For the past week I’ve been at the Las Vegas Summer League, running a program called Sports Business Classroom. This is a six-day experience for people who are interested in learning what they need in order to find jobs in sports. We broke the curriculum into “GE” (everyone gets a little bit of everything), and “Major” (deep dive for people interested in a specific subject) content. The majors this year are the Salary Cap; Broadcast; Social & Branding; and Scouting, Video & Analytics. I developed & taught the Salary Cap curriculum, in addition to serving as General Manager for the full program.
The guest list was impressive, if I do say so myself, including Scott Brooks, Rob Pelinka, Adrian Wojnarowski, Mike D’Antoni, Masai Ujiri, Kirk Goldsberry, Rick Carlisle, Daryl Morey, and literally dozens of other industry pros. We had analytics pros teaching analytics, scouts teaching scouting, broadcasters teaching broadcasting, etc.
The Salary Cap GE content literally was called “Salary Cap 101,” through “Salary Cap 401.” The 401 class was an interactive exercise where I put the students to work rather than lecturing to them or having them listen to panels. I broke the students into groups, assigned each group an NBA team, and gave each an expert to help them (Bobby Marks, Aaron Barzilai, Nate Duncan, Danny Leroux, Eric Pincus, Steve Kyler, and Dan Woike, who was there covering SBC for the OC Register and whom I immersed into the program by pressing him into service).
Each group had to analyze their team (strengths & weaknesses, where they are on the competitive cycle, the implications of their market size, etc.), develop a goal (go for it, gather assets, tear it all down, etc.), and give me a plan — a set of moves to achieve their goal — that had to make sense from a cap, financial and basketball standpoint.
I was hoping they would start to get competitive while doing this, and sure enough that’s exactly what happened. Trade discussions broke out between teams, and they really drove hard for the upper hand in any deal. When we had to cut it off at the end of our allotted time (which I dubbed the “trade deadline”), I told them all how awesome it was, and how they did exactly what I was hoping they’d do. I asked Bobby Marks to compare it to what they actually did in team from offices, and he told the class, “This was better.”
I told then, “I promise you, the next time I talk to Adam Silver, I’m going to tell him about this session and what you did here. I’m going to tell him that he’s missing a golden opportunity by not running the real trade deadline this way,” which got an expected laugh.
Cut to about 5:00 that evening. Due to scheduling, my class was now gathered in a different meeting room, right inside the tunnel from the Thomas & Mack floor. Our next presenter was Daryl Morey, delivering “Analytics 201” (Kirk Goldsberrry had delivered Analytics 101). We were waiting for Daryl, because the Rockets had a game that was ending in the Cox Pavilion. I strolled out into the arena to see if I could at least eyeball him coming….and Adam Silver was right there, off to my left.
The Commissioner was talking to someone else, I went over and waited for him to finish. Mike Bass, the league’s Executive Vice President of Communications, came over and greeted me. I pointed in the direction of my classroom, and said, “Mike, I have a room full of students right on the other side of that wall. Any chance I could get Adam for a few minutes?” He said, “Absolutely.” There were a few things Adam had to do first, but he’d be along right afterward. Just then Summer League founder Warren LeGarie walked by. I waived Warren over and told him what had just happened, and ten seconds later Warren literally had Adam walking with me to address my class. (I gestured an “I’m sorry” to Mike for breaking protocol, and he just smiled & nodded that he understood.)
So I’m now walking Adam down the corridor to my classroom, and on the way there I’m telling him about the 401 session that morning, how my students did, and that he was missing a golden opportunity by not running the real trade deadline that way.
I finished right as we reached the door, walked in, and said to my students, “WHAT DID I PROMISE YOU THIS MORNING? SAY HELLO TO ADAM SILVER!” Jaws dropped and they let out a collective gasp. Our brilliant staffer Nicki ran out to the arena to grab every photographer she could find, as Adam addressed my group for a good 10 minutes, then took several questions. When he was done, Daryl (who had arrived by the time Adam & I walked in) finished setting up and then delivered a great presentation on basketball analytics. Just another day at Sports Business Classroom.
The serendipity of all this was amazing. I’ve seen Adam in the arena exactly one time this week, and it was at the exact moment I needed him, standing right where he was accessible to me, and right as Warren was also walking by to help expedite getting him there. My students originally were supposed to be in a different room, but the original room was needed for a different function, and we had to move downstairs — right by the court. And I was only out there looking for Daryl because his game was running late.
I was serious when I said I’d tell Adam about the class the next time I talked to him. I just didn’t imagine I’d be able to fulfill that promise on the very same day.
So what did Adam say to Sports Business Classroom? That’s for my students to know.