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Entrepreneurship
January 9, 2024

Take the Shot!

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Kids look up to Bobby Simmons, and not just because he’s 6 feet 8 inches tall. After all, it’s not every day you get to buy a pair of sneakers from an actual basketball star—and one who played alongside the legendary Michael Jordan for a couple of years, at that. And that’s why you will often find him at one of his two Succezz sneaker and sports apparel stores in his native Chicago.
“Nine times out of 10, a lot of the kids that come to the store probably never met an NBA player before,” says Simmons, who played for five teams and earned a Most Improved Player award during his years on the court. “So that’s why I go there all the time, especially on weekends.”
Highlight reels show him in action in his decade-long career, which included spells with the Washington Wizards and the Los Angeles Clippers. “I’m not the young cats that they see now, like the Stephen Currys or the LeBron Jameses, all those guys,” he says modestly, “but at the end of the day, I did play in the NBA…”
He smiles looking back on that time. “It was something that I just wish everybody could experience… playing ball, having the opportunity to travel and compete. I think that’s the main thing, you’re playing against the best of the best. That’s the elite class, when it comes to the NBA.”
In addition to his star appeal, customers are drawn by the Succezz atmosphere. “We’ve created a close-knit, family-like environment,” he says. “If you came in and purchased something and you talk to one of the sales reps, they’re gonna remember your shoe size… Sometimes, when we go to stores, they just want to sell you something to get you out of there; we try to make it like a homey feeling inside.”
“Everyone helped each other, and that’s probably why I’m still here.”
Community support
Though basketball may have taken him from coast to coast, he always wanted to bring something back to his hometown. Growing up in public housing on the South Side, he experienced the warmth and support of a community. “Everyone helped each other,” he remembers, “and that’s probably why I’m still here in Chicago today—because it was those things that pretty much stuck out to me as a kid, and I just followed the blueprint.”
In fact, his connection to the city was a factor in his choosing to go to DePaul University there. It wasn’t an easy decision for one of the top athletes from Neal F. Simeon High School, but he knew that if he went further afield, most of his relatives wouldn’t have the opportunity to see him play in person, only on television.
Together with two other breakout Chicago players who “decided to stay home to put the city back on the map” (Lance Williams and Quentin Richardson), Simmons helped make DePaul a basketball name to be reckoned with during his time there.
He also learned things that guided him through his NBA years and after as he went into business. “Structure, accountability and responsibility,” he says. “It taught me a lot of the structures of being a professional, to transition things to now being an entrepreneur, like what you recommend your staff [do] and how you want them to treat customers, all that stuff.”
Simmons started Succezz 12 years ago with business partner Lavelle Sykes. The two Zs at the end of the name are a nod to their drive, he says: “We don’t sleep.” Both self-confessed “sneakerheads,” with extensive personal collections, “we wanted to bring something back to Chicago… we both come from public housing and crossed paths multiple times and decided to go into business together.”
Their tagline is “Life is what you make it,” and he encourages other people to take a shot at what they want. “If there’s something that you are really passionate about and you love, I think you’ll be great at it,” as long as you put in the work. It needs to be “something that you can look at every day and won’t get tired [of].”
“Go out there and do what you’ve got to do.”
Business discipline
So what did Simmons learn during his NBA days that helps him now as a businessman? “Being accountable,” he says. “You can’t be late for a meeting. To be a successful CEO you’ve got to be on time. Dress accordingly when you go to meetings and things like that; it’s just the little intangible things that pretty much make you a whole.”
He also highlights the importance of a positive mindset. “Our motto was kill or be killed,” he says. “If you don’t go out there [on the court] and do what you’ve got to do, someone’s going to get the best of you.”
Simmons gets to share some of this wisdom as a career counselor with the NBA Players Association: one basketball fan website has called him “a case study of how to use the platform of professional athletics effectively even once an athlete’s playing days have come to an end.” Of himself, he says, “Some guys who don’t have agents, I use my network to actually get these guys in position to make money for themselves and their families.”
Simmons is thankful not only for the community he grew up in, but the part sports played in his life. Apart from anything else, it meant that he didn’t have a lot of downtime that could have led him astray. Alluding to some of the city’s present-day bad news, he says, “Like, why are you out that late, that time? Two, three in the morning, you’re 16, 17 years old. Where are you going? We played sports all day and we loved it so much. We’d go to sleep early because we wanted to get up and do it again tomorrow.”
He would like to see more effort made to encourage kids to be active in sports. “Think about how many parks are closed,” he says. He remembers when the park district “was almost like being at home, some days; you’re going to swim, go and play basketball. You’re going to spend a whole day at the park until the lights come on and you have got to get home.” Across the city now, there’s “so much that’s not being done, or if it’s being done, we need more of it,” he says.
As well as his elementary school basketball coach, who first made him believe he had special talent (see sidebar), Simmons speaks gratefully of another man who helped shape his life: his high school coach, Bob Hambrick.
He was “a legend in the city of Chicago,” who coached another Neal F. Simeon talent, rising star Ben Wilson, whose death in a 1984 shooting stunned the city. Hambric “was a teacher,” Simmons recalls. “I was able to dribble and shoot; I wasn’t known to be a scorer. And so he transitioned my game so that I could play multiple positions because I was athletic, I was fast, I was a lot slimmer” (he chuckles).
“If you look at the game of basketball, before it was a big man’s game; now it’s a guard’s game. So, I was able to transition and play under the basket, back to the basket and shoot and dribble from outside… those skills that he taught me of how to play the game helped me get to where I was in the NBA.”
MY WAYMAKER: BOBBY SIMMONS
John L. Evans was my elementary school basketball coach. He spent hard, long hours with me and he was like, “Hey, Bobby gonna make it.” I just would hear him always say that. I was a kid—10, 11, 12 years old—and he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Truly a waymaker.
From an interview with Louis Carr
This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of WayMaker Journal.