Sports Files with Greg Gaston


Uploaded by WKNOPBS on 17.12.2012

Transcript:
>> female announcer: This is a
production of WKNO, Memphis.
Production funding for "Sports
Files" is made possible in part
by..
>> Gaston: My guest today on
Sports Files is the CEO of the
Memphis Grizzlies, Jason Levien.
>> (instrumental music)
♪♪♪
♪♪♪
>> Gaston: Happy Holidays
everyone and welcome to another
edition of "Sports Files."
Later in the show you'll hear my
recent conversation with Mark
Dodson, the star of the class 6A
Tennesse state champion
Whitehaven High School football
team and future Ole Miss Rebel.
But first, there's a new sheriff
in town and his name is Jason
Levien.
Less than six weeks ago the
makeup of the Memphis Grizzlies
changed shape.
At a Press Conference in the
Grand Lobby of FedExForum, the
Memphis community met the
Grizzlies new Majority owner
Robert Pera and many members of
the new ownership group.
And sitting next to Pera on the
podium was the organization's
new CEO.
Jason Levien has gone full
circle.
From player-agent to working in
the front office for the Maloof
family in Sacremento.
From being a part of a new
ownership group in Philadelphia
to now running the show in
Memphis.
Levien is 42.
He's intelligent, shrewd, savvy
and is anything but old school.
The buck will stop at "his"
desk.
Whether it be for on, or off the
court decisions.
The Grizzlies have become part
of the fabric of Memphis, and
right now they're playing some
of the best basketball in the
NBA.
But the big question for Levien
is how to maintain that type of
performance for years to come
while maxing on the potential
profitability of this team.
After all, the bottom line is
the bottom line!
Today, Jason Levien on the
challenges ahead for both him
and the organization.
Next on "Sports Files."
>> (instrumental music)
♪♪♪
♪♪♪
>> Gaston: Jason, Happy
Holidays.
Thank you so much for being with
us today.
>> Levien: Thanks, Greg, for
having me.
>> Gaston: Alright, six weeks on
the job.
I know it's been a whirlwind for
you.
So far, how are you enjoying it
and what have you gotten
accomplished so far in just six
weeks?
>> Levien: I'm loving it.
It's been, you know, an
unbelievable experience.
It's been a great six weeks.
I tell people that I've really
been drinking from a fire hose
trying to gather all the
information and get my arms
around the organization spending
time with leaders in the
community, spending time with my
partners in the ownership group
and listening really to what
they're telling me about what's
going well in the organization,
things that we might be able to
improve and sort of how we build
for the future.
>> Gaston: There's so much to
take in because you're not only
dealing with the basketball side
of things, you're dealing with
the business side of things, as
well.
How do you prioritize what you
need to do?
>> Levien: Well, I think we take
a step back, you know, whether
it's basketball, business,
holistically.
And we want to build the right
culture, a winning culture, a
culture that's going to lead us
to sustain success.
And we want to build the right
processes to make decisions
going forward.
And one of the things that - The
key here is are the people-the
people in the organization, how
they work together, how we all
work together collaboratively to
build for that success.
>> Gaston: And of course, a big
part of that organization and
this new ownership group is the
majority owner, your friend,
Robert Pera.
Talk about the relationship.
Tell us how, first of all, how
ya met and how this relationship
really strung up and moving
forward, the purchase of the
Grizzlies.
>> Levien: Well, Robert is one
of the nicest, most humble guys
I've met in my life.
I think the world of him.
And he's brilliant.
And we met when he was taking
his company public and had such
an interest in the NBA and in
basketball that we got together
in New York for the first time.
And we thought we were going to
have dinner and we struck up a
three or four hour conversation
about hoops, about life and just
had a great time together and
built a friendship really
quickly.
And then I wound up spending
time with him in Taiwan where
his company has a very big
office, an impressive presence.
And I spent multiple periods of
time there with him talking
about owning an NBA team,
running an NBA team, what that
would look like, and sort of
what his vision was for that and
how we could work together in
making that happen.
>> Gaston: Very early in 2012,
the wheels started to turn.
Just tell us a little bit about
how things got started, the
interest that Robert had and
yourself in purchasing this team
from former owner Michael
Heisley.
>> Levien: Well, it started in
2011.
We started talking about it, not
the Grizzlies, but just the idea
theoretically of putting
together a group to buy a team
that he would lead that group.
And I would be hands on in
operating it and investing in
it.
And in 2012 when I was in Taiwan
probably in January, we started
talking more seriously about-
okay, what would this look like?
And-what are the opportunities
out there?
Which teams?
You know, there are only 30 NBA
teams.
And it's such an opportunity and
a privilege to be a part of one
that we started thinking-where
could we best apply some of our
philosophies and our vision in
the NBA?
>> Gaston: You've spoken of
sabermetrics, which is-whew,
over my head and over the head
of many people.
Talk a little bit about it.
I know we look back at
"Moneyball" and the Oakland A's
and what Billy Beane did.
But for the common man, what is
it?
What are you trying to do?
>> Levien: You know, there are a
lot of terms thrown out there.
I think that in basketball, as
in any pro-sport, any business
decision making, information is
power.
And information is key.
So whether it's analytical data,
whether its qualitative
information about a player or a
situation, you want to gather
that information.
So I would say that I'm an
information hoarder.
And I want to get that
information because it's great
to have.
And when you make decisions, you
want to be as prepared as
possible to make those
decisions.
>> Gaston: And the technology is
now available.
This is something obviously that
wasn't happening and couldn't
happen many, many moons ago but
now because you have the ability
to do it, you take advantage of
it, right?
>> Levien: Absolutely and that's
what's great about, you know,
what Robert and I have talked
about is his interest in
technology.
There are new things that you
can apply to understand what is
happening on the basketball
court differently than you could
five or ten years ago.
So you take the information.
You use the technology that
allows you to see that.
But then there's old-fashioned
information.
You know, how hard does a guy
work after practice?
What does he do in school?
Who are is his friends?
When you're making decisions
about personnel decisions, you
want to have all that
information.
>> Gaston: Speaking of personnel
decisions, there are some big
decisions you'll have to make at
the end of the year.
Lionel Hollins, your head coach,
his contract ends after this
season.
Will there be any negotiations
during the season or will you
wait until the end of the
season?
>> Levien: Well, what I've said
from the beginning is that we
spend so much time really from
March until November focused on
closing the transaction,
understanding, doing our due
diligence on the team, getting
the right ownership group
together, getting the right
leadership in place, that I
never spoke to Lionel Hollins
during that period of time.
So, it's really just over the
last few weeks that I've gotten
to know him, gotten to go to
practice.
I got to travel with the team.
And I have to say that he's done
a very impressive job and he's
very impressive to watch.
He's really a pro.
So I've enjoyed that.
And we're going to expand that
further and explore that further
going forward.
But obviously we're cognoscente
of his contractual situation.
And we're also very cognoscente
of the job he's done here which
is very impressive.
>> Gaston: Jason, running the
day-to-day operations of this
team, if there was to be a
personnel move, perhaps you got
a phone call and an offer that
you could not refuse as they
say, how does it work with your
relationship with the majority
owner, Robert Pera, maybe with
the minority oweners?
Does it have to go through them?
Do you make the decision?
It stops with you.
Tells us a little bit about the
insight of what will happen in
decision making down the road?
>> Levien: Well, I would say
this.
I think we've got a great
ownership group.
We've got people in the Memphis
community who are pillars in the
community who have done great
things for us here in Memphis
and around the region and really
around the world.
And I'm going to draw upon those
folks in making decisions.
I'm going to lean on them as an
advisory board.
But ultimately, Robert and I are
going to make the decisions to
drive the franchise forward.
They've entrusted us to do that.
So I speak to Robert pretty much
daily.
We talk about what's happening
with the team, what's happening
with the organization.
But I'm the guy on the ground so
the bucks going to have to stop
with me on a lot of decisions
because I'm here.
I'm living and breathing it
everyday.
But Robert's obviously very
involved and together, we're
going to make the decisions
going forward.
>> Gaston: As a business, the
Grizzlies are in the business to
certainly be profitable but they
want to also put a great product
on the floor for the fans.
Right now, the product is darn
good, off to a great start this
season.
And the fan base is getting
better.
But how do you broaden the
appeal of the Grizzlies to the
surrounding community outside of
Memphis and get more fans
involved with wanting to watch
the Grizzlies play at FedEx
Forum?
>> Levien: That's a great
question.
It's something that we studied
this summer very closely.
We went to Little Rock.
We went to Jackson, Mississippi.
We went and spent time in
Nashville.
One of our partners is based in
Nashville-one of our ownership
partners, the Hand family.
So what we're trying to do is
broaden that appeal.
We want to be the region's team.
We believe we can do that.
We think we can attract interest
outside of Memphis and in the
surrounding areas in addition to
Memphis.
But ultimately, we are Memphis's
team.
And we're made in Memphis.
And this is our community.
And we need to get people in
this community continually fired
up about the team, fired up
about our future and engaged as
though they feel a part of it.
I think they're starting to do
that.
I think we can do even more.
I think we can get more people
out and get more people excited
and feel as they've really got a
stake in this team because, you
know, Robert said it at the
press conference.
This is the community's team.
And we're really stewards of
that and we're honored to be
stewards of that but this is
something that's really true to
Memphis.
>> Gaston: Jason, what do you
like about the on-the-court
product?
>> Levien: What I like most
about the on-the-court product
is that I think that some of the
parts-that the whole is greater
than some of the parts.
We've got some great talent but
these guys play together.
They have an identity.
They want to win.
You can see that, the way
they're playing.
And their identity is about grit
and grind.
It's about winning games no
matter what it takes.
It's about putting the team
ahead of themself.
And I think that's why they've
had success.
And I credit Lionel with that.
I credit Mike Conley with that,
Marc Gasol, the whole roster
really because the guys are
putting winning above everything
else.
And you can see that focus.
So that's what I appreciate the
most.
>> Gaston: As the CEO and
managing partner of this team, I
would imagine your phone rings
off the hook from other teams
possibly looking at a trade or
if there's any interest in a
player.
Just for everybody out there
that's curious about it, how
often does your phone ring?
>> Levien: My phone rings quite
a bit but I will tell you is
that we're doing so well and
it's early obviously but people
know that we're not focused on
having to do anything with the
roster right now.
>> Gaston: No urgency to make a
move.
>> Levien: None what so ever.
In fact, we're enjoying this
opportunity to get to know our
team better, to get to
understand how things are
working in the organization and
within the team.
And so while the phones ringing,
we feel no sense of urgency to
really do much other than gather
information.
>> Gaston: Toughest part of your
job?
>> Levien: Toughest part of my
job I would say is, you know,
making sure that we're focused
continuously on the right things
and sort of keeping our eye on
the prize.
And the prize to me is building
a culture for success of
unselfishness, one that's driven
by process and information.
And really, we want people in
the organization to enjoy their
jobs and we want people in the
community to be passionate about
the team.
>> Gaston: You said, I believe,
at the press conference or a
time maybe that you were on my
radio show that you would have
somebody in the basketball
operations below you and in the
business operations below you to
work with you.
Chris Wallace has obviously been
a very good general manager for
this team and has put together
the team that we see on the
floor that's playing so well.
Have you made a decision yet on
his future?
>> Levien: like Lionel, Chris is
someone who I didn't get to talk
to during the process of our
taking over the team.
I knew Chris from before just
from conferences, from doing
trades, from interacting in the
NBA.
And I always thought very highly
of him.
He's someone I like very much.
So I've enjoyed the interaction
since we've taken over.
I've enjoyed the conversations
and dialogue we've had and want
to continue that.
>> Gaston: Alright, we're going
to have a little fun now.
Loosen it up.
I'd say loosen up your tie but
you're not wearing a tie today.
You look fantastic, by the way.
We call it "five for the road."
I always ask my guests five
questions to wrap up our
interview and whatever comes to
your mind first.
Favorite professional sports
team?
Now, you cannot say the Memphis
Grizzlies and you cannot say the
D.C. United.
For people who don't know, of
course, you're part owner of the
soccer team.
Favorite professional sports
team?
>> Levien: My favorite
professional sports team, the
Indonesia Warriors in the ASEAN
basketball.
Yes because my buddy Eric Thohir
is the owner of the team.
And I spent a lot of time in
Southeast Asia.
And the growth of basketball in
that region is unbelievable.
They won the championship this
year and actually a guy I used
to work with, Todd Purves, is
their head coach.
He used to be an assistant coach
with me in Sacramento.
And I asked Todd to go down.
I gave him the opportunity to go
down to Indonesia to coach that
team.
And they won the championship.
And little known fact is that
Kobe Bryant's father coaches one
of the teams in that league.
So it's an interesting league.
He does.
He's in Thailand, I believe.
>> Gaston: The Indonesian
Warriors.
How about that?
Now you show me a jersey and
that will prove to me that there
is actually a team out there.
>> Levien: I'm going to bring
you one.
>> Gaston: Okay, sounds good.
Favorite professional athlete of
all time?
>> Levien: I would have to say
Magic Johnson.
Just the way he lit up the
court, lit up the, you know,
people's lives.
He made players better.
And what he's done after his
career is unbelievable.
So he's a guy I admire.
>> Gaston: Favorite musician,
group, genre of music?
What do you like to listen to?
>> Levien: You know, it's funny.
I would say my favorite musician
of all time is Marvin Gaye.
So and then very close behind
him, I'd put Bruce Springsteen.
>> Gaston: Oh, I love the boss.
Of course, you're in a great
music town in Memphis.
Alright, favorite television
show of all time?
>> Levien: I got to say
"Entourage."
You know, I used to be an agent.
I love that show.
I love the pace of that show and
just seeing, you know, how
things interacted with the
clients and all that.
It was just exciting.
>> Gaston: I thought you may go
with "Show Me the Money," the
pilot that you and I were
involved in.
Of course, all about your life
as an agent.
People are probably wondering-
What the heck are you talking
about?
We actually did a pilot.
I was a little part of that
being the media.
But that was something you were
trying to get done many moons
ago, a reality show about sports
agents.
>> Levien: And I'm lucky it
didn't happen, I gotta tell ya.
(laughter)
>> Gaston: You're better off
where you are right now.
Finally for you, Jason.
Favorite movie of all time?
>> Levien: That's a good
question.
I would have to say "Hoosiers."
You know, with Gene Hackman.
That's just unbelievable.
So, you know, I'm obviously a
basketball nut and I probably go
to the old reliable and say
"Hoosiers."
>> Gaston: Well once again, a
great choice.
Again, happy holidays to you.
Thank you so much.
>> Levien: Thank you.
>> Gaston: Absolute pleasure.
We appreciate it, Jason.
We'll talk to you soon.
>> Levien: Great.
>> Gaston: We'll take a short
break.
We'll come back with "Overtime"
right after this.
>> (instrumental music)
♪♪♪
♪♪♪
>> Gaston: The greater Memphis
community has produced some
extremely talented prep football
players over the years, and most
recently, the area has become a
factory for Division One college
tailbacks.
This past season, Whitehaven
High School product Mark Dodson
put together one of the most
prolific seasons ever, capped
off by a 318 yard, 5 touchdown
performance in the Class 6-A
Blue Cross Bowl, state title
game.
Dodson put his Tigers teammates
on his broad shoulders and
carried them to a perfect season
and their first ever state
championship.
He ended his prep career in
style by adding the game winning
two point conversion in
overtime.
Now Dodson gets set to embark on
an even bigger challenge as he
heads to Ole Miss to play
football for the Rebels.
I recently sat down with Mark to
talk about his amazing season
and his future.
Mark, have you had a chance to
look back on the season you had
culminating in the 6-A title?
>> Dodson: Yes, it's looking
back towards my off-season and
this is one of the hardest off-
season.
I had to work really hard and it
just paid off.
>> Gaston: You were telling me
that during the summer, you'd
come home sometimes at 10:00 at
night.
You worked with a personal
trainer.
Talk about that.
>> Dodson: I've been working
with my personal trainer since I
was a sophomore.
And it kind of paid off because
I started my sophomore year,
very first game.
You know, just dating back to
last year in the state
championship, we fell short
against Maryville.
I just felt like I needed to put
on more mass weight and just
steady working on my foot work
and speed.
It really pays off.
I gained 10 to 15 pounds over
the years.
And this year you can see, if
you watch my film, I run with a
lean and I run more powerful
than the previous years.
>> Gaston: You put together one
of the greatest years any
running backs ever put together
here in the Memphis-Shelby
County area.
Do you pinch yourself sometimes
that you were that good?
I mean, it seemed like 300 yard
games happened without a problem
for you and you did that also in
the championship game going over
300 yards.
>> Dodson: Basically, coming in
to the game I don't be worrying
about yards or touchdowns.
I just do whatever it takes to
get the W, get the win.
That's most important to me.
But after the games, I know my
stats coach be telling me-Man,
you had 300-something yards.
And I give all grace and honor
to God because really, he just
gave me the talent.
He gave me the talent to do
these things.
Without that, nothing is
possible.
>> Gaston: I'm also sure you
would trade in 300-something
yards for a state title.
You got both this time but I
know you came up short, as you
said, last year.
And if it was 20 or 30 yards and
you want to stay tight, I'm sure
you would trade that in.
But this year, dominating force.
You guys get to go toe-to-toe
with Maryville once again.
I'm sure you loved having the
chance to play them again.
What was it like after the game?
The zeroes went up on that clock
and you were a state champion.
Whitehaven has their first ever
football championship.
How'd it feel?
>> Dodson: I mean, it felt great
because I told the media, like I
said, I'm going to carry the
team on my back and we're coming
out with a win because I had a
big chip on my shoulder.
When the clock says zero-zero
with the final score was 36-35
and I made the final play.
And it just felt it was a moment
of joy, a moment of happiness
just to see the community, the
fans, and all just to celebrate
with my team mates to celebrate
with me.
It's not a one-player game.
I couldn't have did it without
the offensive line men.
It's a team effort.
Some people tell me-man, you did
all this on your own.
And I tell them-no, you get it
wrong.
It's a team effort.
I give thanks to the scout team
because without the scout team,
I would have never known what
Maryville defense would be
doing.
The scout teams basically really
the important piece of the team.
You've got to have a good scout
team if you want to go play for
a championship.
>> Gaston: You had five
touchdowns in the game against
Maryville but the biggest play
was the two-point conversion
which you basically walked in to
the end zone.
Was there any doubt in your
Coach, Rodney Saulsberry, was
going to go for two in the win
there?
>> Dodson: Well, the beginning
of overtime, I didn't know he
was going to go for two.
But when he called my number, I
knew it was there because the
formation we called, we never
ran.
We never ran it ever.
And Maryville was lost.
They thought we was going to run
it to the left side.
I was just looking for number
one, the safety, because that's
the person I kept needing as I
was running the ball.
Once I saw him lining up in the
box on the right of me, they
forgot to protect their c-gap.
And I just bounced it to the c-
gap and it was a straight shot
in the end zone.
And then it all started right
there.
My teammate came and tackled me
in the end zone.
And then it was just a moment of
happiness.
And just, man.
>> Gaston: You're going to have
that feeling for a long, long
time.
You were telling me that you're
also not 100 percent in that
game.
Was it a calf muscle you had
pulled and you played through
the pain, right?
>> Dodson: Oh, yeah.
When I started, when I fell to
the ground, my calf.
It was like a knot was moving up
and down in my calf muscle.
And they were trying to massage
it out.
I was drinking Pedialyte to get
some more electrolytes in me,
drinking Gatorade and water.
And I also took a Medialite.
That's something like a
Pedialyte pill.
It seems like none of that
didn't work.
I just told the coach-you just
got to let me go.
I'm going to have to fight
through it.
And I fought through it.
And I broke.
When Maryville marched down the
field late down in the fourth
quarter and I made the score 28
to 28 and it was 45 seconds
left, I actually could have out
ran number 25 if my calf was 100
percent.
But I was pulling up and there
was no doubt in my head.
I was like, I knew there was
time on the clock.
So I just ran out of bounds.
>> Gaston: Unfortunately because
of the calf injury, as a
precaution, Mark did not play in
the Autozone Liberty Bowl High
School All-star game last week
and obviously, selected to play
in that.
So now you get ready for Ole
Miss.
And here's the great thing.
Mark is graduating early from
high school at Whitehave, is
going to enroll at Ole Miss in
January.
You're wearing your Ole Miss
garb right here.
First of all, congratulations on
the accomplishments in the
classroom.
That says an awful lot about
you.
>> Dodson: I mean, it all starts
in the classroom.
If you don't get your work in
the classroom in school, nothing
off the field matters.
>> Gaston: Talk about the
decision to play at Ole Miss,
play for Hugh Freeze and the
Rebels.
>> Dodson: I mean, it's a great
feeling.
I mean, Coach Freeze was the
first to offer me my sophomore
year when he was at Arkansas
State.
And he just had a strong feeling
that I wasn't coming out with
the SEC offers I had on the
table over the Sunbelt
Conference.
And once he got the job at Ole
Miss, he really hammered down on
me and he brought one of his
assistants, Maurice Harris,
which is a former graduate from
Whitehaven High School.
Yeah, so that kind of put them
on the leader board knowing that
I could trust him because he was
a former head coach for Coach
Saulsberry.
Got to start coaching at
Whitehaven.
And I chose Ole Miss.
And also, my auntie, she
graduated from Ole Miss.
Just family tradition.
You know, I can trust Coach
Freeze.
I can trust Coach Harris.
I can go to somebody when
something's not going on right,
you know.
>> Gaston: You ready to go up
against those SEC defenses?
A little bit different than high
school.
>> Dodson: Oh, yes.
I'm always ready for a
challenge.
I mean, just my freshman year,
I'm going to work my tail off.
I plan on enrolling there.
I'm on pace to be there on
January 22 will be my first day
to get prepared for spring ball.
I'm coming in.
I'm coming in trying to be the
starting running back as a
freshman.
You know, just getting ready to
compete in the SEC.
I know it's a tough league.
I like tough division because, I
mean, if you're playing in a
tough division it's challenging
and it gets you ready for life.
>> Gaston: Alright, let me ask a
final question about your style.
You talked about upright runner.
You can run over people.
You can run around people.
We saw that.
You talked about working with
your personal trainer.
What do you need to work on
personally, in your opinion, to
get better?
>> Dodson: Just moving on to the
next level.
When contact hit me, just cover
the ball with two hands.
I watched some film one time
when contact hit me, I'm
dragging but I'm still covering
the ball with one hand instead
of covering it with two.
That one small thing can lead to
a turnout.
Just think.
That's the major thing I need to
work on.
>> Gaston: Mark,
congratulations.
Thanks for being with us.
>> Dodson: Thank you.
>> Gaston: Appreciate that.
Tomorrow at FedExForum, Josh
Pastner and his Memphis Tigers
will take the floor against
their longtime rivals from
Louisville.
The nationally ranked Cardinals
defeated the Tigers last season
in Kentucky.
Next season the Tigers will join
the Big East and once again
become conference mates with
Louisville.
Unfortunately for Tigers fans,
the rekindling of the
relationship will be short-lived
after the Cardinals recent
decision to accept an invitation
to join the ACC starting in
2014.
Ironically, Louisville Head
Coach Rick Pitino was very
adamant about adding Memphis to
the Big East.
I'll be very interested to see
what type of reaction he gets
when P.A. Announcer Chuck
Roberts introduces him to the
crowd tomorrow.
And that will do it for this
week.
Remember, to see any of our past
shows head to our website, WKNO-
dot-org, and click on 'KNO
Tonite.
And we'll see you next time.
>> (instrumental music)
♪♪♪
♪♪♪