For years, UChicago graduates have continued to make the school and its students proud by conquering their respective fields. Our minds immediately take us to the likes of Bernie Sanders, Milton Friedman, Carl Sagan and the like, but as of late, our alumni have been blazing a trail in the world of professional sports. The hiring of Kim Ng by the Miami Marlins as the first-ever female general manager in the Big Four pro leagues, as well as the first-ever Asian-American general manager in Major League Baseball (MLB), has brought attention to some of our former students in this field, and their journeys are incredible.
Perhaps the most prominent of them all is Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). You probably saw him handing the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy to LeBron James a few weeks ago or announcing the first-round picks in this year’s NBA Draft. After graduating from UChicago’s Law School with a J.D. in 1988, Silver went on to work for NBA Entertainment and spent eight years as its president and chief operating officer. Following this, he spent eight more years as chief operating officer and deputy commissioner of the NBA, negotiating three unprecedented collective bargaining agreements, each of which served to give the players more power and continue to grow the game worldwide. Silver also played a big role in the development of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the NBA G League. Finally, in 2014, he became the commissioner of the league, and he was immediately met with his greatest challenge: dealing with former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling after tapes were released of Sterling making racist remarks on the phone to a friend. He was decisive in his ruling, banning Sterling from the NBA for life in every capacity and forcing him to sell the team. This was met with widespread acclaim and praise from global sporting circles, establishing Silver in his position as an intelligent, fair leader. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, establishing an international presence for the NBA (over 20 percent of current NBA players are born outside the United States) and most recently dealing with the COVID-19 crisis swiftly and efficiently by creating a bio-bubble in which games continued to be played and the 2019-20 NBA season could be successfully concluded. Silver continues to be an inspiration for those who aspire to work in the business of sports and has staked his claim in six short years to being one of the greatest commissioners in the history of professional sports.
Jason Wright is a name that took over the football universe a few months ago when he was hired by the Washington Football Team as team president, becoming the first ever Black president of a National Football League (NFL) team. Wright was a running back in the NFL for seven seasons and served as a captain for the Arizona Cardinals in the 2010 season. Following his retirement from the NFL in 2011, he attended the Booth School of Business and graduated in 2013 with an M.B.A. in operations and finance. Following his graduation, Wright worked for McKinsey and Company and rose to the position of partner at the prestigious consulting firm, before being hired by Washington to run the team’s business operations. He is also currently the youngest team president in the NFL at just 38 years of age.
Finally, let’s talk about the reason why the spotlight is shining upon UChicago’s alumni in the sporting world again: Kim Ng. You know the trail she’s blazed and the barriers she’s broken in the world of professional sports, but you might not know the path she took to reach this point. Ng graduated from the College in 1990, playing on the softball team for four years and serving as captain. After graduating, she was hired by the Chicago White Sox as an analyst and served as assistant director of baseball operations until 1996. After working for the American League for a year, Ng was hired by the New York Yankees in 1998 as assistant general manager, becoming the youngest person to hold that position in the MLB at just 29 years of age. She constructed the Yankees’ dynastic roster of the late ’90s, winning three straight World Series championships from 1998-2000. In 2002, Ng left New York to serve in the same role with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where she worked until 2011, after which she left to work for the MLB as senior vice president of baseball operations. She continued to interview for the position of general manager, but almost 22 years after she took the baseball world by storm with the Yankees, it looked like her dream had passed her by. But last month, after years of hard work, disappointment, and struggle against racism and sexism, Ng was finally rewarded for her efforts when she was hired by the Miami Marlins as general manager. The widespread approval of Miami’s decision to hire Ng showcased the appreciation the baseball world had and continues to have for her, and her resume speaks for itself.
The world of professional sports is a competitive, cutthroat environment, and to see three graduates from the University of Chicago succeeding at such a high level in their respective sports is not only awe-inspiring, but a reminder of what our students can achieve with an ardent desire to pursue their dreams.