John Karaffa had the right stats to found ProSport CPA five years ago, an accounting firm that serves professional athletes, as both an athlete and one that played abroad, like many of his clients.
After graduating from Butler University, where Karaffa played college basketball, he moved to Germany to play 11 seasons professionally. There he also worked as a tax manager with Big Four firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"I used basketball to see the world," said Karaffa, who also played one season in New Zealand and was visiting many high-net-worth clients globally for PwC. "And along the way, I got my CPA, my MBA, and eventually my doctorate. I kept all my balls in the air, so to speak."
Karaffa's doctoral studies helped him fine-tune the business plan that he had in mind "forever" and now oversees as president of Quinton, Va.-based ProSport. The firm works with more than 200 clients in various sports both in the United States and abroad, in leagues including the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the WNBA, the Canadian Football League and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Karaffa's travels now involve visiting the games and matches of many of these clients. "Before Thanksgiving, I went to Montreal - I had a [Mixed Martial Arts] fighter who was fighting in a Pay-Per-View event ... he's one of my clients," Karaffa said. "The next day, I went to see the [Canadian Football League team] Montreal Alouettes semifinal game against the Toronto Argonauts." He also plans to cheer on some basketball and track and field clients in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games. Five of his clients won gold medals in London.
Though the firm's growth was fast, Karaffa stresses that it was his background and planning that earned him this high-caliber roster. "Unfortunately, it's not something you can do out of the gate. You have to pay your dues to get to the point where you're seen as an expert in your field," he explained. "For me, that's professional athlete taxation and international taxation - the combination of the two has taken 20 years of experience, a lot of different kinds of experiences. I had to pay dues to an extent, but that's always most exciting, to get to see the fruits of it. It's awesome."
Karaffa described the firm's clients as humble and genuinely curious about their finances. The hardest part, he said, "is getting time with them. Sitting down and having quiet moments to talk through things that are important to them."
As for his hoops career, Karaffa still plays about once a week, but devotes most of his energy to coaching the team of his seven-year-old, one of four kids that were the main reason for his moving back to the U.S. 10 years ago. Though he has yet to get back to Germany to visit former teammates and colleagues, Karaffa has fond memories: "I loved it. I loved both the experience of going over there, and I definitely liked competing. I'm from Indiana, so basketball is kind of ingrained in me. I loved playing and wearing the uniform."