Glass talks to Ashley Hamilton – Team GB basketball star, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Glass talks to Team GB basketball star, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ashley Hamilton about his globetrotting life in sport and the state of the game at home


BORN in Germany, educated in America, professional contacts in more countries than our word count can begin to cover … and yet, Ashley Hamilton is the archetypal British basketball player. As a youth he was gifted enough to earn a university scholarship in California, but, in the eyes of those that mattered most, not American enough to make it out of the draft with an NBA contract.

And so, like many from this side of the Atlantic, Hamilton became part of a group whose main unifying trait is the utter randomness of their career paths – the Great British Basketball Diaspora. “There’s power in that existence,” Hamilton tells me over the phone. Mulling over the first-class education and a life spent travelling the world playing the game you love, he’s not wrong.

Ashley Hamilton Basketball
Ashley Hamilton in action for Great Britain

What was your college experience like in California?
Amazing. To this day I have lifelong friends all across LA, from Compton to the Valley and everywhere in between. Loyola Marymount University [LMU] opened my eyes to the fact that there are more ways to be successful than just being a basketball player. If you had asked me, before LMU, what my interests were, it was a short list. Now I’m fascinated by excellence in general. The way my brain works is, if I see something I truly enjoy and see someone else doing well in it, I just think to myself, why not me?

Of all the countries you’ve played basketball (Lebanon, Spain, Ukraine, Italy, Greece and England), which was your favourite and why?
Lebanon – simply because I didn’t know what to expect. I flew to Beirut from Kiev, where customs tried to shake me down for money. They put me in a room by myself, accused me of being in the Ukraine illegally and ordered me to hand over all the money I had on me: around €10,000. I always had that much on me in Ukraine – there was a civil war going on and the advice was to be ready to leave at any moment.

I guess customs had been shaking down anyone that didn’t look Ukrainian, but I was prepared – police had tried to get me a few times before on the streets of Cherkassy [Ukranian city]. I got on the phone with the president of my team in Beirut and eventually they gave me clear passage. Going through all that plus the uncertainty of even being allowed into Lebanon because I had been in Israel a few years prior, meant I breathed a major sigh of relief when the customs officer finally let me go.

The weather in Lebanon was amazing and the basketball culture is legit. People knew who I was before I arrived and I was greeted with open arms. I’m always honoured to go where I’m wanted. I think the fact that people in a different country want to fly you out to do a job that you love is a big deal. I never take it for granted.

Ashley Hamilton Basketball
Ashley Hamilton in action for Great Britain

Having lived and played in Beirut for a short time, can you describe your immediate reaction to the recent catastrophe?
When I saw that explosion, I couldn’t believe it. I was just shocked and heartbroken. That country has gone through so much. On the plane there, I read about gas bombs being dropped on kids at school. It’s hard to really understand what other people go through without experiencing it yourself. I always think about the aftermath, how do you recover from that?

What impact has living in so many different countries had on your national identity?
I identify as African before anything – always have and always will – even back in the day when it wasn’t cool to be African and everyone black was saying they were Jamaican. I considered it a few times to fit in but I rode the wave; now everyone is woke.

I love the fact that I grew up in London – I like who I am as a result of it, and I love playing for Team GB. It’s the best feeling being on a team with guys who you know have gone through similar ups and downs as you. If you talk to anyone on that team, they have a crazy story, too. It just comes with the territory of being a British basketball player. I love it.

Why isn’t basketball bigger in the UK?
What a question … basically there isn’t any money in the game in the UK. No money means no sponsors, no marketing, and culminates in bad business. We get no government support at the elite level and a lot of people in charge have never played at elite levels or been part of elite programmes in other countries. When you don’t know any better, you can’t do any better. The players are neglected and the communities they are from have no idea about some of the amazing accomplishments guys have had through the sport.

It’s a shame really, because in the ‘90s and early 2000s we had teams competing at the highest levels in Europe. I always say, just imagine if they were given the tools to be successful. The British league has so much potential. British players continue to leave the UK and shine in other countries. Establishing a league where the majority of the best talent can stay home is critical. I have faith though, and I want to help contribute to a better future, a lot of people do.

What have you made of the NBAs response to the Black Lives Matter movement?
I think the NBA has done an amazing job advocating for social justice ever since the Donald Sterling saga. [Sterling was part owner of the Los Angeles Clippers until 2014, when he was recorded espousing wildly racist views]. I really commend Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA on how they approach an issue the effects a sport and a league that is predominately black.

I just don’t think that sports and advocating for social change have to be separate. In fact, athletes and teams are using the opportunity to continue the fight. And yes, some pervert the cause for personal gain. Are the big brands that are donating to black causes really for change and advancement? Or is it just an opportunity to build profits by getting on the right side of history? Who knows? I try to always focus on the positive, build on that, and drown out those that continue to manipulate the system for greed.

You’re reaching the veteran stage of your career now. What’s next, post-basketball?

I’m getting ready for life after basketball as we speak. I’m building my little empire one brick at a time. I’ve always been someone that took the road less travelled and I guess that’s what I’m doing with life after basketball. I’m working on setting up a basketball business here in the UK in the short term. In the long term I hope to use my life as an example, to be able to pass down knowledge to other basketball players, especially those from the UK, on how to build your brand and create additional revenue streams. British basketball is completely overlooked, not just overseas but here in the UK as well.

Our men’s national team gets zero funding from the government, even though every single player has competed at elite levels across Europe. Our women’s team is one of the top teams in Europe and gets minimal funding. Most of the public isn’t even aware that we have professional leagues in the UK.

Players get almost zero exposure compared to our peers in other countries and as a result we have to work a lot harder to make a decent living through the sport let alone outside of it. My experiences in the sport have been a blessing – I’ve learnt a lot. So now I’m focusing on passing this knowledge on to the next generation.

I also have a foundation in Sierra Leone where my family is from. We sponsor a local football team in the village where my mum grew up. We provide scholarships for the players so long as they meet certain academic standards. I hope to build that up and provide exit pathways to the kids in Sierra Leone through sports in the future. I love helping driven people. The way I see it, the better I do, the more I can help.

by Charlie Navin-Holder

Follow Ashley Hamilton on Instagram @agphamilton

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