Basketball courts weren’t easy to come by seven miles outside of Shreveport.

Instead, a young Alana Beard had a patch of dirt, a makeshift basket and a determination to become as good as the women she’d seen on TV in the new women’s basketball league – the WNBA.

Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson are the women Beard would record onto a VHS and then go out and practice every move.

“Until I got it right,” Beard said.

The fact that she was practicing those moves on dirt? Not a problem. Or a deterrent. It was the opposite.

“We bounced the ball enough, we played on it enough, that the dirt became concrete,” Beard recalled.

Dirt became concrete. Where there was no way, she still made one.

Fast forward several decades and Alana Beard is now a WNBA alumnus who is worthy of her own moves being emulated by little girls with big dreams. After 15 seasons, eight All-Defensive teams, four All-Star appearances, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and one WNBA Championship, Beard retired as one of the most elite defenders the league has ever seen.

Beard accomplished everything on the court she could’ve dreamed of, but the adversity she conquered off the court showed her how she could leave a bigger impact on the game and the women who came after her than her stats ever could.

In April 2010, just six years into her professional career, Beard suffered a career-threatening injury during a preseason practice — tearing her posterior tibial tendon, which holds the foot up.

“Doctors literally said, ‘Alana, you have a 10% chance of returning to an elite level because we’ve never seen an injury like this before, especially in your sport,’” Beard remembered.

“Prior to that, my identity was wrapped up in the game of basketball, as I was obsessed with being great,” Beard explained. “I didn’t look left or right, I just had a narrow sort of vision in terms of how I was going to achieve that. And that probably led to my injury because of that obsession of wanting to be great.

“I became hyper-focused in that moment with figuring out who I was outside of the game.”

Being successful off the basketball court is a blueprint few athletes have publicly navigated as well as Magic Johnson. The Lakers’ legend has ownership stakes in everything from Starbucks and Burger Kings to the Los Angeles Dodgers and LA Sparks, the same team Beard won her WNBA title with in 2016.

“Magic Johnson is that North Star,” Beard explained. “Seeing what he was capable of building after the game was something I’ve always admired and sort of used as a blueprint to eventually build out what I wanted.

“Franchising was a business model that resonated with me because it gives you that blueprint and the plan and steps to becoming successful.”

Beard took advantage of her forced time away from the court to dive into the business world headfirst. Her first internship was with James White, the CEO of Jamba Juice. Already living in the Bay Area, Beard got up every day at 4 a.m. to get across the bridge to San Francisco for two hours of rehab. She’d then cross back over for a full 9-to-5 day of her internship. Any Bay Area resident can tell you the commitment that showcases. She did that for months to learn the ins and outs of franchising.

Eventually, Beard opened her own franchise with a good friend.

“That was an amazing experience,” Beard said. “It gave me everything that I  wanted and asked for in terms of understanding operations and the development of business.”

She returned to the court the next season and found herself increasingly balancing basketball and business – determined to set herself up for the reality her injury had forced her to face; basketball would end, then what?

Soon she tiptoed into the venture capital space, challenged to do so by a fellow Duke University alum. A partner at a venture capital firm with Howard Schultz, he accelerated her interest in the tech and startup space. She took on fellowships in her WNBA offseasons. With each decision to jump into something outside the game, the purpose she’d always known she carried crystallized.

“I wanted to get into the nuances and really dig into how to build it because in order for me to share it, I have to be able to articulate and communicate exactly how to do it,” Beard explained. “I wanted to create a bridge for female athletes into the venture capital space.”

There goes that familiar refrain. All of this was not just for Beard but for the girls of Shreveport and the athletes whose careers would all end and be forced to answer the same question: now what?

Beard expanded on the topic.

“When you think about some of our male counterparts, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, all of these guys get in so early on these campaigns, for obvious reasons. They have the liquidity, the platform, people want to be associated with these guys. Why can’t women have the same opportunity? Why can’t we have the same access?”

“So, in order for me to create that access, I have to know exactly how to do it. So, of course, I jump right in, saying, ‘this is going to overwhelm the crap out of me,’ as it scares me, I have to be at my most vulnerable point. But that’s exactly why I say yes to it.”

In those moments of feeling overwhelmed, Beard returns to the first patch of Louisiana dirt she turned into concrete. It’s her mother’s voice, as much as the beat of the basketball, that fills her head.

Alana’s mom, Marie, grew up the only girl among nine boys.

“That should tell you everything you need to know,” Beard said with a laugh. “She’s the strongest individual, the strongest woman I know.”

A good high school basketball player herself, Marie knows exactly what to say to her daughter in her most vulnerable moments that remind Alana of who she is.

“She’s like, ‘Alana, everything you’ve told me that you wanted to do or will do, you’ve done.’ And she goes back and lists everything starting from when I was in elementary school,” Beard shared fondly.

Marie reminds Alana of her second-grade self, coming home in tears after not making the honor roll.

“I was like, ‘Mom, from this point on, I’m going to be on the honor roll every single time,’” Beard remembered.

And she did, graduating with a 4.2 GPA.

In middle school, Beard told her parents they wouldn’t have to pay for her to attend college.

She chose a high school whose girls’ basketball coach had already established an expectation of excellence that would better set her up for a college scholarship.

She earned a full ride to Duke University, where she had a Hall-of-Fame career, leading her Blue Devils to two Final Fours and was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year three times.

“That’s what I go back to,” Beard explained. “In those moments of being overwhelmed, going vulnerable, having doubts, that’s what I go back to.”

“It’s understanding and knowing that you belong. Just because your path was different, it doesn’t mean you’re any less deserving of this moment. And when you get to a point of knowing you belong, there’s going to come another moment or situation where you’re going to feel as if you don’t. But as long as you stay true to your core and understand your purpose, you get through those moments.”

Whatever she’s facing, her mother reminds her, it’s not the first time she’s turned dirt into concrete, and it won’t be the last.

A month after retiring in 2020, Beard took on a role with Silicon Valley Bank. “It’s a bank,” she said, “that sits in the epicenter of everything tech and innovation.”

While she continued cutting her teeth in the business and venture capital space, she began pouring the concrete for the girls and athletes who’d come after her.

She started the 318 Foundation, named for her Shreveport area code, to improve the “college, career, and life outcomes for girls in underserved communities across America.”

In the same year, 2021, she also started Transition Play, a 12-month program for college, professional, or recently retired athletes to “make a successful transition to life beyond the game.”

 “It’s all about benefiting and positioning women to be the dynamic leaders they are in our society, despite people always telling us it’s impossible,” Beard said of her foundations. “If you tell me it’s impossible, it’s telling me it’s possible. That’s how I take it. That’s how I look at everything I do. And I want to make sure I am capable of instilling that same mindset into young women that look exactly like me.”

It's why she’s not stopping there.

In July of 2021, the African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG) won a vote by the Oakland city council, giving it the lease to the Oakland Arena. A Bay Area resident since 2019, Beard connected with Ray Bobbitt, AASEG’s founder.

“We hit it off from the very beginning,” said Beard.

With her business and venture capital experience in hand, Beard became the force and face in partnering with AASEG for a WNBA expansion team to Oakland.

“We have parallel paths in the sense that what he’s building out as AASEG is very similar to how I’m building out the WNBA team,” Beard stated.

Beard is leading the Oakland WNBA ownership process.

“I’m pushing toward developing and doing it all right,” Beard explained of her process. “I do all the phone calls, I handle all the engagement, I build out all the strategy, I do the financial modeling, but I’m learning through it all. That’s how I want to do it differently.

“I don’t want to be just a name and a face. That doesn’t work for me. People need to be aware of what I’m doing in order for me to build it the way that I know it should be built into a sustainable model.”

With the WNBA’s popularity and stock on the rise, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has made it no secret the league wants to expand for the first time since 2008. At the end of 2022, she said the league was looking seriously at 10 interested ownership groups.

Beard is not only positioning Oakland to be the one that wins the bid to become the 13th WNBA team, but herself to understand every aspect of the process.

Just as she has every other time, she’s turned dirt into concrete. Because she’s not just playing for herself but making a way for every other girl and athlete that comes after her.

“The ultimate goal is to build out a portfolio of women’s sports franchises, and the WNBA is only the start,” Beard explained. “I’m not building this just for me, but I’m building this for others to be able to have the tools, resources and access to this opportunity if they choose to.”