Sports

Sonics GM buzz hits close to home

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Rich Cho knows basketball.

Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. The 1983 Decatur High School grad doesn’t have a lethal jumper from behind the 3-point arc and can’t roll through the lane and finish with a tomahawk dunk.

In fact, Cho never even played the sport during his days as a Golden Gator, which makes it all the more surprising that the 41-year-old is entering his 13th season in the National Basketball Association.

Cho’s NBA career hasn’t included wearing a tank top and knee-length shorts. It’s involved computer programs and evaluating players while wearing a suit and tie.

Cho is currently serving as the assistant general manager for his hometown Seattle Supersonics, and his name has been floating all over the Internet and newspapers as a viable candidate to replace fired Sonics general manager Rick Sund.

Sund, along with head coach Bob Hill, were fired last week by first-year Seattle owner Clay Bennett.

But for now, Cho is basically the acting general manager for the Sonics until team president Lenny Wilkens and Bennett fill the GM position. Cho’s duties currently include helping the team prepare for the June 28 NBA Draft in New York City.

If hired, Cho would be the second Federal Way School District graduate to be the general manager of a Seattle-based professional sports franchise. Federal Way High School grad Bob Ferguson served as the GM of the Seattle Seahawks from 2003-05.

Cho’s journey into the Sonics’ front office isn’t the norm. The NBA is a very tight-knit community; coaching and front office jobs usually are reserved for former players.

“I think to do this job well, you really have to live and breathe basketball,” Cho said in a recent interview on supersonics.com. “One of the important parts of my job is to follow both pro and college basketball closely because the job itself involves a lot of discussion about players and strategizing about different ways to improve the team. With the complexities of the salary cap and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, I think there is a lot more to running a team than just having the NBA pedigree. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain a lot of experience and knowledge working for both Wally Walker and Rick Sund.”

After Cho graduated from Decatur, he went on to Washington State University, and following his graduation in 1989, he worked as an engineer at Boeing for five years. But he still had the goal of working in sports.

Cho did some research and found that a lot of sports agents and people in the front office of most professional sports organizations have law degrees. So he enrolled in law school at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., in 1994.

While at school, he sent a resume to the Sonics that resulted in a summer internship. He interned again in summer 1996, then did part-time work for the Sonics after graduating in 1997.

As an intern, Cho was asked to design a computerized player evaluation program that would allow the Sonics to compare players based on just about every imaginable statistical category, including salary. Cho also devised a formula to give every player in the NBA a Sonics Evaluation Number, which takes all of a player’s relevant stats and condenses them to one number.

While other teams have since developed similar software, Cho’s program is the most advanced in the league. For example, if the Sonics want a shooting guard who shoots better than 35 percent from behind the 3-point line and makes less than $2 million a year, Cho enters the requested stats and a list of players comes up on the screen.

He was promoted to assistant general manager in summer 2001, and has served in that role ever since.

On the basketball side, Cho’s responsibilities include assisting the GM in player contract negotiations, drafting all player contracts, handling anything related to the salary cap and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and working closely with the Sonics’ college scouts. He also deals a lot with both the NBA legal department and player agents.

On the business side, he’s involved in a variety of legal issues ranging from sponsorship agreements and employment contracts to immigration matters.

“A typical day is pretty hard to describe,” Cho said. “It really depends on the time of year. I am pretty busy throughout the year, but the busiest times of the year for me are in May and June prior to the NBA draft, in July and August during the free agency period and in February prior to the trade deadline.”

At 41, Cho is one of the younger assistant general managers in the NBA and the only person of Asian descent in the front offices of the top professional basketball league in the world. He was born in Burma, then moved to the United States when he was 3. He now lives in Seattle.

“My job is really interesting because it’s all basketball-related,” Cho said. “It’s all fun for me and I really enjoy coming to work every day. I like the fact that I can combine the pure basketball part with the legal and analytical side.”

The Seattle Times is currently listing seven possible candidates for the Sonics’ open GM job, including Cho, San Antonio Spurs GM R.C. Buford, Wilkens, former Denver Nugget GM Kiki Vandeweghe, Detroit’s vice president John Hammond, Spurs’ assistant GM Sam Presti and Phoenix Suns VP of basketball operations David Griffin.

Sports editor Casey Olson: (253) 925-5565, sports@

fedwaymirror.com

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