Headshot of Ernest Gass, Founder of Ballersworld.
Ernest Gass, Founder of Ballersworld, aimed to create his business around something he was passionate about. — Ballersworld

Ernest Gass once had NBA dreams. He played basketball for Charleston Southern University, but after tearing his ACL he was never the same. But that didn’t end his love of the game. In 2012 he launched Ballersworld, an event and apparel company that sells tanks, T-shirts, and jackets.

“I wanted a business around something I was passionate about,” said Gass of Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

Since 2015, Ballersworld’s signature event has been the annual Battle on the Deck, a basketball tournament held on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown Navy ship at Patriots Point in Charleston. The one-day event is all about the simultaneous basketball games going on, with players of all ages, mostly locals, but some that make the trek from around the country. The event includes food, vendors, a DJ, and more.

The event is so successful that Gass is prepping to launch the concept next year in Alameda, California, on the USS Hornet. He then has his sights set on flight decks in San Diego and New York.

“I want our events to be outside of the norm,” said Gass, who is also a recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Coalition to Back Black Businesses (CBBB) 2022 Enhancement Grant.

Duplicate success as well as innovate

Gass is not only pushing forward with a new event. Last year, he developed a nonprofit philanthropic arm, Ballersworld Global Foundation. “Our mission is unity, to bring people together through basketball. Basketball is a sport that while you’re playing, you’re not thinking about anything else; you’re not worried about the outside world.”

Some of the money the foundation receives will go toward community sports.

Gass is also developing an app that he believes will revolutionize the game of basketball. People will pay a fee to compete in basketball games played via the app.

You need a business plan, a marketing plan — even if you do it yourself, like I did. You must have goals. How else will you know where you stand and where you’re going?

Ernest Gass, Founder, Ballersworld

Summon your patience and perseverance

While he’s in expansion mode, he recalls the early days when he was putting his first tournament together. Even some friends were naysayers. “Vendors didn’t know who I was and there wasn’t a bigger organization behind me. I went from business to business to get gift certificates and prizes, [and] reached out to coaches and players I knew,” said Gass.

He persevered. “You will get told no. Don’t let it affect you; don’t take it personally,” he said. “I’m motivated by doubters — those who secretly want to see you fail.”

At the time of the first Battle on the Deck, he was working as a painter at the shipyard and scraped up enough money to fund it. He says to newbie entrepreneurs, “Keep going, because at some point you will want to quit, but the beauty is in the struggle. You will be able to navigate to success.”

Plan, plan, plan

The key to success, he said, is planning. Forget winging it. “You need a business plan, a marketing plan — even if you do it yourself, like I did. You must have goals. How else will you know where you stand and where you’re going?”

As far as next steps, Gass said he’s always thinking ahead, already pondering about how to do his tournaments globally and what other unique settings beyond ships can be the next big thing. Stay tuned.

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Published August 19, 2022