Millions of people dream of landing a job in the NBA. If they aren’t good, big, fast, or young enough to play, scouting, coaching, and managing positions seem attractive. Few of these dreamers actually achieve their lofty aspirations. One of them who did, former Portland Trail Blazers analytics guru Ben Falk, has scripted out the story of his rise as a lesson for would-be NBA job seekers.
Falk begins his tale with a colleague, one-time Portland Assistant and Interim Head Coach Kaleb Canales.
He started by coaching at a high school, then took a pay cut to become an assistant at The University of Texas-Arlington. He got that job because the coaches at Texas-Arlington realized quickly — as I found out that first day in Portland — you don’t meet a lot of people like Kaleb Canales...
From Texas-Arlington, Kaleb charted his course to the NBA. He researched how coaches who didn’t have inside connections or NBA playing experience got their start, and found that many came from the video room. He decided to do everything he could to get a video coordinator internship. Erik Spoelstra had followed a path similar to the one he hoped to follow, so “Canales bombarded the future Miami Heat head coach with handwritten letters in the hope of earning an internship of his own.”
After recounting Canales’ lengthy adventures, Falk dives into his own background.
It started in high school, when I was invited to play in a fantasy basketball league that someone had created themselves. Nothing like it existed, they made up the rules, so they couldn’t use ESPN or Yahoo. They had to make their own website for it. When I saw that, a lightbulb went on in my head. You could do that? Make your own game that easily?
The exercise paid off handsomely:
Over the years I kept pushing to make the game more realistic and give the website more features. To do that I had to learn more programming: how to set up a database, how to write scripts that could communicate between the web page and the database, how to gather data and store it and display it. Unwittingly, I was building up the skillset that I would need to help a real NBA front office.
Falk’s work led him to the attention of statistical master Dean Oliver, whom he convinced to give him a part-time, unpaid internship. When the Blazers called Oliver asking for recommendations for a part-time analytical position, Falk was in.
There’s far, far more to the piece, including Falk’s advice to distinguish yourself, produce vital work, and jam your foot in the door until it hurts. If you’re one of those dreamers, the story may provide inspiration.