Blazers Finally Get a GM, Landing Deal Maker Neil Olshey From Clippers, The Story Of His Rise

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN takes a close look at the route new Blazers GM Neil Olshey took from actor to hustler to NBA Exec:

New Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey speaks after he was introduced in Portland, Ore. , Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Olshey had been the Los Angeles Clippers' vice president of basketball operations since March 2010.

July 2, 2010 was a bright Friday in Cleveland. Early that afternoon, Los Angeles Clippersvice president of operations Neil Olshey and team president Andy Roeser arrived at the headquarters of LRMR, the marketing firm owned by LeBron James and Maverick Carter.

The Clippers, set to pitch themselves as the best match for James’ talents, were being ridiculed like an eccentric presidential candidate on a quixotic campaign. They didn’t seriously think an athlete as brand-conscious as James would suit up for them, did they?

Olshey had heard the snickers from around the league and the web. Privately, he was well aware that, next to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Miami Heat, the Clippers were the paupers at the garden party. Basketball luminary Sonny Vaccaro had helped Olshey broker the meeting as a favor, and Olshey’s expectations that James would be his starting small forward in 2010-11 were modest.

“We were on an audition and everyone else was on a callback,” Olshey said. “The other teams that were in there were already further down the road with [James] than we were. We were trying to play comeback ball.”

The Clippers took a minimalist approach with their presentation. Olshey couldn’t brandish any championship rings, and he wasn’t flanked by a hip-hop icon. There were no PowerPoints diagraming how becoming a Clipper would make James a billionaire, or rosy testimonials about the franchise’s storied history.

The early days

Olshey grew up in Flushing, Queens (N.Y.), where he had aspirations to play basketball at Xavier High School in Manhattan, but the cruel realities of verticality dictated otherwise.

“The freshman coach did exactly what I would’ve, but at that point broke my heart,” Olshey said. “I was 5-feet-something, and there was a kid 6-foot-5. One of them was going to make the team, and the other one wasn’t. And they went with the 6-foot-5 guy.”

There is no shortage of outlets for a New York kid who needs to feed his obsession for basketball. Olshey played Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) ball, high school summer league, AAU and on any city court where he could find a game.

In 1983, he went to Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y. Olshey was tapped for the lacrosse team, but played intramural basketball and pickup games in the gym whenever he could. When Le Moyne coach John Beilein, now the head coach at Michigan, was a few bodies short for a 5-on-5, he’d grab Olshey and throw him into a 2-3 zone.

After graduating, Olshey spent a couple of years working in advertising in upstate New York before landing back into the city. He had friends in the acting world who encouraged him to have headshots developed and to take a meeting or two with talent agencies. He enrolled at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, which had produced Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, among other high-profile actors. The feedback was good, and Olshey had a few cups of coffee in the New York acting scene, including some small TV roles.

While other young actors spent their Friday nights clubbing, Olshey would check out the big Catholic League high school games — New York City’s equivalent of high school football in Texas. If Christ the King were playing Archbishop Malloy, it’s a safe bet Olshey was in the stands watching Kenny Anderson light up the court.

In the spring of 1993, Olshey moved to Los Angeles, where he had some initial success acting in national commercials for brands like Honda and Coca-Cola. Commercial shoots aren’t the most artistically fulfilling roles, but they pay well and afford working actors the luxury of free time. This was fortunate, because Olshey was suffering from an acute case of basketball withdrawal.

While five other teams had their sights set on landing James, Olshey was engaged in a far broader mission, one that mirrored his improbable journey to that office tower on the banks of Lake Erie.

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Posted on June 5, 2012, in NBA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Blazers Finally Get a GM, Landing Deal Maker Neil Olshey From Clippers, The Story Of His Rise.

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