The departure of NBA International President Heidi Ueberroth could set in motion a significant shift in how the league structures its growing global business division.
NBA Commissioner David Stern last week said the league will re-examine its international operations in the wake of Ueberroth’s decision to leave at the end of the year after nearly two decades of work.
That process could involve changes for some of the NBA’s senior-level management; staff could see new roles or increased international duties upon Ueberroth’s departure, which she announced last week. Those individuals include Mark Tatum, executive vice president of global marketing partnerships; Sal LaRocca, executive vice president of global merchandising; David Shoemaker, CEO of NBA China; and the various heads of the NBA’s international offices located in Europe, India, South Africa and Indonesia.
The transition also comes as the NBA makes a change at the top, with Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver taking over on Feb. 1 for Stern, who is retiring after 30 years with the league.
Ueberroth will still be involved in some global business matters for the NBA after she officially departs, working as a consultant while she evaluates other career options. She would not disclose any details on how the league would move to fill her post or offer any possible replacement candidates.
“It is premature to say anything about that yet,” she said. “I will be working closely with David and Adam with a succession plan and a transition plan. Personally, any time a senior executive leaves, it is a good opportunity for the organization. We are in good shape with the team of people we have built.”
Ueberroth has always had a global focus since she joined the NBA in 1994. She became president of NBA International in 2009. With a strong management team in place, Ueberroth said she began to seriously consider leaving after the NBA Finals in order to pursue other opportunities. “It seemed the right time,” Ueberroth said. “It felt like the right time to take on a more entrepreneurial role and ownership-type role.”
Her decision to leave the league comes at a time when the NBA’s global presence and revenue continue to grow — with some 300 league employees now working under the auspices of NBA International.
To continue that growth, Stern said he will sit down with Silver after Labor Day to address the best way to structure the league’s global business going forward, without Ueberroth. Stern said the NBA is in no hurry to name Ueberroth’s replacement or make any management changes on the international front.
After Stern steps down as commissioner, it is expected that he will continue to work on behalf of the NBA on international issues. As much as the league has grown internationally under Ueberroth’s direct oversight, the global expansion of the NBA during Stern’s time as commissioner is seen as one of his greatest legacies.
Having Stern still engaged internationally after he leaves as commissioner could affect how the league changes its international management lineup.
“My strong sense is that given the fact that Heidi is not leaving until the end of the year, and I will be available to do some travel for Adam internationally after February, my guess is that we will not be rushing to make any immediate changes in light of the strong group that has been put together,” Stern said.
During Ueberroth’s tenure at the NBA, the league significantly added to the number of its international media deals, expanded the number of its international offices, and created its NBA China entity. She was the league’s first president of NBA International when she assumed that role in 2009, with other executives, such as Tatum and LaRocca, playing key roles as the league ramped up its global business efforts.
Her track record makes her one of the most accomplished female executives in the industry.
“Certainly being a high-profile woman in the business is no easy feat, and I think she has definitely raised the bar in terms of aspiration of women in the business,” said former WNBA President and current Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. “Heidi would be the first to say that we don’t think of ourselves as women in the business, we think of ourselves as executives in the business. It is our accomplishments that matter, not our gender. The fact that she held a senior position as long as she has is a tribute.”