How the Wizards keep secure and get stuff finished

Greg Kershaw, the Wizards’ Senior Director of Basketball Operations, is usually the primary level of contact for gamers. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)


In his first look in entrance of reporters in Washington final month, lately acquired Wizards guard Kendrick Nunn was requested who was serving to him acclimate to his new group probably the most. He didn’t identify a participant or a coach.

Nunn named Greg Kershaw, the Wizards’ senior director of basketball operations. Kershaw can’t assist Nunn study the playbook or discover his place within the locker room, however he did assist the 27-year-old navigate a cross-country transfer with a younger household and no advance discover.

Kershaw is a part of a constellation of behind-the-scenes Wizards workers who assist the gamers handle the off-court realities of each day life within the NBA. Kershaw’s title could possibly be logistician in chief — he coordinates private journey, schedules MRI exams, arms out W-2 kinds throughout tax season and is usually a brand new participant’s first level of contact with the group outdoors of General Manager Tommy Sheppard.

“He was there for pretty much any questions I had,” Nunn mentioned.

Sashia Jones is the group’s vice chairman of participant engagement — company claptrap that she interprets with a chuckle: “I am the NBA’s all-time assist leader.”

The bulk of Jones’s job is determining what gamers are keen on and serving to them funnel their passions into charity work and neighborhood engagement. She additionally helps pair the precise participant with the enterprise and advertising and marketing division’s wants.

She is deeply built-in within the locker room: If a participant desires to host a group film night time, she in all probability plans it. If a participant’s household or mates want tickets to a recreation, he goes to her. When Bradley Beal discovered his grandmother died the morning earlier than a recreation final season, it was Jones who held him as he sobbed.

“I call her like the big sister, the mama of the organization because she’s someone that everyone organically went to,” mentioned Caron Butler, who performed in Washington throughout Jones’s early days in her position. “Whatever your wildest dreams were, from being an entrepreneur or being someone to bridge the gap between the organization and the community, she was there to help us.”

As the senior director of safety, Brian Thompson appears to have probably the most cut-and-dried position: He prepares the group and touring get together for any potential threats and retains the gamers and coaches secure.

But Thompson’s job, too, is about relationships. Keeping any group of 15 folks out of hurt’s manner as they traverse the nation is a problem. Keeping 15 millionaires secure in an period when followers are extra aggressive than ever requires nonstop work.

Thompson doesn’t simply handle the large stuff. He handles the little stuff, too.

“A player will call and ask if I know a good gas station near where he is, and he might be in a rougher neighborhood, so I just say, ‘I’ll take care of it for you.’ Or I’ll get a call, and it’s a player asking, ‘How long can I drive with a nail in my tire?’ ” Thompson mentioned. “It’s a lot of work. But I’d always rather do that and have them trust me with things than get a call at 2 a.m. about an accident or saying someone got held up filling their tank.”

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‘Other duties as assigned’

It was round 2 a.m. when Kershaw obtained a notification that the 8 a.m. flight for the Wizards’ contingent heading from D.C. to Las Vegas for 2021 summer season league was canceled.

He spent the following few hours frantically checking on new bookings for medical workers members, safety guards, coaches and gamers as a result of the group flies industrial for the summer season league relatively than taking its typical constitution. But this summer season league, held within the thick of the pandemic, was particular.

“The rule was, if you get to Vegas and test positive, it’s automatic quarantine,” Kershaw mentioned.

PCR exams from the earlier night time began rolling in as Kershaw was confirming his new itinerary, which despatched him, ­second-year ahead Deni Avdija and guard Caleb Homesley to Las Vegas by connecting by means of Detroit. He noticed a optimistic coronavirus check from guard Cassius Winston in time to cancel his flight — one disaster averted.

But they have been in line to board after a fast layover in Detroit when Kershaw obtained extra unhealthy information. The league had dominated Avdija a detailed contact of Winston after the pair practiced collectively a number of days earlier.

“I get off the phone, said, ‘Hey, Deni, let’s step out here for a minute,’ and told him he shouldn’t go to Vegas unless he wants to spend the whole time quarantining,” Kershaw mentioned. “Got him a new flight home, had it confirmed by the time I was in my seat, and I sent him another new itinerary as we were taking off.

“Definitely during covid, the ‘other duties as assigned’ part of my job description was taken to the max.”

Kershaw’s purview extends far past emergency logistics.

The Massachusetts native thought he wished to be a sports activities agent after working at Trader Joe’s to place himself by means of school however ended up as a basketball operations intern with the Wizards throughout the 2009-10 season. It was, to place it calmly, a doozy.

Owner Abe Pollin died in November; Washington disbanded its Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison after Arenas introduced handguns into the locker room in December; and the league was girding itself for a lockout.

“It benefited me because it was so different and there was so much going on,” Kershaw mentioned.

He began full time with the Wizards within the spring of 2011 and since then has develop into concerned with practically each side of the entrance workplace, a dream job that requires an “OCD level of inbox organization,” he mentioned.

At this level in his profession, there are few questions Kershaw can’t reply. Rare is the duty he can’t full, however he needs to be prepared for something.

“I remember before Deni came over [from Israel], he called and asked me what NBA players wear. I start saying he can dress casually on the plane, and he said, ‘No, like, to the arena,’ so I had to explain we take arrival photos and everything,” Kershaw mentioned. “I was struggling to describe that one. I finally just go, ‘Something … swaggy?’ That was different.”

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Butler credit Jones with bringing the Big Three again collectively when the Wizards held a midgame reunion honoring him, Arenas and Jamison in November.

“When you think about the organization, Gilbert didn’t have a day-to-day or a weekly or month-to-month relationship with the organization, Antawn actually works in the organization, and I’m with a whole other organization [the Miami Heat],” Butler mentioned. “But the common denominator that we all had was Sashia. She kept us connected via text, always kept us linked in and was eventually like, ‘Look, we want to bring all you guys back, and y’all going to do it this day.’ And it’s just like, all right, s—, that’s what we doing then. It wasn’t no debate.”

Jones’s biggest power, gamers say, is her means to forge real connections.

A Silver Spring native, she began as an intern with the Wizards within the mid-Nineties, moved full time to customer support after which went to neighborhood relations for the Washington Capitals for 3 seasons. It was a brand new expertise for a younger Black girl who hadn’t beforehand adopted hockey, and it was a crash course in studying — or pretending — to be snug in areas she didn’t all the time really feel she belonged.

“I learned a lot, a lot, a lot about being in hockey,” Jones mentioned. “Hopefully hockey learned a little about me.”

By the time she moved over to the Wizards within the early 2000s, Jones was adept at navigating a locker room even at a time when girls have been usually made to really feel unwelcome.

Jones earned Butler’s respect as a result of she by no means pitched him “fluff projects,” he mentioned, however found out find out how to marry his pursuits with the group’s emphasis on neighborhood work. It’s one thing Jones nonetheless tries to do.

“I would actually get really frustrated with how little downtime we have when I first got into the league, because I came here to play basketball,” Wizards middle Daniel Gafford mentioned. “We have very little time to ourselves, and Sash knows that. And she works hard to make sure our time isn’t wasted. So we work hard to make sure her time isn’t wasted, either.”

Jones has nurtured connections throughout a long time, from Butler to Paul Pierce to John Wall. Moritz Wagner, who was with the Wizards for lower than two seasons, mentioned she nonetheless helps him with something he wants when he’s in D.C.

“She sets a good example for everyone in that organization, which is impressive to do and I think, very, very unique,” Wagner mentioned. “I love her. She’s a real one. She’ll invest in a relationship — it’s not just an ‘as long as you’re here’ type deal. If you really care, she cares for you. Sash is one of those people who doesn’t really get recognition but who makes an organization special.”

First to reach, final to depart

Thompson and Russell Westbrook can chuckle about it now, however nobody was smiling when a Philadelphia 76ers fan dumped a bucket of popcorn on the purpose guard’s head as he walked into the tunnel throughout Game 2 of a 2021 first-round playoff collection.

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“Fans have been — I don’t know what’s going on,” Thompson mentioned. “I know you can say society is different right now, but as far as fans yelling, talking to players any kind of way, being very aggressive.”

Popcorn, whereas odd, barely registers on the checklist of issues Thompson has seen in his time in safety. The 54-year-old got here to the Wizards in 2019 after spending greater than 20 years working safety element for 3 mayors starting with Marion Barry. Before then, he was a D.C. police officer who joined the drive after the Marines.

Asked how heading up safety for the Wizards compares with working for Barry, Thompson takes a second. The reply is that there’s nothing like making an attempt to maintain 15 NBA gamers with completely different personalities and instincts secure. But his aim was to carry the identical stage of professionalism he had on the mayor’s element to the Wizards.

On street journeys, Thompson will get to the aircraft earlier than everybody and is the final to depart. His success depends on heavy preparation: He collects menace assessments, climate experiences and anything that might disrupt the Wizards’ journey and makes contact with the group resort’s supervisor and safety guards, the closest police station and the closest trauma hospital.

When gamers hit the membership after a recreation, Thompson and his group — longtime safety director Jackie Miles and Tyrone McMillan — go together with them. Thompson will get the managers’ cellphone numbers and makes positive gamers can skip proper to the entrance and keep away from having to attend in line.

“I want to have a relationship with all those folks — security guards, hotel managers, everything,” Thompson mentioned. “Because then if there’s a problem, I want them to come to me first. Don’t call the police; don’t call the press. Call me.”

Thompson provides his personal private touches, akin to detailed safety opinions of gamers’ properties and month-to-month crime experiences for his or her neighborhoods. He stands along with his again to the gamers at each house recreation, surveying the group for anybody suspicious.

Threats of followers dashing the courtroom have elevated recently as teams akin to Direct Action Everywhere have chosen NBA arenas for his or her protests. Thompson is aware of find out how to spot them (shopping for courtside tickets with money is a little bit of a giveaway), has an inventory of members’ names and is all the time able to intervene — however provided that somebody is heading for the group. If somebody is simply dashing the courtroom, he lets Capital One Arena safety or the D.C. cops who assist with house video games deal with it in case the sprinter is only a distraction. His activity is to maintain the gamers and coaches secure.

“Now if they’re coming toward us, all bets are off,” Thompson mentioned with a smile. “I had that conversation with [Wizards owner Ted Leonsis]. He said, ‘So I can tackle them?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ He said, ‘Will you tackle them?’ I said, ‘Hopefully before you.’ He asked if we’ll get sued. I said, ‘Oh, yeah, that comes with the territory.’ ”

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