Former NBA coach talks business of basketball

The former NBA head coach and player lent insight into running a basketball team

· March 11, 2013, 11:06 pm

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Raquel Macgregor | DP

Avery Johnson, former head coach of the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets, explained the importance of balancing communication and demeanor in management.


If College sophomore Christianne Johnson could describe her dad in one word, it would be “resilient.”

Her father is Avery Johnson, a former NBA player and head coach, as well as a former ESPN analyst. Johnson spoke Monday night in Huntsman Hall at an event titled “Coach Avery Johnson: The Business of Basketball.” The event was sponsored by the Wharton Undergraduate Sports Business Club, the Black Wharton Undergraduate Association and MUSE.

Johnson offered a humorous and insightful look into the world of playing, coaching and understanding basketball as both a sport and a business.

After brief introductions by his daughter and Wharton junior and USBC President Rob Dearborn, Johnson began the event by giving a short biography of his life, spanning from his birthplace of New Orleans, La., to his final days as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets.

However, the bulk of the event was a question and answer discussion in which Johnson sat with Wharton sophomore and USBC Vice President of Career Services Austin Josiah. The two discussed the business aspects of basketball, from marketing and managing to fundraising and communicating.

Throughout the discussion, Johnson’s versatility charmed the audience, as he went from cracking jokes in his Southern drawl in one instance to explaining the nuances of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement in another. He highlighted this ability to balance communication and demeanor as a crucial element of being successful in sports and business.

“You must know how to communicate,” he said. “You [have to] have different voices when you’re in a leadership position.”

When asked about marketing and basketball, Johnson compared small market teams to large market teams. “They have to have really comprehensive, strategic marketing strategies,” he said of smaller market teams. “They must be really creative, really strategic — they can’t waste any dollars.”

Johnson also mentioned the variety of business careers available in the basketball industry. “There are a lot of great jobs on both the basketball side and the business side that pay great,” he remarked, listing career fields ranging from legal counsel to finance operations.

Wharton senior Alan Tse found this career-oriented point of view especially interesting. “When you watch basketball, you don’t really get exposed to the business side as much,” he said. “It’s cool to hear a mix of basketball and business.”

For College senior Jason Oscar, learning more about a head coach’s ability to multi-task was most revealing. “The behind-the-scenes commentary was interesting,” he said. “It was neat to hear about how coaches pay so much attention to issues like salary caps and luxury taxes.”

The event concluded with Johnson taking questions from the audience. One audience member asked if Johnson had any advice for students interested in pursuing a career in sports business.

“Well, it’s very important that you’re very competent in your particular field,” Johnson answered. “You [have to] know what you’re doing just to get in the door.”

However, Johnson made sure to mention the necessity of balancing results with respect in the business world.

“I know business is based on results, but you have to show the people you’re leading that you care about them,” he said. “You’ll get more out of your staff if you show that you care about them more than results.”

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