since we were aware of his desire to get into the business,?Lewis said. ? was hoping we could be, in a very objective way, able to advise him a little about what to be careful about and teach him some things to look out for. And when he gets out of the NBA, he will have some tools to get into the business if he chooses and become an expert himself.?p>In return, Irwin Partners gets a chance to chauffeur the man who helped bring home Arkansas?last NCAA National Championship to meetings and lunches where Williamson often owns the room from the get-go.

?e look at investments all the time, and what Corliss is doing is going with us and seeing what we?e seeing and getting that insight firsthand,?said Jim Irwin, founding partner at the firm. ?t? been fun because we take him into a meeting and the first 15 minutes he dominates the whole thing and they could care less what we?e doing there.?p>But after the star initially shimmers a little, Irwin said, Williamson shows a great desire for gaining knowledge and has quickly learned the ropes.

Fashion Police

Opening a business that offered a complete line of hip-hop and athletic gear previously unavailable in this market seemed like a sure-fire plan for Williamson and a partner in late 2003.

Legends Retail Co. opened its doors in a Broadmoor shopping center on south University Avenue in December 2003, but it never reached the status its name suggests.

? quickly learned that it? really more valuable to own a strip mall and lease it to other people rather than to lease that space from someone else and try to have a clothing store there,?Williamson said.

Though he was elusive about the details, the business sparred with the strip mall? owners and the store eventually moved to another location on Rodney Parham Road briefly before shutting its doors for good in April.

?hat kind of pushed me to the other side about needing to own buildings and then lease them out,?Williamson said. ? hate having had to learn that lesson like that, but I did, and now I? better for it.?p>Hogs in Harmony

Just as the picture of Williamson hoisting the 1994 NCAA National Championship trophy is forever etched into Arkansas lore, so is the image of teammate Scotty Thurman heroically banging through a 3-pointer to seal the deal in the title game? waning moments.

Williamson says the pair remain best friends, and the former teammates currently are among a trio of investors that locked up a 32.7-acre, $370,000 land buy at the northwest corner of 28th Street and Barrow Road.

WTH Development LLC, which includes Williamson, Thurman and Kevin Howard, finished the deal in late 2004 with plans to build a 100-unit apartment complex at the site.

?here? currently been no development on the apartment thing so far, and we?e not even sure it? still going to be apartments,?said Williamson, who calls the acquisition his first legitimate buy. ?here are lots of options and we hope to maybe have something locked up by the end of the summer.?p>The Afterlife

A good role model in the form of an NBA veteran is all it took for Williamson to realize the importance of planning for a future after basketball.

?hen I first came into the league I played with a veteran player, Tyrone Corbin, and he was kind of a mentor to me,?Williamson said. ?? noticed that when we were on a bus or a plane that he? always be reading something or trying to learn something he could use after basketball.?p>When you?e young, Williamson said, it? not always easy to block out the negative impacts of newfound riches and the fast-paced NBA lifestyle. But it doesn? take long to realize a basketball career can? last forever.

?he younger guys still think basketball is going to be around for a long time,?Williamson said. ? catch myself nagging some guys, telling them, ?ick up a book and try to learn something,?because it? not guaranteed they?l play 11 years with injuries and the level of competition.?p>The NBA and the NBA Players Association have also encouraged players as of late to plan financially for the future. Williamson said he is attending next month a week-long seminar at Stanford University in California sanctioned by the NBA that will be an intensive workshop on business opportunities after basketball.

Bell Tolls?

Williamson? career came full circle following a 2005 trade that sent him back to the team that originally drafted him, the Sacramento Kings.

During his 11 NBA seasons, the soft-talking power forward has been shuffled through three other teams, including the Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers.

It was his four seasons in Detroit that Williamson calls the peak of his career, no doubt topped off by becoming a member of an elite club of players who have won both an NCAA National Championship and an NBA Championship.

? have one year left in Sacramento on my contract and I want to play probably three to four more years after that,?Williamson said. ?? beginning to see the light at the end of my NBA tunnel. I? like to finish it off in Sacramento, which I consider my NBA hometown, but we?l just have to see what happens.?p>Home Sweet Home

There? never been any question that returning to Arkansas after retirement was firmly planted in the Russellville native? mind.

With the real estate development business bustling in both central and northwest Arkansas, along with plenty of ripe charitable opportunities for his nonprofit foundation close at hand, Williamson says Little Rock will be a good place for him and his wife and three sons to settle down.

?here? a lot of things I would like to do back in Russellville. My hometown is growing and I want to get in and be a part of it,?Williamson said.

With a handful of NBA seasons left in him, Williamson plans to return to Irwin Partners next off-season to pick up where he left off.

As for the firm? five partners ?Tabor, Lewis, Irwin, Jeff Yates and Ruth Presley ?that?l be fine with them.

?t? been a fun summer, but you can? learn it all in a couple months,?Irwin said. ?ut over time it? a doable feat for Corliss. We?e excited to have him here and we?e excited about having him back next year.?

Click here for a list of Corliss Williamson's career highlights.

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?THVideo: Lance Turner on Corliss Williamson's internship. Plus: Eastman in Batesville is sold and Dillard's goes upscale.
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