The 30 most valuable professionals in the business of sports.
These African Americans have an excellent opportunity to help chart the course of an industry that is enjoying strong growth and high popularity. There is money to be made, and African Americans finally have a significant say in how that will be done.
Because their influence on the fortunes of pro sports is undeniable, we proudly present "The BLACK ENTERPRISE MVPs," the most valuable African American professionals in the business of sports.
This compilation of 30 black sports executives, entrepreneurs, franchise owners and association administrators does not represent a flood by any means. But the emergence of African Americans in key positions in the industry merits mention--and may signal that the black faces in boardrooms will soon have as much or more influence on sports as the black faces on the field.
It is these African Americans, who use their minds more than their muscles, who should be the real role models in sports. Consider that they had to score highly on a combination of the following weighty criteria:
* Own a majority or significant equity stake in a sports-related business or franchise;
* Hold a position as an executive at a sports-related business or franchise with significant, decision-making power and budget responsibility;
* Wield significant bottom-line influence on the profitability of the business of sports via promotions, labor relations, contract negotiations, endorsements and/or advertising; and
* Hold a position as an executive with significant budget responsibilities and decision-making power in the league offices, professional associations, player unions or governing bodies of the major revenue-generating sports.
The precarious nature of the business makes it impossible for everyone with an executive title or team ownership stake to make this list. One bad season, marketing campaign or policy decision could land these men and women on the unemployment line.
The MVPs we've chosen have direct financial impact on the industry--and the potential to change industry policies and trends. We believe this gives them the staying power to survive where others might not. And their survival will fuel an evolution that is long overdue. African Americans will have successfully moved from being strictly sports industry laborers to becoming managers and equal partners in one of the richest industries in the world.
ALPHA V. ALEXANDER
YWCA of U.S.A.
* For years, Alpha Alexander has had her hand in a number of areas connected to sports. Her expertise in athletics has made her a virtual Jill of all trades: She is a member of the board of directors of the United States Olympic Committee; a co-chair of the USOC Subcommittee on Member Services; a member of the advisory board of the Women's Sports Foundation; a founder and vice president of the Black Women in Sports Foundation; and president of the Arthur Ashe Athletic Association.
In her current position as director of Health and Sports Advocacy, Alexander's decisions concerning the creation and implementation of the YWCA's national health, physical education and dance programs help prepare thousands of future athletes. She recently inked a deal with Nike to sponsor development programs for women's basketball and volleyball. An outspoken advocate for minorities and women, Alexander is in a league of her own.
* Few individuals have the power to determine an NBA team's course as Bernie Bickerstaff does. In fact, no single individual in the league has as much input in the direction of a team as he does. In most cases it would take three people to do the work that Bickerstaff does.
Bickerstaff has been general manager of the Denver Nuggets since 1990. But that's not all: In February, Bickerstaff signed a five-year contract that added the titles of president and head coach of the Nuggets to his job description. He's about as close to autonomous as any coach could ever hope to be in this demanding, we-want-a-title-yesterday world of pro sports.
Who better to lead a team than the person responsible for its assemblage of players? Bickerstaff's impact as coach was immediate: He propelled the Nuggets to the 1994-95 NBA play-offs after taking the helm late in the season, 15 1/2 games behind the division leader. Whatever the future holds for the Nuggets, it will be known as Bickerstaff's legacy.
* Just like sports franchises, sports conglomerates also recruit star performers. After scouting his management abilities as a vice president at Procter & Gamble and as vice president and general manager at Pepsico, Nike and then Reebok recruited John Borders to run major sales divisions for each company.
Reebok won him over, appointing him vice president and general manager of Reebok Northeast in 1993. Borders oversees the sales, marketing and distribution of Reebok products in the northeast region, and also contributes to plans for national marketing efforts. Additionally, he is responsible for regional new business development. Currently, Borders is working with top management to restructure the company. He is certainly a recruit that is paying major dividends.
M. L. CARR
* M.L. Carr was an integral part of the Boston Celtics championship teams of 1981 and 1984. Carr, 43, now hopes to be an integral part of the Celtics' new legacy--one that he must create as the team's executive vice president and director of basketball operations.
Appointed in 1994, Carr oversees the whole works--a job that his playing years equipped him well for. "I know [the game] from every position because I played all 12 of them," says Carr. Charged with rebuilding a team that had lost three starters to age and one to death in the past few years, he has done a laudable job.
Signing future Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins to a three-year contract was just one of the personnel decisions that Carr has made in order to return the team to its glory days. And it's paid off--the 1994-95 season marked the Celtics' return to the NBA play-offs after being relegated to spectator status the prior season.
* Deron Cherry, 35, part owner of the NFL expansion team Jacksonville Jaguars, has come to expect the unexpected--for him it's been a way of life. An injury in his senior year in high school scared off the college scouts except those from Rutgers University, where he eventually earned All-East honors as a standout punter and strong safety. Against all odds, he went on to join the NFL Kansas City Chiefs, eventually becoming an All Pro as the team's starting free safety.
Fittingly, Cherry's foray into the previously all-white ranks of NFL franchise ownership was just as unexpected. Cherry is now in business for himself as an Anheuser-Busch distributor in Kansas City. The former Chief became a minority owner of the 1995 NFL expansion team, the Jacksonville (Fla.) Jaguars, when multimillionaire shoe salesman Wayne Weaver was in Kansas City scouting locations for his business. The two met, and Weaver, the Jaguar's majority owner, offered Cherry a stake in the club. Cherry will likely assist in evaluating player talent for the Jaguars, a role his six consecutive NFL Pro Bowl appearances has prepared him well for.
LEONARD COLEMAN JR.
Major League Baseball
* As president of the National League, Leonard Coleman Jr. is one of the highest ranking African American executives in the sports world. He is only the second African American to assume this role. The position to which he was elected in 1994 requires that he oversee the entire $10-million-a-year National League office operations.
Coleman's office is responsible for everything from National League umpires to the league championship. All matters of expansion, rules, baseball operations and accounting are under his direction. He was instrumental in Major League Baseball's recent decision to compensate former Negro League players.
Aside from his position as president of the National League, Coleman is a member of Major League Baseball's executive council, which has run baseball in the absence of a commissioner. When it comes to baseball, Coleman's as big a hitter as they come.
ANITA L. DEFRANTZ
International Olympic Committee
* Anita L. DeFrantz exerts tremendous influence over amateur sports. She serves on the International Olympic Committee Executive Board and is a member of IOC's Coordination Commission for the 1996 Olympic Games. She is also on the Executive Committee of the United States Olympic Committee Board of Directors, which oversees all USOC operations. And if that weren't enough, she also sits on the board of directors for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
Sports insiders laud DeFrantz for her behind-the-scenes work in getting James Easton (not the USOC's choice) appointed as the second U.S. representative on the IOC. She receives equal praise for her leadership as president of the Los Angeles Amateur Athletic Foundation. DeFrantz is definitely a pro when it comes to amateur sports.
* As executive vice president and general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wayne Embry oversees the coaching staff and player personnel of the team. And, as if that weren't enough, he has also put together a tenacious group that consistently appears in the NBA play-offs.
Even after the unexpected departure of head coach extraordinaire Lenny Wilkens at the end of the 1993-94 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to have an excellent season and ended up in the 1994-95 NBA play-offs--a feat due in no small part to Embry's ability to find the best players and coaches for his team.
Embry's approach to team personnel is unique. From his choices for head coach on down to the twelfth man, Embry looks for character first. "Talent wins games, but character wins championships," says Embry. "As you build a team, you try to build tradition with it."
DON E. N. GIBSON
Major League Baseball Properties
* Major League Baseball Properties' clutch performer is Don E.N. Gibson. In March, he was promoted to senior vice president, business affairs, which gives him responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the licensing, marketing and publishing arms of Major League Baseball, including its licensing, retail and legal departments. Since 1992, he has been running the company's operations as vice president and general counsel.
With Gibson's help, Major League Baseball Properties racked up $2.5 billion in sales in 1993. Now Gibson will use his experience drafting trademark, licensing and property rights agreements to help Major League Baseball Properties recapture those sales numbers after last year's strike. With an economics degree from Bucknell and a Juris Doctor degree from the UCLA School of Law, Gibson is well-prepared to develop a marketing strategy that is sure to be a hit.
National Football League
* As executive vice president for labor relations and chairman of the league's Management Council Executive Committee, Harold Henderson holds one of the most crucial positions in the NFL. Henderson, 52, oversees the administration of the league's new collective bargaining agreement and is responsible for all league matters relating to player relations.
His appointment in 1991 made Henderson the highest ranking black executive in the NFL's 75 years of operation. Henderson reports directly to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, with whom he worked closely in 1993, to secure the settlement of the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association. The settlement, which lasts through 1999, included the free agency system, which has forever changed the NFL.
* Michael Huyghue, 32, is charged with an awesome task--building a winning NFL team from scratch. Huyghue is vice president of football operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of the NFL's 1995 expansion teams.
Before going to the Jaguars, Huyghue was the executive vice president/general counsel for the Detroit Lions. In 1991, he was also a general manager of the Birmingham Fire, which was part of the recently resurrected World League of American Football, the NFL's effort to market the game internationally.
Huyghue, the only African American vice president of football operations in the NFL, will negotiate player contracts and handle salary cap decisions for the Jaguars.
His success is key to the advancement of African Americans into the front offices of the NFL.
* It was as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters that Mannie Jackson first traveled on a crusade to celebrate and revolutionize basketball as entertainment. This time it's up to him to make sure that the 68-year-old basketball institution continues to reach as many fans around the world as it did when he himself donned the famous red, white and blue uniform.
Jackson, 56, is the chairman and CEO of Harlem Globetrotters International Inc. After the team's parent company filed for bankruptcy, the Mannie Jackson and Associates investment group acquired the Globetrotters in 1993 for an estimated $6 million. At the time of the sale, the Globetrotters were the first professional sports franchise owned by an African American.
To make Globetrotter magic show up on the bottom line, Jackson plans to take advantage of the budding international popularity of basketball. He will market not only the team, but one of the most recognized brand names in sports.
* Stu Jackson is already in the NBA record books. In 1989, when he was 33 years old, he became the head coach of the New York Knicks, the youngest head coach in NBA history. History is just what his stint as head coach shortly became, and no one would have guessed that he would re-enter the NBA's elite as general manager and vice president of basketball operations for the league's expansion team, the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Now 38, Jackson has a lot more on his mind than coaching. He runs the $125 million team from the front office. Those all too familiar X's and O's have been replaced by dollar signs and decimal points. Jackson welcomed the change.
"I've spent my life preparing for the business of basketball. I just couldn't see being a lifetime coach."
In Canada, where hockey is the dominant sport, it will be up to Jackson to make the Grizzlies roar.
EARVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON
Los Angeles Lakers
* It's been a long time coming, but the Magic man has finally fulfilled his dream of NBA franchise ownership. In 1994, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, then 34 years old, paid more than $10 million for a reported 5% share in the ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson also holds the title of vice president in the Lakers' organization.
It seems only fitting that Johnson would officially own a piece of the team that he led to five championships in 12 years. He has always made public his desire to own an NBA franchise. Prior to buying an interest in the Lakers, Johnson was part of a group that lost a bid for an expansion franchise in Toronto, and was also part of a group that fell short in an attempt to buy the Minnesota Timberwolves. Johnson's other business interests include Magic Johnson T's, an official T-shirt licensee of the NBA, NFL, NHL and the NCAA.
* Few people can deny Michael Jordan's impact on the sports world. Whether on the basketball court or the baseball diamond, having "Air Jordan" in a sports arena is tantamount to increased ticket sales and television viewing for that event.
His post-retirement stint in Minor League Baseball last year increased visibility and public awareness of the league, as well as bolstered ticket sales. And when Jordan returned to the NBA in March, not only did the bottom lines of the Chicago Bulls and the rest of the league benefit, but so did the stock market. Nike Inc. (just one of the many companies contributing to Jordan's $30 million in endorsements this year) hit a 52-week high after his return was announced.
At 32, Michael Jordan is likely the most recognized athlete in the world. And his basketball prowess has generated more revenues in more ways than can be closely estimated.
* Don King is as big as it gets in the heady business of pro boxing. In 1994, he promoted 47 championship bouts, breaking his own world record. Promoters are only as successful as their fighters are popular, and King promotes the cream of the crop--including former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and current titleholders Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad. King has eclipsed every promoter in the business, past or present.
Named one of the "40 Most Influential Sports Figures for the last 40 years" by Sports Illustrated, King has been working at breakneck speed for the past four decades. In addition to promoting, King owns KingVision, a pay-per-view sports and entertainment network, on which his fighters are showcased. King has been setting precedents in boxing since 1974, with the then unheard-of $10 million in guaranteed purses for the "Rumble in the Jungle" between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Zaire.
In the two decades since, King has set (and broken) numerous attendance, purse and ticket sales records.
* John Lucas' professional and private life has been a roller-coaster ride, from the dizzying heights of NBA stardom to the depths of addiction and back. John Lucas, 40, is now general manager, vice president of basketball operations and head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Lucas' path to the front office has been riddled by obstacles. He was the NBA's No. 1 draft pick in 1976-- an honor that made Lucas' dismissal from the Houston Rockets, and the NBA, in 1986 all the more disheartening. Rather than give up, Lucas battled--and conquered--his addiction, and returned to the NBA in 1992 as head coach for the San Antonio Spurs.
In 1994, Lucas resigned his coaching job in San Antonio despite posting a winning record both seasons. Characteristically, he landed on his feet in Philadelphia. Now he plans to recapture the 76ers' glory days when Julius "Dr. J" Erving was among the NBA's elite.
JOHN ATHAN D. MARINER
* When it comes to dealing with intricate financial matters in sports, few are more skilled than Johnathan D. Mariner. H. Wayne Huizenga, the only sports owner to have franchises in three major sports, seeks Mariner's advice for all of his sports holdings. Mariner is vice president of finance and administration for the Florida Marlins baseball team, senior financial advisor for the Miami Dolphins football team and the former vice president and chief financial officer for the Florida Panthers hockey team. Mariner is also consulted on the financial operations of Joe Robbie Stadium, another Huizenga property.
Mariner's ability to negotiate and work out agreements is so respected that he was selected as one of eight club chief financial officers to serve on the ad hoc committee to develop Major League Baseball's revenue sharing plan. You could say he's won the "triple crown" of sports financial management.
MICHAEL A. MCCULLOUGH
* Michael A. McCullough has certainly been like royalty to the Sacramento Kings. Since June 1993, he has served as vice president of marketing and broadcasting, playing a major role in retaining all television and radio broadcasting rights for the club's broadcasting network. He also spearheads all of the Kings' marketing efforts, including overseeing the sale of luxury boxes, ticket sales and game promotions.
The National Basketball Association also covets McCullough's broadcasting and marketing skills. He currently sits on the NBA Properties Marketing Advisory Board and previously served as league broadcast coordinator, assisting all NBA teams in the production of their game telecasts. He also helped coordinate NBA national telecasts on TNT and NBC and special events such as the NBA Draft and NBA All-Star Weekend. McCullough's record has proven him to be one of the league's crown jewels.
* At 23, Shaquille O'Neal is the heir apparent to the title of endorsement king. He exudes the same power of attraction, both on and off the court, in the stadium or on television, as does Michael Jordan. He is his own multi-media conglomerate with an estimated $12 million in endorsements. O'Neal is changing the relationship between athletes and business with his ownership of the Shaq logo, and he has an equity interest in almost every company he endorses.
O'Neal is recognized the world over and has only just completed his third season in the NBA--leading the Orlando Magic to their second consecutive play-off appearance. He is truly a franchise player, whether on the court or at the cash register, where sales of Orlando Magic apparel far outdistance those of most NBA teamwear.
O'Neal has made his impact felt worldwide--but that's not too hard when you're 7[feet] 1[inches] and 305 pounds.
DREW PEARSON AND KEN SHEAD
Drew Pearson Companies
* In the sports industry, it's "hat's off" to Drew Pearson and Ken Shead. They are the driving force behind the Drew Pearson Companies' rise to the nation's largest black-owned licensed sports and character-apparel manufacturer. DPC has licensing agreements with all the major league sports organizations, many entertainment properties, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, many historically black colleges and universities and the Negro Baseball Leagues.
The company's development of adult character headwear linked to sports (using recognizable Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon characters) created a new market for headwear. And its distinctive "Bolt," "Jagged Edge" and "NBA Slam" styles have become bestsellers among teenagers and changed the standard on which caps are made.
When it comes to sports headwear, Pearson and Shead are head and shoulders above the rest.
New Jersey Nets
* After winning two NBA championships with the New York Knicks, Willis Reed is working to elevate the New Jersey Nets to similar glory. Using his experience from several coaching jobs and a number of front-office positions within the Nets organization, Reed has worked his way up to executive vice president and general manager. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team. Player personnel matters, draft pick selections, free agent signings and coaching staff decisions all fall on the shoulders of the former league MVP.
Although the team has made the play-offs in recent years, many have sensed a need for change. Several player moves seem imminent. Nets ownership is also considering changing the team's name and colors to stimulate new fan interest in the club. As he did in his playing days as an all-star center, Reed will play a pivotal role in the decisions that will chart the new direction of the NBA franchise.
JIMMIE LEE SOLOMON
Major League Baseball
* In July 1991, Jimmie Lee Solomon was appointed director of Minor League Operations for Major League Baseball. Today Solomom is considered to be one of the most powerful men in the sports world as he governs the relationship between Major League Baseball and its $200 million-a-year Minor League system.
Solomon's considerable experience in the business of sports, as an attorney and later partner at the prestigious corporate law firm Baker and Hostetler, helped lay the foundation for the work he does in his current position.
Solomon, 38, wields considerable power over the careers of those who aspire to the major leagues. He oversees the entire Minor League operations--consisting of 17 leagues (175 teams)--including evaluating and structuring a competitive balance for player talent, and governing all transfers of ownership. A Minor League team cannot be bought, sold or moved without the input or approval of Solomon--proving he's a big league player in the world of sports.
* For the past 12 years, sports agent Bill Strickland has meant a great deal to his clients--literally. In 1992, Strickland became president of IMG Basketball, heading the basketball division of the largest sports management company in the world, with annual revenues exceeding $900 million.
In 1993, Strickland negotiated the largest salary ever paid to an NBA rookie at the time. Chris Webber signed a 15-year, $74.4 million contract with a one-year out clause (which Webber exercised) with the Golden State Warriors. This was the second time the NBA's No. 1 draft pick was represented by an African American. The first time the pick was Pervis Ellison, who Strickland also represented.
Strickland is also the only African American agent to be named to the Sporting News' 1994 "100 Most Powerful People in Sports"--an honor he's received two years running.
* This outstanding former NBA star has made a smooth transition from running the point for the Detroit Pistons, to running basketball operations as vice president and general manager of the $125 million NBA expansion team, the Toronto Raptors. On May 24 of last year, two weeks after his official NBA retirement, Isiah Thomas again became an eager and talented rookie. Now he's taking aim at an NBA championship as the only African American with both a management post and an ownership stake in a professional sports franchise.
With a five-year deal to run the basketball side of the Raptors, including hiring a coach, scouting personnel and negotiating player contracts, Thomas' own contract includes a 10% ownership stake in the Raptors that's worth an estimated $12.5 million.
Thomas once vowed he was "a Piston for life." While he didn't stay with the team he led to back-to-back NBA titles, Thomas must now make the newly built Raptors' engine run on all cylinders.
NFL Players Association
* For 16 years, 63 was Gene Upshaw's Los Angeles Raiders uniform number, and Highway 63 was the area that Upshaw cleared when he blocked ahead of a running back. As executive director of the NFL Players Association--a position he's held since 1983--Upshaw, 49, used that same unstoppable determination to clear the way for free agency in the NFL.
Upshaw has been hailed by many as the most successful labor boss in sports history. But Highway 63 has had its share of roadblocks. In 1987, Upshaw led an ill-fated 24-day strike that yielded no concessions from the owners--least of all free agency.
With an iron will unique to NFL Hall-of-Fame linemen, Upshaw decided to decertify the players union in order to circumvent the owners' use of antitrust laws to stonewall legal action in favor of free agency. Regarded as one of the boldest moves ever made by a union leader, Upshaw's decertification of the union cleared the way for NFL free agency in 1993, changed football forever and put a new spin on the old aphorism, "united we stand, divided we fall."
TERDEMA L. USSERY II
Nike Sports Management
* When Terdema L. Ussery II was commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association between 1991-94, he guided the league to all-time records for attendance and forged a groundbreaking, multi-year development agreement with the NBA. As a result, the two leagues are collaborating in such areas as broadcasting, marketing, public relations and coaching development.
With that impressive track record, it wasn't surprising that Nike, the giant sports conglomerate, turned to Ussery in 1994 when the company started its career management and marketing services unit, Nike Sports Management.
As president of the division, Ussery is entrusted with shaping the careers of such stars as baseball's Ken Griffey Jr., two-sport superstar Deion Sanders, the NBA's Scottie Pippen and NFL quarterback Rick Mirer. Nike's mandate to Ussery is to "Just Do It" for these stars.
LEROY T. WALKER
United States Olympic Committee
* Leroy T. Walker has been involved in the Olympic movement for more than 30 years. He is the first African American to hold his current position as president of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), which charges him with overseeing the coordination of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Walker has worked for the USOC since 1977, serving on its board of directors and on many committees. His excellent record as a track-and-field coach--including his 1976 assignment as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team in Montreal--has earned him a top reputation in amateur sports. He has been a delegate to the International Amateur Athletic Federation and also served as president of The Athletics Congress (now U.S. Track & Field). In 1987, Walker was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, affirming him as a gold medal performer.
Black Coaches Association
* Behind-the-scenes influence is what makes Rudy Washington so important to sports. Washington was among those who founded the Black Coaches Association (BCA) in 1987, and as its executive director, he rallies BCA members to take on issues of importance to black coaches and athletes.
Over the years, Washington, who is also the head basketball coach at Drake University, has protested such issues as cutbacks in college athletic scholarships, unfair academic requirements for college athletes and the lack of a black presence among college faculty and coaching staffs. This year, BCA college coaches threatened to boycott basketball games on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday because the NCAA refused to restore the number of athletic scholarships that schools could offer from 13 to 14. The action could have cost the NCAA millions in broadcast revenues if the players had also decided to boycott. Like the coach he is, Washington awaits the proper time to call that play.
* It's been called the field of dreams, and for Bob "Bull" Watson, baseball has been just that. The 49-year-old Watson has been the general manager of the Houston Astros since 1993, making him only the second African American (and the only active black general manager) to run a Major League Baseball franchise.
Coincidentally, it was Bill Lucas, the first ever African American general manager in baseball, who put the notion of running a club from the front office into Watson's head, over 20 years before his dream came to fruition.
Watson has fulfilled most of his baseball dreams since his Little League days. He has been named to the All-Star game and hit a home run in the World Series. Now Watson has his sights on another appearance in the World Series--only this time it'll be the team that "Bull" built.
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|Title Annotation:||The Black Enterprise MVPs|
|Author:||Scott, Matthew S.|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1995|
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