*In honor of Black History Month, NBC Sports Chicago's Jason Goff sat down for a 1-on-1 interview with Bulls general manager Marc Eversley. Eversley, hired as part of widespread front office overhaul last offseason, is the first Black general manager in Bulls franchise history.
You can listen to their conversation on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, or read a transcript below. Edited for clarity:
Jason Goff: Thank you so much for doing this. The reason why we're doing this, obviously, Black History Month is upon us, and Black History Month usually has us looking backwards. And I wanted to talk to you about what we're experiencing now because you essentially are Black history and we're living it in the present day.
I want to talk to talk to you, Marc, about your path. It wasn't the traditional one to get to this point. So, for everybody who isn't familiar with Marc Eversley, what did it take to get here, to be the first Black general manager of the Chicago Bulls and only the second in this city in the "Big Five" sports franchises?
Marc Eversley: "For me, there's kind of two themes: Hard work and perseverance. I did not take a traditional path to get to where I am today. I started at Nike, I started working in a retail factory outlet store just north of Toronto. I was part of a small team that opened up six or seven stores. I progressed from there, I became the sports marketing director for all of Canada's sponsorship properties; they included Canada Basketball, the Toronto Raptors, the Vancouver Grizzlies at the time, so I'm kind of aging myself here a little bit. From there, I moved to Portland, Oregon where the world headquarters are for Nike, and that's really where I started working for athletes 1-on-1 and figuring out what it is they need to really succeed and excel on the court.
"I spent 11 years at Nike. They were 11 great years and I had no intentions of leaving, but somebody came and took a chance on me, and they offered me a job to move back home to work with the Raptors. I started in player development, off court, working with young men and helping them acclimate and assimilate to a new city, for most of them a new country. And I progressed through the organization -- player development, assistant GM, VP of player personnel -- and I spent seven years there. Seven quality years. I worked with a bunch of great people, really smart people. They helped shape who I am today.
"From there, I moved to the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers, both in senior executive positions in both organizations. And then obviously this past spring was approached by the Bulls to come and join their executive leadership team, and here I am today, the GM of the Chicago Bulls."
And the significance of that for you. Because like I mentioned at the outset, you're the first Black general manager of the Chicago Bulls, and you're the second in the "Big Five" sports franchises, so what's that significance for you? Because (White Sox executive vice president) Kenny Williams has brought a championship to this city, and Kenny has had pressures that have raised and lowered.
Because of the nature of the business, there are a lot of eyes on you. Black eyes, white eyes, whatever the eyes are, the people who want Bulls basketball to succeed. What's the significance in that for you, being a Black man and having this job and being the first one to have it (for the Bulls)?
"Well first and foremost, it brings an incredible amount of pride, to me and my family. The Reinsdorfs have been incredibly supportive of us in our transition here. But I bear a lot of responsibility, and like you said, there's a lot of people who probably have eyes on me. Some of them probably have eyes on me because I am a Black man. With that comes the pressures of being in this job, and I welcome all of those.
"It's a situation where, like you said, you probably have a lot of people looking up to you. I hope I do. I hope I have a lot of little, young kids looking up to me, both boys and girls. I've reached this position because of hard work and perseverance, and I hope little kids can look to me and say, 'You know what? He reached that level because of hard work, perseverance, building relationships, doing the right things all the time.' Learning from my mistakes, formulating my own plan, my own strategic path to where I am today. I'm here, I'm happy, my family's happy and I'm looking forward to building a championship contender here in Chicago."
Speaking of champions, Masai Ujiri. You mentioned the Raptors and your background there. Did he break down some barriers for men and women of color in front offices with the Raptors championship, and how much further is there to go?
"Masai is like a brother to me. I was fortunate enough to work with him in Toronto for a couple years. He's still somebody who I reach out to from time to time just to talk about life, talk about hoops, talk about society. He's a very strong-willed individual. He dreams big. He did deliver a championship to the people of Toronto, to the people of Canada. And he has broken down barriers, there's no doubt about that. He's broken down barriers here in the United States, in Canada, he's broken down barriers in Africa, on the continent. You talk about people who aspire to be similar to what he is, he definitely has that kind of following, and I definitely think he's broken down barriers in a really, really positive way."
Who are some of the other people who guided you along this journey to find you in the place that you are now?
"You know, I think about people like Wayne Embry. Wayne Embry, he's a pioneer. I mean, Hall-of-Famer, he was a great player, an incredible executive. I had the fortunate opportunity to work with him in Toronto on a daily basis; just sitting and having a coffee with him and having him tell stories, sharing those things about his battles, going through it as a player, being on the road and being called the 'n' word. Being in a position as a top executive of a franchise and being scrutinized by people, not only internally but externally -- the fanbase, other players, other executives.
"And the lessons he's taught me in how to deal with those situations, I take them to heart. I've taken them to heart. And I have the ability now to use those as I lead this franchise along with the rest of the executive team as we try to build a championship contender here with the Bulls."
I don't know if you feel this way, but I know for me in the last 9-10 months, even while we're living in a COVID world and civil unrest and all these other things, in a strange way I've never felt freer in terms of speaking how I feel as a Black man in this country and this society and what we're in.
What do those pressures look like for you? In terms of, cause, you know, if you don't hire the Black coach. You know what I mean? Even with the Wes Unseld Jr. talk or rumors around this team and the team going with Billy Donovan, what are some of the unspoken pressures, or some of the pressures that people who aren't walking in your shoes know that you're dealing with?
"Are there pressures in that light? There's no doubt about it. But when you're surrounded by people that are really smart and really committed and really intent on doing and making the right decisions, those things don't creep into the conversation. With respect to our coaching search, we did a complete and thorough coaching search, and at the end of the day we decided that Billy Donovan was the right coach for us. We interviewed 10-11 candidates, all from diverse and different backgrounds, and we weren't just checking the boxes. To me, those were the best 10 or 11 coaches, and the person who won the competition was Billy Donovan. And there's no doubt about it, for what we need right now, he's a perfect coach for what we're trying to build here in Chicago. So, there are pressures, but if you allow those things to seep into what you're doing, then you're not really doing your job."
We went through a tumultuous year in 2020. And 2021 looks like it's off to a little bit of a rough start as well. What gives you hope as we move forward as a community?
"No doubt about it, 2020 was a challenge for all of us, and I think we're still all going through that today. Some of the lessons I think we've learned is we're a pretty resilient society. I do think things are going to get better. You know, January 20th is right around the corner, and I do think, you know, you talk about leadership and how leadership can really set the path for hope. I think January 20th brings a little bit of that hope for us. I think the vaccine is here, although the rollout's been rather slow and monotonous at times, I do think that brings another element of hope for all of us.
"More specifically to basketball, like I said, we made the coaching change and I think Billy's been unbelievable for our kids. I call them kids because they're all still really young. We started off the year 0-2 and I think people were like, 'Ah man, here we go again.' But in that third game we lost a close one, and I think every game since, we've been in every single game and we've been extremely competitive. We just came back from the West Coast where we played arguably two of the best teams in the Western Conference and we were right there with under a minute to go, both one possession games. So there's hope not only outside of these doors, but also inside of these doors here at the Advocate Center, there's a lot of promise, there's a lot of hope, and hopefully we put together a few wins here in the next few weeks."
Black history doesn't always have to be solemn and heavy or bereft of fun. I keep reading about how clean you always are, and I'm going to reference this Toronto Sun column written by Steve Simmons, who says: 'At 6-foot-8, he was hard to miss, being smooth and personable and forever well-dressed.' Where does this sense of style come from?
"Growing up, my father has always taught me, you know, I'm 6-8. I can't just sneak into a room and people not notice me, so if people are going to notice me, they might as well see me in something fresh. So it's always been part of me. When I first started with the Raptors, it was a very, I'd call it corporate environment, where suits were not required but encouraged. So I just took it upon myself to make sure I always looked clean. So it's something that's just stuck with me. For us, me being 6-8 and Black, people are going to notice me. So I've always prided myself on putting together a nice outfit."
In London, England and Toronto, Canada, what does Black History Month mean, if anything?
"I think when you look at England or Toronto, especially Toronto, Toronto's probably one of the more diverse cities in the world. It's probably the reason why we moved from London to Toronto when I was 4 years old; my neighborhood looked very much like a Benetton ad, everybody looked different, and that was comforting for us. Toronto is a very diverse city. It's a metropolitan city, it's cosmopolitan. And it's something that I grew up in and I'm very comfortable in that environment. I think it means a lot, I think it speaks to the culture, I think it speaks to who Canadians are. I'm a proud Canadian. I do hold a US passport as well, so -- but it's just how I grew up and it's an environment that I grew up in and I'm very comfortable in."
What will it mean to you, Marc Eversley, to be the first Black general manager to win an NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls?
"That's a good one (laughs). I think any time you win a championship, it's about the team. Whether you're talking about the players, the coaching staff, the executive leadership team. If you deliver a championship to a city, obviously that comes with incredible pride. But all of those functions need to be aligned. And that's really our job is to align all of those people and make sure we're all saying the same things, and as Billy would like to say, pulling the boat in the same direction.
"It would bring incredible pride and if we were able to deliver a championship -- again, to me, it's about who's next? And if there's a little boy or a little girl, little kid anywhere, who looks up to me and says, 'Wow. There's a dude from London, England who grew up in Toronto, went to school in the US, worked for four different teams but led this team to a championship. I can aspire to do something like that.' Then I'm doing something right. So that's what I aspire to do, inspire little kids and give them a little bit of hope that they can reach the level that I've reached right now, and they should also know that I aspire to do more things just beyond what I'm doing today."