Ivy-to-NBA player Butch Graves '84 B.A. never stopped loving Yale basketball
This is the latest in a series of "Where are they now?" features on members of the Yale Athletics family.
by Brita Belli
At most Yale men's basketball home games, former NBA player Earl "Butch" Graves Jr. '84 B.A. can be found sitting courtside in the John J. Lee Amphitheater, cheering for his former team.
Since he played for Yale in the 1980s – cementing his legacy as one of the Ivy League's greatest players, and Yale's all-time leading scorer with 2,090 points – Graves has watched the caliber of play among Ivy League teams steadily rise. "The Ivy League is not exactly a farm league for the NBA," Graves admits. "But the quality of the players today in the Ivy League is much better than when I played."
It's one of the reasons Graves advises young players to think about the big picture – their education, their future, their connections and how to use them – when considering their basketball prospects. As the rare Ivy League player who made it to the NBA, playing for the 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers, Graves says he understood his basketball talent as a great opportunity – and was determined to make the most of it.
"Basketball provided an opportunity for me to go places and meet people I might not have otherwise," he says. "It gave me the opportunity to go to Yale and gave me a focus on business." Following his NBA career, Graves earned his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and he is now CEO of Black Enterprise, the multimedia company founded by his father.
Graves has coached AAU basketball for the past 15 years and says, "I tell the young men you need to use basketball as much as it uses you. It's a means to get an education, to meet people. Rather than focus on the points you score, focus on the doors you can open."
For Graves, playing for Yale led to lifelong friendships, and it's where he met his life partner – Roberta Graves '84 B.A. "The most important thing I got out of Yale wasn't the wins and the losses, but meeting some of my best friends in the world – my teammates," he says.
Graves has remained invested in Yale basketball, leading the Yale Basketball Association for the past 20 years, encouraging alumni to give back, and supporting the school's recruiting efforts. He says that as the level of play in the Ivy League has advanced, top recruits no longer have to choose between the best basketball and the best education. "I've spent a lot of time recruiting for Yale and the Ivy League," he says. "In the past, you had to make a compromise between the best athletics and academics. Now, you can enjoy the best of both worlds."
He says he's excited about the prospect for the current Yale team heading into the Ivy League basketball tournament which is being held at Yale for the first time in its history March 16-17. The winner of the men's and women's finals are invited to compete in the NCAA tournament. Three years ago, the Yale team hit that goal, beating fifth-ranked Baylor in the first round 79-75 for its first NCAA tournament win. Could they get another shot this year? "We have the athletes to compete against anybody," Graves says.