Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” As the past interim CEO of Major League Pickleball, (MLP) Brother Brian Levine (Florida, 1992) is invested in sports not just financially, but also for what it should be – for the love of the game.
Going to the University of Florida from a small town in New York where there were no big colleges, Brother Levine didn’t know much about fraternities. He went to an event one night, had a good time and without overthinking it, dove right in. Brother Levine learned how to work with people, which is difficult to replicate anywhere else. “I was very active and passionate about creating events and experiences. It’s leadership opportunities and a training ground for a workforce.” He learned that if you want something done, you need to learn how to motivate a large group of people with different incentives to get it accomplished. AEPi led him into other leadership opportunities on campus.
During his time as an undergrad in AEPi he met Brother Rich Brilliant (Florida, 1999) who was two years older than him and was incredibly wise and had a lot of knowledge about business. “He was actually the one who I followed into Accent.” Accent is the largest speakers bureau.” Accent was student run and had been led by AEPi Brothers for multiple consecutive years. One of the people Accent chose to bring to speak was Pete Rose, the all time hit king of the MLB, who was starting to become controversial. He was going through the process of being banned from the MLB for gambling on his own team. “He lived in Plant City which is about three hours south of Gainesville. I picked him up in the car and brought him to speak. We pulled into the O’Dome and I remember vividly there were vans with satellite dishes from ESPN and CNN.” Brother Levine later found out that the press conference, which was intended to only have a few local media outlets covering the event, would end up as the top story on SportsCenter that night.
“I had one of these big video cameras and I used to record stuff for the fraternity. I would ask the speakers to say something promotional for AEPi that we would use for rush. After the conference, I asked Pete what do you think of AEPi, he looked at the camera and said, ‘AEPi is great, I’d bet on it.’ We all cheered and we used it during rush.”
After graduating from the University of Florida, Brother Levine attended Emory for business school and then fought his way into Goldman Sachs. “I got the job by constantly calling a friend of a friend to pester them for the job. I called five times and on the fifth time he finally answered the phone and – long story short – I actually ended up getting an interview and getting the job.” He was hired by Goldman Sachs on the trading desk and had early success by going above and beyond the requirements. He ended up spending 25 years at Goldman Sachs including 13 years as a partner, running the global equities business. “If that person didn’t pick up the phone that fifth time, I wouldn’t have a Goldman Sachs career, so it keeps you very humble.”
At Goldman Sachs, Brother Levine helped to put on philanthropic sports events. He created Goldman Sachs philanthropic wiffle ball, basketball, and ping pong tournaments. Raising a lot of money, they even ended up partnering with MLB and getting a few baseball players to come and participate. After retiring four years ago from Goldman Sachs, Brother Levine took those experiences and wanted to go into the sports world.
During the early days of the pandemic, Brother Levine and his family moved from New York to Boca Raton, FL, where he found pickleball. It was a great covid type activity because it was good exercise, cheap, easy to set up, very social and very popular in South Florida. “I got involved in pickleball, focusing on getting good, and ended up playing at a senior pro level (50 years or older).” He attended tournaments across the country and it became apparent to him in 2020 and 2021, that this was a business opportunity.
Brother Levine helped merge the two major pro pickleball leagues, Major League Pickleball and Professional Pickleball Association, which was announced just last week. Brother Levine will serve on the Board of the new combined entity. “If you look at the history of any professional sports league, it really saw dramatic growth when you had consolidation amongst the leagues, like the National Basketball Association merging with the American Basketball Association.” Once the merger happened, they needed someone to run the new league for a short period of time, so he took on the role as interim CEO.
For seven months, Brother Levine served in that position and had a blast. “It’s really exploded in the past year. We actually just had an event in Los Angeles broadcasted on ESPN.” MLP has 24 teams with a roster of owners including LeBron James owning the New York team, Mark Cuban owning the Dallas team, Tom Brady owning the Vegas team, Drew Brees owning the LA team which won the season championship and many other big names. “It’s a lot of fun and a lot of work too. After leaving Goldman Sachs, I know I can add value to things I’m passionate about but have fun. I’ve been very fortunate to kind of stumble into something that I enjoy so much, that has been such a great opportunity.”
Brother Levine is also a minority investor in the Vegas Golden Knights, which recently won the Stanley Cup. He went to the last few home games during the final, getting to be on the ice when they won, even drinking from the cup itself and is getting a championship ring “I know a few of the players and so few people who have ever picked up a hockey stick get the opportunity to have that type of unique success. They’ve put in thousands and thousands of hours, going back to when they were in Peewee Hockey at five years old, waking up at five in the morning to play.”
Looking back, Brother Levine has never been motivated by prestige or ego. He is extremely humbled and grateful for the opportunities that he has received. “You’re balancing risk and reward which was my job basically. I’m constantly thinking about what are the upsides versus the downsides. I’ve given myself the deathbed test which is basically when you’ve got a big life decision you say to yourself, ‘If I was sitting on my deathbed … hopefully at some point far in the future… would I know that I had done it right?’ It helps put your critical life decisions and key priorities in perspective.”