Steve Jbara is the founder and president of the Grand Rapids Gold, the Denver Nuggets’ affiliate in the NBA G-League (formerly the Development League).
The team, founded in 2014 as a Detroit Pistons affiliate known as the Drive, was rebranded in 2021 as the Gold, after the Nuggets entered into a hybrid agreement with Steve Jbara and his team of investors – an LLC known as the SSJ Group – which calls for the parent club to take charge of basketball operations and Jbara to oversee business operations and community engagement.
At the time the Nuggets cited the team’s stability and success as the deciding factors in entering into the agreement – how Steve Jbara and his team had done things “the right way,” as Ben Tenzer, Denver’s vice president of basketball operations, told the Grand Rapids Business Journal at the time.
“If we didn’t believe it was going to be a great partnership and they would be doing an amazing job on the ground there,” Tenzer told that outlet, “I don’t know if it would have been easy to say yes.”
And indeed, the Drive had turned a profit in its very first year of operations (2014-15), something that had never before occurred in what was then known as the Development League. On Steve Jbara’s watch, the team also vaulted to No. 1 in the league in merchandise sales while hovering in the top five in sponsorship revenue and gate receipts.
But by 2018 the Pistons made clear their intentions of moving the team to Detroit. Steve Jbara remained steadfast about keeping it in Grand Rapids, even as the ‘19-20 season was cut short by the pandemic and the club opted out of the following G-League season, which was conducted in a bubble in Florida.
While attending a Nuggets-Milwaukee Bucks game in Denver in January 2021, Steve Jbara reached out to team officials, and they agreed to meet with him on the spot. Inroads were made, and by April of that year an agreement was reached.
Besides the Gold, Steve Jbara serves as CEO of Atomic Honey, a Detroit-based advertising agency, and Chief Strategy Officer of WaitTime, a startup based in the Motor City that has developed artificial intelligence software capable of providing real-time insights into crowd behavior at sporting events.
Additionally, Steve Jbara is the Chief Strategy Officer and board member for Air Company, a CO2 technology firm based in Brooklyn and known for producing carbon-negative vodka. That is done by capturing and converting the carbon dioxide involved in the manufacturing process of such alcohol and using it to produce other products, including the glucose NASA is developing as a food source in space.
His entrepreneurial journey began in 2013, three years after his graduation from Trine University in Angola, Ind. That’s when Steve Jbara bought a Development League team that had been based in Springfield, Mass., and moved it to Grand Rapids. It began play the following year.
Jbara’s foray into basketball served as a springboard for other business ventures. He started and sold two startups, one in the CO2 recycling space and focused on microbreweries, the other a tech startup focused on peer-influenced shopping. The latter was acquired by Amazon.
In 2019 Steve Jbara launched Atomic Honey, an advertising agency that uses a services-for-equity model to foster startups’ growth. The company has established a national footprint, as it has partnered with 25 companies across the U.S.
Steve Jbara, a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., earned degrees in marketing and computer science from Trine University in 2010. He spent the next four years working for the Ford Motor Company and R.L. Polk in Detroit. The latter provides insights and data to the automotive industry.
Steve Jbara currently sits on the Detroit Sports Commission, the Gilmore Car Museum Board, Double-Down Development Board, the NBA’s Team Leadership Committee, The G League’s NBA Broadcast Committee, Endeavor Detroit BOD, Leaders for Kids Board of Directors, Green Door Distillery BOD, Yote BOD. He is a board member at the Special Olympics of MI and Brilliant Detroit.
A licensed helicopter pilot, Steve Jbara uses his aircraft to travel between his various enterprises.