Hawks' Pachulia getting down to business

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
3:41
PM ET
Zaza Pachulia posing before a game with the Phoenix SunsScott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesZaza Pachulia, seen here posing before a game in 2006, is pretty comfortable in business attire.
Before leaving Georgia the state for Georgia the country to play international basketball, Atlanta Hawks veteran Zaza Pachulia had some business to take care of. Literally.

You see, if Pachulia's first business is basketball -- and it clearly is, as the 6-foot-11 center just finished his ninth NBA season and seventh as a key contributor for the perennially playoff-bound Hawks -- his second business is business itself. He owns Buckhead Bottle Bar & Bistro in Atlanta. He owns Hotel ZP in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and runs it with his mother, Marina.

Each summer for the past few years, Pachulia has aimed to improve his acumen in that arena, taking college classes at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Business, Emory's Goizueta Business School and, this June, at the Harvard Business School.

His assessment of the most prestigious of American schools?

"It was amazing," Pachulia told Playbook last month. "I'm still shocked, and I'm still impressed with the education, with the experience I got."

The experience, seen in this NBA.com video, consisted of a four-day accelerated course in running a small business taught by Richard S. Ruback. The class had 60 students, half of whom came from outside the United States.

Each day, the students learned about all kinds of aspects of the field -- buying a business, growing a business, selling a business, etc. -- arriving at the lab at 7 a.m. and not getting back to their rooms until 10 or 11 at night, with the time filled by discussion, featured speakers and activities.

Like jokes. Such as the time Ruback, a devoted Boston Celtics fan, joked about Kevin Garnett, a noted Pachulia rival, waiting for him in the classroom.

"It was fun," Ruback said. "He was a good student. He has strong business interests. ... The fact that he was an NBA player didn't really affect it. I mean, we had to make sure there was a place for him to sit where he didn't hit the ceiling, but other than that, he was a normal student."

About those strong business interests: Pachulia, 28, knows he won't be playing forever.

Although an injury to Al Horford prompted Pachulia to start 44 games in 2011-12 -- the third most in his nine NBA seasons -- a late-season injury of his own relegated Pachulia to a career-low 58 games played, including zero in the playoffs.

"I'm obviously realizing that time goes so fast," Pachulia said. "I want to play basketball as much as I can, but one day I have to make the decision that I'm going to retire from this game. And I didn't want to start building my next career after my basketball career. Especially when I have this great of a chance; I make pretty good money to pay for business school right now."

And to finance those business ventures, the larger of which Pachulia is happy to own with his mother. He is Marina's only son, and the two became even closer when Zaza's father, David, died unexpectedly when Zaza was 15.

"I'm trying to be hands-on, but obviously my life with basketball [is busy]," Pachulia said. "So it's a privilege to have a person like your mom running your business. ... Me and my mom really have a great relationship with each other. I trust her 100 percent, and of course, I'm trying to help her as much as possible."

[+] EnlargeZaza Pachulia surrounded by Georgian friends and family
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty ImagesPachulia, here surrounded by friends and family from his native Georgia, loves his home country.
Right now -- despite the fact that Pachulia played some tennis with American Mardy Fish before venturing off into summer international basketball -- the hotel business is Pachulia's primary non-hoops focus.

He even made a related offer to his new Harvard friends.

"All the 60 students got an invitation to my country, and they could stay in the hotel learn about my country," Pachulia said. "Obviously, it's a very interesting country -- a lot of tradition, a lot of history, amazing places to visit and see and especially for the wine drinkers." [Author's note: Archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world's first wine in the former Soviet republic.]

So yes, the Harvard course left a lasting impression on Pachulia.

It's safe to say he left an impression on the course too.

“He was focusing on all the right questions and had all the right goals, which is [required] to make [your business] a little bit better," Ruback said. "Like learning how to block out under the basket."
Patrick Dorsey is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor for ESPN.com. He has worked for the Web and newspapers. He also played in one Division-III golf tournament (he shot 105).

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