By the end of his senior year, Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. ’84 of the men’s basketball team had scored a total of 2,090 points in four years at Yale — a school record that still stands today. Graves’ on-the-court accomplishments were recognized on Class Day of 1984 when he received the William Neely Mallory Award, which is given to the most outstanding senior male athlete.
“We are sure not to have heard the last from today’s William Neely Mallory Award winner,” former athletic director Frank Ryan said while presenting the award to Graves.
Ryan was right.
Twenty-six years later, Graves is now the CEO and president of Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., the company his father founded, which publishes Black Enterprise magazine, a publication that provides business and financial advice to African-Americans to facilitate their financial empowerment. Graves was awarded the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which honors those athletes who have shown success in both their collegiate athletic and professional careers, in Jan. 2009, because of both his accomplishments at Black Enterprise and as a Bulldog.
YALE’S ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER
Graves, a four-year starter at Yale, blossomed in his final two years in New Haven. The six-foot-three guard finished his junior season 13th in the nation in scoring and 14th in field goal percentage.
Bart Williams ’84 LAW ’87, former Bulldog point guard and teammate of Graves, said regardless of the opposing team, Graves was always the best player on the floor.
Graves captained the Elis as a senior during the 1983-’84 season, during which he ranked 12th in the country in scoring, setting a Yale record for career field goals made with 816, as well as becoming the state of Connecticut’s first Division I 2,000 point-scorer. He finished his career averaging 20.3 points-per-game, and was named first-team All-Ivy his junior and senior seasons.
Tom Brennan, who coached Graves during his final two seasons and nominated him for the Mallory Award, said Graves was one of the most outstanding athletes he had ever coached, adding that Graves’ leadership skills, confidence and intense drive left an especially lasting impression on him. Brennan recalled how Graves was often called for offensive fouls because of his determination on the court, but that any player who took a charge from him would never let it happen again.
“He was just so strong and dominant on the court,” Brennan said. “He really wasn’t a pure shooter, but going to the basket, he was as good as anyone I’ve ever coached.”
And Graves’ contributions to the basketball team went beyond his scoring ability, Brennan said. It was his ability to recruit players such as Chris Dudley ’87, who would go on to play 16 seasons in the NBA, that had a lasting effect on the program, he said.
“He just had that kind of effect on people,” Brennan said. “I always felt that when he was with a recruit and would talk to that person, he would have a good chance of securing that person [to play for] our program. I was only there for four years, but I had two great [recruiting] classes after [Graves].”
MORE THAN JUST BASKETBALL
Graves himself was very familiar with the difficulty of choosing between schools.
After earning all-league, all-county and all-state basketball honors at Scarsdale High School in Scarsdale, N.Y., Graves said he was recruited by big-name basketball programs such as Duke and Stanford.
Instead of choosing an institution with a renowned basketball program, Graves said he wanted to go to a school where he would not only be able to play basketball, but would have the chance to nurture more than just his basketball skills. Graves said his father, Earl Graves Sr., founder of Black Enterprise, always stressed the bigger picture — something beyond basketball. What he said he liked most about Yale was that athletes did not play as prominent a role on campus as players at big-name basketball schools. A gifted pianist, he said, would be considered no different from a gifted athlete.
“I think if you’re in a situation where people love you as an athlete, your fall from grace is not going to be a pretty one,” Graves said. “If you don’t take yourself too seriously, which I never did, then your expectations will be OK. You’ll be able to manage your way through life.”
Graves was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers as the 68th pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, but he decided to pursue a career in business after one season in the league. As he was receiving attention from NBA scouts during his senior year, Graves had applied to and been accepted into Harvard Business School. The business school wanted Graves to have more work experience and deferred his admission for two years, so he said he decided to take a shot at playing professionally.
“The truth of the matter is, the NBA is a great dream for someone to aspire to or reach out to,” Graves said. “But I think it’s a lot more glamorous from the outside than it is from the inside. It can be great if you’re one of the top players in a secure environment, but although I was good player, I was not Michael Jordan.”
Graves enrolled at Harvard Business School, earning his MBA in 1988, after which he became vice president of advertising and marketing at Black Enterprise. He rose through the ranks and was eventually chosen by his father, who had founded the company in 1970, to succeed him as CEO and president of Earl G. Graves Publishing Co. on Jan. 5, 2006.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Under Graves Jr.’s leadership, Black Enterprise has reached a readership of 3.9 million and has expanded beyond just the magazine to a corporation that hosts conferences and has entered the online and television markets. Earl Graves Sr. attributed these innovations to his son’s vision.
Williams, Graves’s college teammate, made the connection between his leadership on the court and in the business world.
“I’ve observed him in the business world and he is every bit the confident leader in that realm as he was on the basketball court,” said Williams, who is a lawyer for California-based law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson. “I think he and Black Enterprise are an inspiration to black professionals and I would say most black professionals I know read the magazine.”
Earl Graves Sr. started Black Enterprise magazine in 1970, predicting that there would be increased opportunities in business for African-Americans in the coming years, his son said. His son also said Black Enterprise served to fill a niche not filled by the general market media.
“General market media virtually ignores the African-American market,” he said. “Despite the fact that the fastest growing population in the country is African-American and Latino, they deliver virtually no content that relates to our respective communities. When we are portrayed, it’s often times in a negative light so a media entity like Black Enterprise is important because we bring balance to what’s being done.”
Graves still finds time to stay involved with basketball as a coach for an Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, team. According to its Web site, AAU is a non-profit organization whose mission statement is to provide an avenue for amateur athletes to develop physically, mentally and morally.
In coaching, Graves said he sees an opportunity to give back to those who have coached him and to be a role model for the kids that he coaches. He said the black community in particular puts too much stress on athletics rather than academics.
“Many [black youth] don’t go to college because they don’t have the minimum [academic] requirements necessary to go to college,” Graves said. “So they end up having a career in high school that gets stunted because their parents didn’t mandate that they do certain things with academics.”
He said many of the kids he coaches come from single-parent families or families where both parents are completely uninvolved. He added that he wants to help the kids see the bigger picture in life beyond basketball, as his father had done.
“I’ve taken examples of people that I’ve played with who have ended up homeless,” Graves said. “I give them a lot of examples, using myself as an example [to get] them to understand that six months after the ball stops bouncing, they won’t be remembered.”
And while Graves’s basketball days are over, Williams said his on-the-court personality continues to make an impact on those around him.
“Butch is a one-of-a-kind person, there’s just nobody like him,” he said. “His attitude was, ‘Whoever has to guard me is going to have a very long night’ — that was the attitude he brought to the court, and that is the kind of the attitude he has in life.”
Previously in the series: “Star left tracks in record book,” Feb. 4, 2010