When Ronny Turiaf left Gonzaga University for Los Angeles and the NBA nearly a decade ago, he learned to live a professional’s life from Lakers veterans Aaron McKie, Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and a guy named Kobe Bryant.
Plenty of it was tough love.
“They showed me how,” Turiaf says now. “Did they ever.”
Nine years later, he is back learning all over again, this time in a 10th-floor downtown penthouse office overlooking Target Field alongside other summer interns employed by the Olson advertising agency.
While everyone else seemingly is obsessed with Timberwolves teammate Kevin Love’s future, Turiaf this time is focused learning not the ways of the NBA but rather video-production skills, social-media intricacies and other marketing expertise that he will apply to his Heart to Heart foundation and his IVC Global management company that he intends will endure long after his playing days are done.
“It definitely feels like when I was just coming into the NBA,” Turiaf said. “Just like back then, they’re throwing me into the fire.”
A chance meeting with Olson executives at an event they coordinated with comedian Dave Chappelle last winter led Turiaf to an internship with Olson Engage, the company’s public relations and social media department.
Turiaf is fulfilling it in one- to two-week segments when he hasn’t been traveling this summer to Taiwan for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program and to Facebook’s California headquarters and Montreal on business as well as his summertime base in Los Angeles and back home all too briefly to the Caribbean island of Martinique.
He is one of 14 interns hired for the summer at $13 an hour, a sum he is donating to the agency’s BrandLab that seeks to broaden the advertising world’s ethnic and cultural diversity through a high-school mentoring program.
At age 31, he clearly is this year’s oldest intern, and at 6-9 he is the tallest, too. “Yeah, I think they’re all definitely shorter,” Turiaf said.
None of the other interns own an NBA championship ring, either, like the one Turiaf won with LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.
“He’d be the only one,” said Olson agency creative director George Fiddler, Turiaf’s summer supervisor.
Turiaf calls the association a “natural fit” for a guy who says he wants to become “a better businessman, a better philanthropist, a better person” and has discovered the way there is through a summer spent working with other creative people in an old warehouse’s penthouse with views in every direction.
“What better way than to use your summer to learn from people who are already successful?” Turiaf asked. “That’s the beauty of a place like Olson, that’s the beauty of how I envision things. When you have people who are able to think outside the box and who empower others, that’s when beauty happens. That’s why the world is such a beautiful place, because you have so many gifted people everywhere.”
Turiaf embarks Wednesday with teammate Corey Brewer on the Wolves’ annual caravan that this year will stop in Owatonna, Minn.; St. Cloud; and Eau Claire, Wis., through Friday.
He surely will be asked if he’ll play again with Love, the Wolves’ soon-to-be-traded star. It’s a matter Turiaf has not pondered often this summer. “I have no time for that,” he said.
Instead, he is working at Olson on accounts that also seem like a natural fit: Work with the Boston Scientific medical-technology company appeals to a man who underwent open-heart surgery in 2005 and has established a foundation that raises money to provide testing and heart surgery to children who cannot afford such care and defibrillators to schools in need. Work with the Discover Boating and Belize tourism also appeal to a man who was raised on a tropical island.
Turiaf worked the Chicago Boat Show with other Olson representatives as part of that internship and $13 hour salary he is donating.
“They trust the fact that I graduated from college,” Turiaf said. “They trust the fact that I’m somebody who speaks five different languages and has traveled to so many different places.”
In a profession that is so often about “me,” Turiaf said his time spent at Olson is as much about serving others as bettering himself during a summer when he has talked with director Spike Lee about getting a master’s degree in film studies. He also is considering an online masters’ in sports management or business administration.
“How can I help you get better, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I want to empower other people. That’s basically what I want on my tombstone. I’m trying to build something bigger and better than just Ronny Turiaf the basketball player. This is not where I want life to end for me. I’m still a basketball player, right? But I’m a basketball player who has many faces. I have to maximize my time I’m here on Earth. There are bigger, more awesome things to attain.”