Bryson Warren is probably one of the few teens you will meet if your high school job comes with a guaranteed six-figure income.
Warren, 17, is among the first class of high school athletes to join Overtime Elite, a New York-based company that recruits – and pays – some of the top-ranked high school and teenage basketball players from around the world to play at their academy in Atlanta.
The athletes at Overtime participate in the teaching and read for a diploma. They compete against each other and other high school basketball teams from across the country. They also offer an annual base salary of at least $ 100,000 for each student-athlete, with performance bonuses on the track that could potentially push that number to over $ 1 million.
For Warren, who grew up near Little Rock, Arkansas, and was ranked by ESPN as the 14th best American high school basketball player in his age group, the appeal was obvious. He and the 26 others student-athletes at Overtime jumped at the rare opportunity to make big money as high school athletes while working toward hopefully taking an even bigger leap into the NBA.
“Not too many 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds can say they earned at least $ 100,000,” Warren tells CNBC Make It. “We really get a head start on life just by playing the game we love.”
What is Overtime Elite?
Overtime was founded in 2016 by Dan Porter and Zack Weiner, a pair of alumni from the Hollywood talent agency WMA, and is an experiment in both sports and entertainment.
The league, which started its first competitive season last year, livestreams games and posts player highlights for Overtime’s millions of followers on like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. According to Overtime, the content it creates with teen athletes like Warren is viewed online more than 18 billion times a year.
Overtime has also raised more than $ 100 million from investors, including Jeff Bezos’ investment firm, rapper Drake, a host of NBA stars – including Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony – and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
The league declined to share revenue information with CNBC Make It, but noted that the company also makes money from streaming content, merchandise sales and sponsors – including State Farm, Gatorade and the trading card company Topps.
Aaron Ryan, the company’s president and commissioner, and a former NBA marketing manager, says the league is reinvesting some of that money in its players.
“We primarily cover the cost of food, lodging, transportation and all the costs associated with participating in the program,” he says. “But also a performance bonus as well as equity in our company, which is commensurate with what every other employee at Overtime receives.”
Ryan says the league also offers each player $ 100,000 for college tuition if they decide not to pursue the sport as a full-time career. The scholarship is purely academic: Overtime players will not be eligible to play college basketball as their salary makes them “professional” athletes.
Therefore, Overtime also spent money on a basketball operating team, led by former Sacramento Kings assistant general manager Brandon Williams, who could handle most major college programs. The coaching staff is led by former NBA player and University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie, and includes former NBA player Ryan Gomes and former University of Virginia coach David Leitao.
These names help Overtime attract top teen talent from around the world: Overtime’s current list of 27 players includes at least eight athletes who were previously five-star college recruits, according to The Athletic.
Warren was such a recruit. Signing with Overtime meant rejecting offers from athletic powerhouse programs like Kansas, Maryland, Auburn, Georgetown and Oklahoma.
“Almost every offer you can think of,” he says with a smile.
A day in the life of a professional high school athlete
Warren spends most of his time at Overtime’s 100,000-square-foot Atlanta facility, which is an all-in-one arena, training facility, dormitory and boarding school.
He is picked up almost every morning by an overtime athletic trainer at. 6.15 to spend about 90 minutes in the gym before heading to a three-hour basketball practice on the court with his teammates. After lunch, Warren says, players enter Overtime’s classrooms until about 6 p.m.
Overtime’s Academy is an accredited institution with certified teachers, which enables student-athletes to obtain high school diplomas – instead of GEDs – and start taking courses at the university level. Warren says it is a typical high school curriculum, with “math, English, science or biology with social studies [and] history.”
Warren says he especially enjoys a “financial literacy” class that instructs student-athletes about the intricacies of signing professional contracts, asking questions of their agent and advisors, and how to practice responsible spending.
“They teach us who we should have in your circle [of friends and family] and stuff like that, just keep your circle small, “Warren says.”[Six-time NBA All-Star] Tony Parker came in and talked to us [and] he told us it’s not about who you say ‘yes’ to, it’s who you say ‘no’ to.
After classes, student-athletes typically return to either the gym or the basketball court to train more, “and then the rest of the day is yours,” Warren says.
Chasing his NBA dream
Without overtime, Warren would currently complete his youth years in high school and likely receive intense recruiting positions from prominent college basketball programs. But if Warren feels he’s missing out on something by choosing Overtime over college, he’s not letting go.
For now, he says, he has focused on reaching the NBA. His high marks on ranking sites like ESPN suggest he has good chances of getting there. “My goal when the program ends is definitely just to be worked out [in the NBA]he says. “That’s everyone’s goal here.”
Warren also says he dreams of using his basketball success to positively impact his community. He looks up to LeBron James, he says, for what James has done off the field – including opening a public elementary school in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio, where students have a chance to earn free tuition at the University of Akron.
“Not everyone does, as long as he is willing to give back and start a school for free,” Warren says.
Warren is already investing some of his overtime pay in a local co-education basketball AAU basketball team in his hometown of Arkansas, helping support kids from 2nd grade to 6th grade. Still, he says, he could not resist at least one splashy purchase with his newfound income – and he had always dreamed of owning a Dodge Charger.
“It actually came true. So I was just blessed that it happened,” he says.
Warren says he is aware that it can be incredibly risky to take such an unconventional path to pursue a lifelong dream. There is no guarantee that overtime will give him a better chance of impressing NBA scouts than playing in college or the NBA’s developmental G League.
“You can see overtime as a risk, or you can see it as an opportunity,” he says. “This is the option I chose, and this is the one I’m going to live with, and I’m at peace now.”
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter
Do not miss:
Overtime starts a basketball league for 16- to 18-year-olds who pay at least $ 100,000 a year
How Brex’s co-founders went from teens hacking iPhones and video games to running a $ 7 billion start-up