Rick Fox on not running from challenges – on court or on climate

Rick Fox took an unconventional path to becoming a startup founder – not least of which includes being a three-time NBA Champion, taking the crown alongside fellow Los Angeles Lakers players Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Fox retired from basketball after a 13-year career. But that doesn’t mean those lessons learned – about teamwork, endurance and competition – haven’t influenced his career as founder of concrete materials startup Partanna.

“I learned from the teams I was on,” he explained during a one-on-one interview at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. “I learned the lessons through winning. That has allowed me to build the team we have today. […] At the end of the day, their commitment is to changing the way we build in the world for the betterment of this planet. And we have to go places and leave our families and fight this fight.”

Fox intimately understands the effects of climate on communities. He grew up in and currently resides in the Bahamas, an area that has been hit hard by hurricanes and other natural disasters. When asked whether humanity was too late in stopping the climate crisis, Fox recalled an anecdote from his years as a Champion.

“We were down by 15 points with about eight minutes to go in the game,” he said. “It was a game seven and it looked like we were done […] We made the comeback, which appeared at that time the most insurmountable thing that we could possibly do. […] It send us on a course of winning three championships for the next three years. I don't know where I would be in life had that moment not happened. I don't know where I'd be had that eight minutes of a belief that it was never too late, that we still could come back.”

The interview was briefly (and happily) disrupted by a surprise appearance by Shaq, who came in to greet his old friend. It’s a friendship that sustained him in more ways than one, Fox said.

“I'm on the sustainability stage and I have to tell you that my career was sustained because of Shaq and Kobe, and [Shaq’s] on the Disrupt stage because he disrupted a lot of people's careers with his play,” he said. “So he's in the right place, too.”

He also gave advice for startup founders that may be contemplating taking money from an institution, fund (or even country!) that they may feel morally conflicted over.

“At the end of the day, you're going to have personal beliefs and systems and the way you live, your personal life, […] and for me, personally, I do the job that needs to be done with the teammates I have, where the common goal and the mission is greater than any of my own personal opinions.”

“I don't run away from challenges. I've always signed up for the greatest challenges that I could find in the world. And this is one of them.”