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After more than two decades with the NBA, Exec Counsel for Business & Finance HARVEY BENJAMIN retired from full-time employment with the league in December. His time was defined by creating and implementing the NBA’s credit facility, as well as being instrumental in the formation of the WNBA and the D-League. Benjamin will continue to hold a consulting role with the league, including current work with T'Wolves in the club's negotiation with Minneapolis for improvements at Target Center. On the eve of the Knicks-Pistons game in London, Benjamin took time to share his thoughts on the potential for NBA teams based in Europe and details of his next venture.
Q: What do you view as your legacy during your time with the NBA?
Benjamin: My major achievement was the creation and expansion and management of the NBA’s league-wide credit facility. Basically it’s a facility under which all NBA teams are eligible to borrow at very favorable rates, up to $125M each. We’ve got about 19 teams currently participating, we have outstanding loans of about $2.2B and there probably are in the neighborhood of 40 lenders participating -- both banks that provide credit under a short-term line of credit and insurance companies that provide debt on a fixed-rate basis over a seven to ten year period. So it’s a very very favorable facility and one that I’m proud.
Q: Was there an initiative that did not get done that you wish you were able to complete, or one that you wish you had more time to work on?
Benjamin: It isn’t so much a matter of time, it’s a question of what didn’t get done. I was always anxious to see the expansion of NBA basketball to Europe in the form of teams playing there. I always hoped that that would happen. We have looked into it from time to time. I think NBA Commissioner DAVID STERN keeps saying it’s going to happen in ten years and we keep extending it for ten more years. But I do believe that they’re not quite ready for us, mainly because there are not the kinds of arenas that can generate the types of revenues that NBA teams need to be competitive. You have to put at least four teams in Europe at a time to make any sense and they’re not quite there.
Q: You were instrumental in creating the NBA D-League. Is there anything with relation to that venture that you have not seen yet that you are hoping will come to fruition?
Benjamin: I was involved from the very beginning. In fact, one of the things that I was responsible for was having I think it was four teams from what had been the Continental Basketball Association leave the CBA and come into the D-League. I think that really cemented the foundation of the D-League and it’s grown from then. They have 16 teams now. It’s been a tremendous asset to the NBA in terms of being a training ground for NBA players, NBA officials, for front office people who then move onto our teams. I read that 30% of NBA players have some D-League experience, which really speaks highly to how significant that has become in the development of our game. It’s fair to say that the D-League is now so the equivalent of Triple-A minor league baseball. I think it’s moving in the direction that it should be moving. I’m hoping some day they can get more of a national television presence.
Q: You also were involved in the formation of the WNBA. Has it been what you anticipated it would be?
Benjamin: The WNBA has been a terrific product to watch. I’m a little disappointed it hasn’t yet achieved the financial success we hoped it would, but it just may take longer. And one of the good things that is happening is that the quality of women’s basketball in terms of women coming out of college is improving. Every year the women’s game gets even better. It’s very successful in terms of its importance as a women’s sport and I think it’s just going to take a little bit longer to become a commercial success.
Q: What’s the next chapter for you?
Benjamin: That’s a good question. I am interested in the right situation in acting as a consultant to various kinds of sports entities. I’m sort of torn in terms of enjoying retirement and how hard I want to work. But I’d like to keep myself occupied in the sports business. I would like to either get consulting assignments or become a member of a board of directors or board of advisor for a sports team. I believe that as news of my retirement spreads, as people know that I’m available that I will have a fair number of opportunities. I’m looking forward to that, but it is really nice not having to go to work every day.
Q: What sports business story are you currently watching?
Benjamin: In terms of the NBA -- which is of course what I follow most closely -- I’m very anxious to see how the combination of the new collective bargaining agreement and the NBA revenue sharing plan will -- and I’m sure it will -- achieve the goals that the NBA set out. And that is to enable every well-managed team to be competitive on the court and to be profitable. Having lived with CBAs over the years and having survived two lockouts, I think the evolution of where we are today in terms of the agreement and the revenue sharing plan is going to make a great deal of difference.
Octagon promoted Exec VP JEFF EHRENKRANZ to Managing Dir of Europe, Middle East & India. Ehrenkranz, who relocated from Connecticut to the U.K., replaces GLENN LOVETT, who is leaving the company for another career opportunity. Octagon U.K. also promoted VP TIM COLLINS and Octagon Australia GM GARRY DODS to co-Managing Dirs (Octagon).
EXECS: The Blues announced yesterday a five-year contract extension for GM DOUG ARMSTRONG through at least the ’17-18 season (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/17)….The Browns named Jaguars General Counsel SASHI BROWN Exec VP & General Counsel and named Padres Senior VP/Business Operations BRENT STEHLIK Exec VP & Chief Revenue Officer (Browns)….The Orioles announced yesterday contract extensions through the ’18 season for Exec VP/Baseball Operations DAN DUQUETTE and manager BUCK SHOWALTER (Orioles)….The ACC yesterday named Florida Citrus Sports Properties Manager MICHAEL STRICKLAND Senior Associate Commissioner/Football Operations. The ACC also announced that Senior Associate Commissioner/PR & Marketing AMY YAKOLA will oversee the Communications Department and promoted BEN TARIO to Assistant Commissioner for Football, Multimedia & Legal Affairs (ACC)….Rhode Island College named GREG O’CONNOR Assistant AD (PROVIDENCEJOURNAL.com, 1/15)….Intrust Bank Arena named Univ. of Arkansas Assistant Dir of Marketing & Promotions JOSH HOWELL Marketing Manager (SMG)....Media rights firm MP & Silva is launching a new office in Paris, the company's eighth office in Europe and its 15th globally. Country Dir PIERRICK YSERN will work in Paris with Managing Dir for Europe ROBERTO DALMIGLIO (MP & Silva).
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The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Albergotti & O'Connell cite a broker as saying that S.F.-based investment banker THOMAS WEISEL, who "bankrolled and owned LANCE ARMSTRONG's former cycling team, also managed assets" for former UCI President HEIN VERBRUGGEN. Sources said that Weisel "used his fortune and his connections in business to exert influence over many facets of the sport" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/17). In N.Y., Thompson & O'Keeffe report the lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act by former cyclist FLOYD LANDIS "raises disturbing questions about the links between Weisel ... and officials of USA Cycling" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/17).
HAPPY DAYS: Film director BRIAN DE PALMA and actor AL PACINO are "joining forces" for "Happy Valley," a feature about late Penn State football coach JOE PATERNO. Producer EDWARD PRESSMAN yesterday said that he has "optioned the film rights to 'Paterno,' the best-seller by sports journalist JOE POSNANSKI." RICK NICITA, who is "managing a select group of clients through his company RP Media, also will produce the project," with Skybridge Capital Managing Partner ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI serving as exec producer. The producers are in "preliminary discussions" with screenwriter DAVID MCKENNA about adapting the book for the screen (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/16).
AWARDS & HONORS: Toronto Sun baseball writer BOB ELLIOTT has been named as one of six new members to the Kingston & District Sports HOF (TORONTO SUN, 1/17)....The Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation will present former NFLer O.J. BRIGANCE and his wife, CHANDA, with its Community Service Award (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/17)....Former MLB manager LOU PINIELLA will be among the '13 class of inductees to the Ted Williams Hitters HOF on Feb. 2 at Tropicana Field. He will be joined by former MLBers RYNE SANDBERG, DARRELL EVANS, SANDY ALOMAR, SANDY ALOMAR JR. and ROBERTO ALOMAR. Former MLBer JACK MORRIS also will be honored at the event, which is being held in partnership with Rays P DAVID PRICE and called Dinner with David and Friends (TAMPABAY.com, 1/16)....ESPN anchor NEIL EVERETT will host the 61st annual Oregon Sports Awards on Feb. 10 at Nike's Tiger Woods Center (PORTLANDTRIBUNE.com, 1/17).
CHARITY STRIPE: Seahawks QB RUSSELL WILSON on Tuesday visited DAVID PADILLA at Seattle Children's Hospital. Padilla is battling osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer (THENEWSTRIBUNE.com, 1/16)....White Sox Special Assistant to the Chair DENNIS GILBERT said that the "In the Spirit of the Game" dinner held by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation "raised between $300,000 and $400,000" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 1/16).
NAMES: Capitals LW ALEX OVECHKIN will be a torchbearer for the '14 Sochi Olympics. He said that he is "playing for his country in the Games whether the NHL gives its blessing or not" (WASHINGTONTIMES.com, 1/16)....Cavaliers Owner DAN GILBERT is "buying a majority stake in Detroit's Greektown Casino Hotel." He said that the purchase is part of his company Rock Gaming's strategy "aimed at revitalizing downtowns" such as Detroit and Cleveland. Gilbert and his companies have "invested more than $1 billion" in Detroit over the last few years (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 1/17)....Former NFLer JOHN TAIT has sold his three-bedroom, loft-style condo in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood for $635,000 (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 1/17).
IN MEMORY: WNBA Lynx COO CONRAD SMITH died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He served as T'Wolves VP/Corporate Sales before taking over the Lynx in November '08. Smith also worked for the former NHL Minnesota North Stars, Twins and former NASL Minnesota Strikers (STARTRIBUNE.com, 1/16).