SBD/January 17, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Former NBA Exec Counsel Harvey Benjamin Looks Back On Time With League

Benjamin said he's always been anxious to see the NBA expand to Europe
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.
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