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Did you know you can Intern at the NBA?

Posted in Internship

Did you know you can intern at the NBA?

Because I sure did not.

I did not even remotely think about working there until a good friend of mine, Wesley, told me about the internship application. I applied, got in, and the rest was history.

Now as I am sitting back and writing this article, it blows my mind that I interned at THE friking NBA. It blows my mind because the NBA has always been a huge part of my identity that I grew up with. It’s almost like another friend to me, being with me through my ups and my downs, my wins and my losses. I built my character after stories I learned of NBA stars because they were my very first idea of success and happiness. I don’t fist pump at raves but I sure do when a buzzer-beater goes in. And I usually stay on the quiet side of things, but I can get very hyped up playing basketball.

Group Pic!

What Basketball Means to Me

To kind of put things into perspective, I wrote about what basketball means to me here. Ehh it kinda got a little long. Skip to the next heading to learn just about the NBA.

Here’s a fond memory. As a high-schooler, I went to a rather strict school in China with no WIFI. Whenever playoffs time came though, my friends and I would have our phones out underneath our desks, and use this app called 虎扑 to text-stream playoffs games. Yes, text-stream. On our limited data plans, we would read the game play-by-play. That’s how much we loved the game. We would be half-heartedly scribbling out some math formulas when in actuality our eyes were wandering to that small phone screen for the amazing game happening on the other side of the globe. And when a game-winning shot goes in, you can bet all the boys in the class will simultaneously flip over the desks, scare our math-teacher to death and celebrate like crazy. Of course, the poor dude with data lag would try to ask which team won amidst the celebration but join in too.

And then there’s the countless fond memories I made on the court, through the game, that have persisted to this day.

During my primary school years, my classmates and I would get off school and rush to the Chinese Athletic Agency. Apparently our moms got us a deal to train with the professional kids to fill in some training reps. It was hard work. There may or may not have been puking on the tracks after 800 meters of frog jumps, but those were some of the happiest and most carefree years of basketball for me. I developed all my fundamentals then.

I enrolled into international school for middle school and had even more time for basketball. I think every kid had different middle-school-kid goals then, but the basketball kids only had one – sprint to the cafeteria to secure 2 hamburgers before the lines could form and then bring them to the court to maximize our playing time during lunch. Talk to girls during lunch? No thank you. Basketball was life. I think my mom became seriously worried I would get appendicitis at that time.

High school came and a coach of ours by the name of “Handsome Thunder” (literal translation from Chinese) picked out some of us he thought were good at basketball. He started training us and taking us to tournaments. He kickstarted our school’s non-existent organized basketball efforts at that time, and later on another coach would take it to new heights. We as the group of kids he picked out, started playing together more and then almost every chance we got. I remember all these guys so fondly. It was like yesterday I played with them and I still remember their tendencies. When I visited Wesley in LA a year back, we played one-on-one. I think we both smiled a bit when we found that our tendencies did not change much. It’s something very cool to recognize a bro by his brand of game. We reminisced high school basketball and how even once we did a one-on-one bet with the loser confessing to the girl he likes. Those were some good times.

There’s more basketball memories unfiled into the timeline told just now.

HJJ was a basketball trainer who took me under his wing during a basketball summer camp. He is someone I respect so much because he bet everything on basketball. He has grand aspirations to be the best Point Guard in Shanghai, and yet he was so down-to-earth to talk basketball and life aspirations into the late night with a bunch of sweaty boys. I respect the non-professional players who do not outgrow the game. They stick with it. He’s become an elite trainer now for Nike and YBDL and is spreading the game of basketball.

A very good bro of mine came to me once after a huge break-up. We talked and had food, but before long, we took things to the basketball court. “You know what, screw things. It’s fine.” He said as he knocked down a jump-shot with focus. And that’s when I knew he was fine. To my friends who ask about my “Basketball is My Girlfriend” t-shirt, maybe that was the origin story of it. On that day, I realized basketball is a constant in the lives of many of us.

After having gone to college, I would return to Shanghai and check out the shabby court nearby my house that I’d go every weekend. It was heartwarming to see the grandpa who gate-keeped the court was still around. I don’t think he recognizes me but I was glad to put the 2 Yuan court-entrance fee into the palm of his hands. All the ballers in the area love the guy because he kept the court clean and would sell us drinks so we could dominate on the courts.

There’s that. My story of basketball, the NBA, the game. I’m no professional player, but the game has given me so much joy and made me the person I am today. NBA and basketball has meant so much to me and been such a defining way of life, I never really thought I could get more from it, until I interned at the NBA!

So without further ado, here are some digestable bullet points of what I learned at the NBA that I wrote down during my internship. If you want to get a further idea of life at NBA, I’d be happy to talk in person some day!

G League Intern Project

The Giving Culture @ NBA

What we were told repeatedly was that nobody gets to where they are just by themselves. Reach out to people who can help you, motivate you, teach you. Once you get to a better position, help, motivate, teach those who reach out to you. I love the culture of coffee chats at the NBA. People who have been on their journey longer than us interns were so willing to give time and insight to their journey and teach us what they know. My great time having coffee chats with all kinds of amazing NBA people was also a reminder to myself to give help and insight to those that can benefit from it.

Sal Wisdom

We had a fireside chat with a Senior Leader of the NBA, Salvatore Larocca, President of Global Partnerships. It was my absolute favorite talk because as Sal sat at the front of the long desk with us interns crowded around him, he was able to tell us his life story in such a heartfelt and genuine manner. There really was no barrier between me and his story besides maybe all the intern heads popping out at the long desk.

From what I could tell, Sal always knew he wanted to be successful, and did whatever he could to ensure he was on the path of success. After all his stories, you can really tell he is successful and happy by holding to simple philosophies our current day-and-age may like to dismiss as reductionist. A simple “work hard and you’ll be successful” really meant a lot coming from him. My favorite quote from him is: “There’s going to be noise in your life because you are still young. The noise is 90% of life. Go and find the other 10%.”

Byron Wisdom

Another fireside chat we had was with Senior Leader Byron Spruell, President of League Operations. With the limited minutes we got with him, I kept on telling myself Byron is the type of leader I want to be. I respect all the Senior Leaders all the same, but I could just tell Byron’s leadership style resounded with me the most. He had the commanding presence I think any good leader needs. But at the same time, he had the genuineness to make you feel right at home talking to him. It’s hard to describe. You’d have to meet him to know exactly what I mean. But in the meantime, here’s a great piece of advice from him: “Always have a personal board of directors around you.”

Byron’s been intentional with his career decisions. It’s important to recognize that your career is your own doing, and you should make sure you’re not drifting around in your career. The way Byron has done that is by running himself like how you run a company - with a board of directors. These are close friends, peers or even superiors you trust, who can give you their takes. You tell them your goals when you set them, and you report back to them the results when you achieve the goals. These board directors make sure you don’t make a biased decision by providing their opinions.

A Good Portion of the Asians

Good to Great

I was a Data Analyst intern on the Digital Content Strategy team. With my manager being in charge of WNBA, G League, and Basketball Africa League social media data, I understood the disparities in size of these leagues with the NBA. Furthermore, with my intern project being about expanding G League opportunities, I was truly put in a position to think about how to take a business from good to great.

Sure the NBA is a multi-billion league everyone tunes into now, but how do we take the WNBA, G League and BAL to that level? This was the most interesting overarching question to think about. Because even if these leagues’ market-sizes are capped lower than the NBA’s, the question of how do we make them leap into a different stratosphere of market-size is the million-dollar question. For our intern project, one member of our team, Alex was ripping his hair out to think of a good recommendation for the G League. That was very inspirational to see.

High Quality Picture with Low Quality Tank

Be Both! Be as much as you can!

This bullet point is from the point of view of an engineer and for all the engineers out there.

At least at the University of Illinois, I truly feel engineers have been somewhat limited. What I mean by this is that we are great engineers, but we can be more than just engineers!

Through interning at the NBA, I’ve come to recognize the NBA rewards 2 types of people. The NBA rewards the hard-workers, the people who put their heads down and deliver amazing substance. The NBA also rewards charismatic leaders, the ones who can inspire play and call others to action.

Engineering people are definitely hard-workers, because it truly takes a lot of time to become a good engineer. And then it takes a lot of time to engineer a good product! However, at my time at the NBA, I was enabled to be more than an engineer. I was trusted to communicate results to peers and superiors, and present important ideas to others. My time there reminded me of my time as a debater in high school. I would use words to persuade and to inspire thought. The NBA was a reminder that I can use that ability of mine, along with engineering, to be so much more.

So I guess the very complicated point I am trying to make here is this: Be both! Both a good engineer and an inspiring character/leader. The further takeaway for myself is: Time is limited, so be productive in working hard so I can have time to be with others to inspire and be inspired.

Intern Culture

OK, lastly I’ll just list some of the top memories I had as an intern there. Most of these are insider stories so hopefully my intern friends will have a good laugh when they see them.

  • Ice Cream Thursdays. The fast-break intern
  • The one-on-one of the summer. Instagram-lived
  • “I’m thinking”
  • Baseball day
  • Draft Night
  • NBA Cares event
  • “You guys gotta meet my roommates. They’re like the best people ever.”
  • Seeing a hot-dog eating contest
  • Floaters with FaiFai
  • Getting awesome swag from the office
  • Jersey Sushis
  • MealPal
NBA Cares Event
Baseball Suite & the Bois
Last Day Photobooth Pics
All the Interns
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