Cleveland native Brian Kortovich has played professionally overseas, was drafted into the NBA D-League, and participated in NBA preseason camps with the Knicks and Nets. He’s even made a name “Smokin’ Aces” for himself at the legendary Rucker Park. However, it’s this basketball star’s philanthropic work off the court that is truly changing the game. Undo Ordinary chatted with Kortovich about his career and the inspiring story behind Aces in Action, his clothing line that benefits cancer research and community outreach programs.
UNDO: “Aces in Action” seems to riff off your basketball nickname. Can you tell us a little about your basketball career and how you earned that moniker?
Brian Kortovich: Basketball has always been a passion of mine ever since I was kid. After my dad passed away of cancer when I was 10, it became a therapeutic release to get me through the hardships of growing up without a father. What started off as a hobby quickly became my passion: it taught me how to work hard, stay disciplined, and dream big. The game took my sorrows and sadness and fueled it into motivation. I entered a young authors’ book contest about 4-5 months after my dad’s passing and wrote about my life up until that point, including my dream to one day play in the NBA in honor of my dad, Joseph William Kortovich. At the end of the story, I ended up signing with my hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and dedicating it all to my father. I can honestly say I’ve poured my heart and soul into this game. Anyone who really knows me can attest to that. After college I went on to play in Kuwait, France, Israel, and the Dominican Republic. I was also drafted into the NBDL with a few stints in NBA preseason camps with both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. After moving back to NYC after college, while working by day on Wall Street at the Mercantile Exchange, I made it a goal to try and play in the best summer pro-ams in the mecca of basketball. It was far from an easy road, but I did whatever it took to get on at the best courts. Then came an opportunity at the legendary EBC at Rucker Park. After 2 games of riding the bench in Harlem, I finally got my chance. Coach said to let it fly, and that’s exactly what I did. After a 40-point performance and many highlights later, my name quickly changed from just about every sarcastic name you can think of–Whitey, Nick Lachey, etc.–to “Smokin’ Aces.” A couple summers later I was able to cement my mark on the Rucker Park asphalt when I went to win the Rucker Park scoring title at over 35-points per game. It’s safe to say that I made a name for myself in the mecca of basketball. It was worth all the blood, sweat, hustle, and tears.
Is there a reason (personal or otherwise) you decided to start your own philanthropic venture instead of just participating in a pre-existing one?
Cancer has affected each one of us in some way, shape, or form. ACES is a way for me to make a difference while honoring my father, who is always in my heart. It’s my way to fight for others while keeping his memory alive. Starting my own venture has allowed me to travel the world playing basketball, establish great relationships, and grow the ACES brand all while giving back to the community and contributing to the fight against cancer!
When did you start Aces in Action? How has the journey been since then–any roadblocks, particularly exciting moments, etc.?
Starting your own brand and organization is no easy task–near impossible if you do not come from a wealthy family or have huge investors from the beginning. Instead of soliciting investors from the jump, I chose to take a chance and invest my own time, money, energy, heart, and hustle into ACES. When you are passionate about what you do day in and day out, you will make progress daily. It’s been a challenge to say the least. Not all my risks have panned out, but my belief and faith in God has enabled the brand to get to where it is today. You are going to win some and lose some–sometimes lose more–but if you stay the course through the process, your visions will eventually come to life.
Aces in Action is described as a “lifestyle clothing brand with a philanthropic component.” What made you decide to link your altruism with fashion?
Honestly, I always had it in my heart to give back in some type of way, but didn’t know it would be in this manner. It all started after I won the Rucker Park scoring title in 2012. I had a few brands approach me and I ended up getting a shoe deal with AND1. It was my goal with the brand to give a nice percentage of proceeds to charity–cancer research in particular. Unfortunately, after an Achilles injury in the summer of 2013, my shoe was pulled from production. I was a bit disappointed at the time, both from the devastating so-called career-ending injury (many said I wouldn’t run again, let along play at a high level) and the fact that my shoe was pulled. While rehabbing my Achilles, I had a lot of downtime after surgery laid up in bed. It was during these dark months that I had the vision of starting up the ACES brand–creating a unique logo that would hopefully sell itself while adding in the charitable component.
A portion of the proceeds of Aces in Action goes to The V Foundation.Why did you choose to work with them specifically?
We chose the V Foundation because it made the most sense at the time of our launch with the basketball connector. I love what Jimmy Valvano stood and fought for. I will never forget his ESPY speech he gave back in the 90s–not only did it impact me, it inspired an entire nation.
Proceeds also go toward community outreach programs. Can you elaborate a bit about what happens in those programs and who participates in them?
We have the charitable arm of Aces In Action, which is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing awareness of and financial support (via local and national organizations) to the fight against cancer through community events. We’ve hosted charity and celebrity basketball games, Ace of The Month programs, AIA basketball camps, and other pop up events.
We are launching our new summer line very soon and announcing some some exciting pop-up events that we’ve been working on for several months!