When Nolan Smith comes to mind, the words “former Blue Devil guard”, “newly promoted assistant coach” and “The People’s Champ” typically stand out. But now, “podcaster” can be added to the 33-year-old’s resumé.
Back in June, Smith launched “Power Check Ball," a podcast centered around sports and social justice, alongside financial advisor and athlete advocate Marc Isenberg. Just six episodes in, guests so far have included former Duke forward and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas and North Carolina Central men's basketball head coach Levelle Moton.
From name, image and likeness legislation to transfer policies, nothing is off the table for Smith and Isenberg. While the two might have different perspectives on these issues, there’s still some background to their partnership, as Smith and Isenberg have had a relationship going back to the former’s playing days.
“I think I've known Nolan, since his freshman year at Duke,” Isenberg told The Chronicle. “And just, we've had this sort of long-standing conversation [and] relationship about how much we love the game, and then some of the issues that work against players.”
Isenberg, a former Emory basketball player himself, has had a unique focus on helping athletes make sound financial decisions throughout his career. With July 1 marking the official start of the NIL era for the NCAA, having resources to lean on has never been more important for athletes, their families and coaches alike. Enter “Power Check Ball," one of the many aforementioned resources.
“We come together in the idea of how do we make the game better, how do we educate the players and their families so that they can make decisions in their own best interests,” Isenberg said.
While podcasting itself might be slightly uncharted territory for Smith, making a name for himself outside of basketball is not new. Going back to his days as a player from 2007 through 2011, the former ACC Player of the Year was and is a familiar face off the court in Durham.
“It definitely started when I was a player, just the embracement from the whole city,” Smith said in an interview with The Chronicle. “I was everywhere, I wasn’t one of those players that just stayed on campus. People always saw me, whether it was at North Carolina Central football games, basketball games, which is right in the heart of Durham over off Fayetteville Street.”
Now, when he’s not with the next generation of Blue Devils, Smith makes it a point to give back to his adopted home. Clearly, Durham is near and dear to his heart, and that has translated to a partnership with leaders in the area.
“The most important project to me right now is rebuilding the community centers within a lot of Black communities here in Durham,” Smith said. “A lot of community centers right now are either closed up, locked down or you can't go in or just ran down.… So just really working with [Durham] mayor [Steve] Schewel, working closely with a lot of Durham community leaders and figuring out how we can get this going quickly with the city's help.”
Much has changed regarding how college athletes can represent and act on behalf of themselves, creating a need for platforms that address the revamped landscape.
“I think Nolan has always been, at the heart, an advocate for himself and the larger basketball community,” Isenberg said.
Over the next few years, as NIL and conference realignment reshape the outlook of college athletics, one thing is for certain. The old ways of player advocacy will be exactly that—the old ways. Now, the NCAA has newer, fresher voices who not only want a seat at the table, but are going all in on their earnings potential as collegiate stars. And Smith and Isenberg want to be outspoken allies for those voices.
“Obviously, there’s great change that has happened, and there’s going to continue to be great change that happens,” Smith said. “But as long as the players continue to have a voice in the change, I mean, they’re the ones that are on the field, they’re the ones on the court, they’re the ones in the pool, all athletes, they should have a voice and an input as far as what’s going on.”
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.