Thursday, June 19, 2008

Back in School: The Chris Wallace Interview - Part 1

This is the first of a multi part interview conducted with Chris Wallace on Friday, June 6th.

Chris Wallace is approaching his one year anniversary as Vice-President and General Manager of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team. It has been a turbulent year to put it mildly. Chris was the handpicked successor of Jerry West. If that isn't troubling enough, Chris took over a team that had failed to make the playoffs for the first time after 3 successive trips, had the star player reportedly unhappy and requesting a trade and had just lost out on the opportunity to draft a franchise player in the upcoming draft. One year later the team again failed to make the playoffs, the star player is gone in a highly controversial trade and the owner seems to be intent on cutting costs while possibly expressing displeasure with Wallace's performance.

So with all of this surrounding him Chris agreed to sit down with 3 Shades of Blue to discuss his views on the draft and how to appraise players starting from his days writing the acclaimed Blue Ribbon College Basketball Digest up to the present. Chris was very open and informative.

As in the Michael Heisley interview in April, we are presenting the interview in it's entirety and not taking excerpts out to forward any agenda or point of view. We at 3 Shades of Blue hope everyone enjoys the interview and trust our readers to draw whatever conclusions they want from it.

3SOB: What got you started writing the Blue Ribbon Basketball Digest?
CW: I didn't have anything else to do at the time. I had no career path that I was on. I liked basketball...alot. I liked the idea. I could write a little bit. I'm not really a writer but I can organize facts and so I just got this crazy notion one day reading a Smith & Streets basketball magazine. Which was really a harebrained idea because I had never worked for a publication. never did any writing on the school newspaper in high school. I knew nothing about marketing, advertising.

Anytime a new magazine it is usually launched from editors from the Washington Post or the like. They get funding. There is a prototype and there is probably a 24 month period before it is brought out. Mine was out in about 5 months. So it was quite an interesting endeavor.

3SOB: How did you know who to write about?
CW: I knew the college teams alright. I got the information, put my opinions in, did some research and away we went.

3SOB: So it was kind of like starting a blog in that way.
CW: Well you have to realize it was very difficult. There are over 300 teams out there. You have to get the schedules together. You have to get basic information from the schools and research from people. So it was quite an endeavor. Let's put it this way, I have no desire to be involved in a magazine again. After that I'm burned out.

3SOB: Well how many years did you do it?
CW: I don't even know the exact number. Let me think about it. I started in 1981. Probably the last time I ever touched it was in 1997-98. I did it completely up until 1996. About 15 years. Then I just read some stories and edited it.

3SOB: And from there you went to scouting right?
CW: I was scouting and doing that at the same time. I'm working for the Miami Heat in office. I'm like the 3rd person in the front office after Lewis Chavell and Billy Cunningham and the owner and part-owner of the team. It wasn't an extensive operation like you seen now. There was a very small number of people. So I did that and at night and on the weekends I am doing my magazine. I just about drove myself crazy doing that.

3SOB: So you started with Miami?
CW: No, I started with the Portland Trailblazers. That was in 1986. I worked for several teams before Miami. I was with the Portland Trailblazers before Paul Allen owned the team.

3SOB: What did it entail being a scout back in 1986?
CW: My first job with them was to do research on players, background stuff. It's amazing the little twists of fate that happen in life. I would never have been hired by the Portland Trailblazers, maybe not the NBA, if it wasn't for the controversial draft back in 1986. So many of the players had problems of the court like Len Bias, Chris Washburn, William Bedford and Roy Tarpley. The Portland Trailblazers that year drafted Walter Berry out of St. Johns. There was a tremendous dissatisfaction within the organization with that pick the day after the draft when they first met Walter and had a news conference with him. Tremendous dissatisfaction. So they were looking for something different and I got hired. So their misfortune and the misfortune of others became my good fortune because they were looking for something different. If Walter Berry had been great there wouldn't have been that motivation to try something different. And I got hired by a guy named Jon Spoelstra. He's the father of Eric Spoelstra who just got hired as the Head Coach of the Miami Heat.

Jon's role was similar to what Andy Dolich's was in that he was in charge of all the business. He ran everything but basketball operations. He eventually became the #2 stock holder because the owners kept giving him stock. He started to feel empowered. He called me and said I want to try something different. I knew his name because he was buying 30 books of mine a year. And I didn't just do the magazine as far as editing; I also went to the post office and took the orders down. He was buying 30. Now back then there were no computers so I had a shoe box with people's names so I knew who he was buying 30. I knew his name. So 5 minutes into the conversation back in December taking his order he says 'I'm going to try something a little different and I want you to come work for us. I had never even considered working in the NBA.

What I didn't realize was, at the time I knew nothing about the inner workings of an NBA team, the business guy doesn't hire basketball people. He just went out and did this and told the basketball guys later about it. Maybe that would never happen again so I was quite fortunate.

3SOB: So you started in 1986 and the first draft you were involved in was 1987 then. Who did Portland take that year and how much input did you have?
CW: Well they mainly wanted me for the background. I did extensive reports on a wide variety of people. I went out and saw some games but back then I wasn't making a whole lot of money, about $9000. They just wanted the background so when I went to college games on my own and had to pay for them. I did a big report on Ronnie Murphy out of Jacksonville. About him on the non-basketball side of it. It was quite extensive and critical but they went ahead and drafted him anyway. He didn't pan out. Which helped me inside the organization.

So we had a 1st round pick in Ronnie Murphy and that didn't work out. In the early second they had a SEC parlay with Ernie White from Tennessee [sic] and Nikita Wilson from LSU. Now the draft lasted 7 rounds back then. So once you got past the 2nd round people really weren't that obsessed about the draft. So [the person] running the draft left the room and told me 'I have some things to do. If I don't get back make the pick.' There was just me, the secretary and a phone line to New York. The pick came up and I took Kevin Gamble out of Iowa who ended up playing for 10 or so years.

So the GM came back about the middle of the 4th round and asked if I made a pick. I said 'yeah I took Kevin Gamble' and he said 'Oh great.'

to be continued...Part 2

BallHype: hype it up!


frank said...

Great stuff as always guys.

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