A groundbreaking five-year, $50 million deal between the NBA and NCAA not only includes ambitious goals for overhauling youth basketball, but also marks a new level in the relationship between two powerful organizations that, until a couple of years ago, had never sat down together.
The as-yet-unnamed joint venture between the NBA and NCAA, which was to be formally announced today at the Final Four in San Antonio, will develop programs to help assure that boys and girls get consistent, high-quality basketball training and education. The first visible sign of the new business will likely be a Web site launched for the 2008-09 season that will provide information and social networking for young players, teams, leagues and event organizers. Before that happens, though, the NCAA and the NBA will have to hire a chief executive and a staff, and figure out where to establish a headquarters. That may be influenced, NCAA President Myles Brand said, by which technology company they partner with on their Web presence.
Terms of the deal call for each side to commit up to $15 million in cash and another $20 million in joint marketing investment.
“This is a historic deal,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will coach the U.S. men’s Olympic team in Beijing this summer and who has been a longtime proponent of revamping youth basketball. “It’s going to make basketball in our country better. That’s the motivation. To help kids, but to make the game better.”
While most of the details have yet to be worked out, the joint venture will go far beyond just a Web presence. There are plans for an annual youth basketball congress, for coaching education and certification, for registering and training officials and for working with existing sanctioning organizations to establish national standards for competitive events.
Having the NBA and the NCAA involved in such a venture seemed unimaginable as recently as mid-2005, when George Raveling, a former college coach who is now Nike’s global director of basketball, decided to try to get everyone involved in youth basketball into one room. Raveling, motivated by what he saw as “slippage” in U.S. basketball in everything from on-court performance to coaching and officiating, convinced Nike to host a U.S. basketball summit.
“At that point,” Raveling said, “never in the history of basketball had the NBA and NCAA sat down together.”
There’s no clear answer as to why that was true, considering the shared interests of the two organizations in keeping U.S. basketball healthy and successful, nor is either side particularly to blame. But the opportunity to change the relationship, according to several people interviewed for this story, may have come when Brand took over as NCAA president in 2003.
“A change of leadership sometimes is a catalyst to other types of changes,” said one.
Brand had signaled his interest in focusing on the broad issues facing the game when, in the late spring of 2004, he organized a group called the College Basketball Partnership, which included coaches, administrators, media members and former players who were concerned about the direction of basketball in the U.S. Many of the members of that group, which met off-and-on for about two years, were among the 40 people who gathered for Nike’s summit in October 2005 at the Fairmont Chicago hotel. Along with Brand, Raveling and Krzyzewski, the list included Tom Jernstedt and Greg Shaheen of the NCAA, former Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt, former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr., Hall of Famer Jerry West, former Kentucky AD C.M. Newton and television commentators Billy Packer and Len Elmore. Adidas was invited to send a representative but decided not to.
Perhaps the most important attendee, though, was NBA Commissioner David Stern. When he first had the idea for the meeting, Raveling said he knew that it wouldn’t work without the NBA.
“The thing that was going to give authenticity to this was getting the NBA there,” he said. “If the NBA agreed to do this, then we were home free.”
Considering the history, or lack thereof, between the NBA and NCAA, Raveling hired a professional arbitrator, a law professor from Duke, to help get the meeting rolling. That turned out to be a good idea, Krzyzewski said.
“We were all at tables sitting around in a square,” he said, “and you had your NBA group over there, and your NCAA group over there. … It was a little bit like a NATO meeting. You needed to break the ice and get to common ground.”
The only thing that really happened at that meeting was that everyone agreed that more meetings were needed. But that was enough.
Krzyzewski remembers walking out of the meeting with Brand. Brand turned to him and said, “I don’t know if we did anything.”
“You did the most important thing,” Krzyzewski said. “You know them, and they know you. Now we can start doing stuff. Now we can have more meetings, and we don’t need a facilitator.”
And, indeed, talks between the NBA and NCAA continued through the next summer and fall.
“It was never clear why we didn’t have a relationship, but what we learned is that our agendas are very similar, and that is to grow the game of basketball,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. “For both business and basketball reasons, we needed to be brought together, and as everyone introduced each other, it became very clear how much everyone owed to the game.”
In September 2006, Brand and Stern co-hosted U.S. Basketball Summit II in Indianapolis. This time, both Nike and Adidas were there, as were representatives from the Amateur Athletic Union, the National Federation of High Schools, coaches’ organizations, as well as West and former North Carolina coach Dean Smith. In all, about 40 people.
While the first meeting was the icebreaker, said Brand, at the second meeting, “the NBA and NCAA began to understand far better than in the past that we have a confluence of interests, that we are in the best position to try to change, in a dramatic way, pre-collegiate basketball.”
Stern and Brand went public at that meeting with their intention to reform amateur basketball, which they believe is too heavily influenced by too many organizations with too many different goals.
“Early on we realized that we can’t solve this problem through regulation,” Brand said. “No rules the NCAA could pass would be able to solve the problem. We went to work with sharp pencils to figure out how we can create a marketplace solution.”
There were more phone calls between Stern and Brand and the two discovered mutual interests and developed a friendship borne not only out of profession, but out of geography. Stern was born and raised in Manhattan, with Brand a Brooklyn native. The New York connection helped cement the personal relationship, but much of the day-to-day work was taken over by Silver and Shaheen, senior vice president of basketball and business strategies for the NCAA.
There were differences in approach that slowed the process.
“The biggest challenge is that we had historically been so disparate,” Silver said. “We are taking advantage of the NCAA Championship game to announce the deal, but it is not an coincidence that it took until now. In addition to our differences, there were subgroups we had to deal with like university presidents and coaches associations. Then we had to make sure our business partners were on the same page.”
Other groups, such as the shoe companies and the AAU, were involved early in the process and will be included in some way in the initiative, but they were not part of the planning talks between the NBA and the NCAA.
“We went to a couple of meetings,” said AAU President Bobby Dodd. “As we look forward, I hope all parties are included at the table. We look forward to lending our expertise.”
The deal was progressing enough through last June when the NBA invited Shaheen and Jernstedt to the NBA Finals. In December 2007, Stern and Brand flew to Chicago and both addressed a FIBA meeting and then together took in a Bulls game at the United Center. With the talks gaining traction, Stern invited Brand to participate at the NBA Technology Summit at this year’s NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. On March 24, Brand and Stern finally completed the deal during a meeting at the CBS Studios in New York where they taped their first-ever national television appearance.
“This is one of the most important moments in basketball in the past 20 years,” Silver said. “You can’t understate the significance of the constituent groups coming together for the purposes of improving basketball.”
“This is a major breakthrough,” Brand said. “It’s a major breakthrough in our ability to address the most pressing problems in the game. But this will not be easy. Like any new initiative, you have to give it time to mature, and you have to be willing to change.”