Glazed. Chocolate. Bear claws. Rainbow sprinkles. Every morning, you’d see me coming to school with the old-school pink boxes. When I was 13, I used to flip donuts in the parking lot outside my junior high in Compton. That was my first hustle. And it was a good hustle. My father worked for the L.A. city housing authority, so he would get me up at, like, 6 a.m. and drop me off at the bakery on his way to work.
I had the profit margins all worked out in my head. I could buy donuts for 50 cents apiece and then sell them to the kids for a dollar. I’d make 50 cents on every donut I moved. There were probably 50 kids who hung out in the same spot before the school opened. My market potential was $25 profit a day.
I mean, come on — everybody loves donuts.
There was only one problem: If I wanted to get four dozen donuts, that was going to be an upfront cost of $25. That was my first economics lesson. I needed liquidity, man. I needed $25 to make $25, and I didn’t have that kind of money. I was 13.
So I had to convince all the kids to give me cash for their donut a day ahead of time. So right before lunch, when everybody was hungry, I’d walk around with a sheet of paper taking orders for the next day. The deal was you had to pay me then, and the next morning you’d have a fresh donut waiting for you when you got to school. Who’s gonna turn that down?
Remember, though — this is Compton in the early 2000s. I’m walking around asking people to give me money. I’m asking people to trust me. I learned that I could get people from all walks of life — gang members, nerds, jocks, teachers, lunch ladies — to trust me with their dollar. It was a really valuable lesson that I’ve carried with me my whole life: If you’re a man of your word and people can count on you, it cuts across all lines.
But that was just the start of my business ventures. In my head, I kept thinking, How can I take this to the next level? How can I make $100 a day? Donuts were the startup. My empire came a few years later, when I got my Pentium III computer.
When I got to high school, it was the heyday of Napster and Kazaa. This was before the iPod changed the game. Back then, everybody was ripping songs from the internet and burning them onto CD-Rs. It was like the Wild West. Anything you wanted, you could get.
Everybody in Compton wanted the new 50 Cent album or the newest Jay Z track that was on the radio, but not a lot of people could afford going to Best Buy and paying $15.99.
Needless to say, I saw a huge market opportunity. My first thought, as always, was profit margins. My dad used to buy everything in bulk at Costco. That was his thing. So he told me that he could get me a 100-pack of CD-Rs for $25. That’s 25 cents per CD. If I could sell burned albums for $5, that meant a profit of $4.75 every time I moved a CD.
But once again, I had a problem in my supply chain. My manufacturing infrastructure wasn’t great. We had a 56k modem. (Ya’ll remember that terrible start-up sound?)
It would take forever to download individual tracks, let alone wait for the CDs to burn. I was looking at more than an hour of labor per album. $4.75 an hour? I might as well work at McDonald’s.
The key was to get a DSL modem. The conversation with my dad went something like this:
“Hey, Dad, we really need to update our internet. I was thinking we could get DSL.”
“It’s about 40 dollars a …”
So I paid for the DSL myself. I looked at it as an investment. And it paid off. My downloads speeds were off the charts. I cut my total production time per CD down to like 20 minutes.
Of course, I had to keep my quality control tight. That meant listening to every track to make sure it wasn’t corrupted. Anybody who lived through the Napster days remembers downloading a song and then hearing that horrible static noise of a fake track.
Soon, the word was out: If you need a CD, talk to Arron. When 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album was coming out, I literally had so much demand that I started taking pre-orders. People were giving me money up front to be the first on the list. It was crazy.
If you heard “In Da Club” coming from a car stereo in Compton in 2003, there’s a really good chance that CD was burned by Arron Afflalo. 50, I’m sorry man, but I probably took $200 from you that summer.
It got addicting. I would stay on the computer all night downloading songs. I had a setup in my room where I had some weights and I’d work out while I was waiting for the CDs to finish burning.
Every 15 minutes, a CD would pop out of the tray. It was like a bakery. Every 15 minutes was another $5. I’d stay up until three or four in the morning. There was a point during high demand when I’d set an alarm every 15 minutes and I’d just pass out asleep right on my desk, then the alarm would go off and I’d swap in a new CD.
My dad used to get so mad, but my grades were good and I wasn’t hitting him up for money, so there was nothing he could really say.
Eventually the teachers got wind of my business and they started asking me if I could get them the oldies.
So I’d be downloading Marvin Gaye songs right alongside The Hot Boys.
This one guy from my school named Kendrick Duckworth was really into hip-hop. He asked me to burn him Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt. That’s an all-time classic from ’96. You couldn’t just go to the store and buy all these albums, you know? It would cost too much money. But you could come to me and get it for $5.
Kendrick eventually started making his own music. He got pretty good at it, too. You’ve probably heard of him. He goes by the name Kendrick Lamar.
I won’t sugarcoat it. Kendrick and I grew up in a tough area. The park where I’d go to play basketball as a kid was a big Blood hangout. And obviously, my CD empire wouldn’t exactly hold up 100 percent to copyright laws, but compared to the alternatives of what I could’ve been doing for money, I think it was pretty solid. There was a lot of trouble in Compton, but my mentality was straightforward: Just focus on yourself and what you can control, and you’ll go wherever you want to go. D.I.Y. man. You gotta do it yourself.
Honestly, I think that philosophy is why I was able to make it to UCLA and have a long NBA career. A lot of dudes have a good jump shot. A lot of dudes can play ball. But how many guys are willing to put in the extra work that it takes? At this level, you have to be almost addicted to the work.
I just turned 30. It’s been 17 years since I was hustling donuts, but nothing has changed. This summer, I completed my latest little project. This one might be my masterpiece. Ever since I was a little kid going to Campanella Park, and waiting hours for the Bloods to let me get in a run, I wanted my own basketball court. What people don’t realize is that, even if you’re an NBA player and you go to your old high school over the summer to get in a workout, they’re not going to just clear the floor for you.
You’ll walk in and the girls volleyball team will be having practice or something, and you’ll be just like everybody else, waiting around.
I was looking at houses with a gym inside, but the prices were ridiculous. You can build your own gym for a fraction of the cost the realtor tacks on. So that’s exactly what I did. I bought a piece of property in Vegas, and I turned it into my own little sandbox. My father and I spent the whole offseason working on every detail of the gym. We even got the company that does the floors for the NBA to bring in an official custom floor for us when they were doing their regular delivery for NBA Summer League. That saved us big time on the delivery fee. Logistics, man. Logistics are key.
The biggest thing for me — and this is going to sound corny — but when they put the floor in, it was like a jigsaw puzzle. I saw it all coming together. When I finished painting the hash marks on the floor, I stepped back and saw my own court. And everything was perfect, just the way I had drawn up the designs on a piece of paper months ago. I got chills.
I must have put up 5,000 shots that day. I flipped on the huge concert speakers that we had custom installed, hooked up my iPod to the sound system and played my workout tracks. Which were 100 percent legally purchased from iTunes.
Except maybe a few obscure mixtape tracks which were acquired by other means. Some habits never die.