Less than a month after leaving as GM of the Portland Trialblazers, Rich Cho was hired as GM of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, the franchise owned by Michael Jordan. Cho will begin working immediately on the upcoming NBA draft, in which the Bobcats have 3 draft picks. He is widely regarded in the NBA as the next great young GM -- for baseball fans, think of the NBA's version of the next Billy Beane or Theo Epstein.
Cho comes into this job extremely well qualified, with over a decade of experience. While several other current GMs were hired with little prior NBA front office or playing experience, Cho first served as assistant GM for nine years with the Seattle Supersonics (which recently moved to become the Oklahoma City Thunder), and built one of the most exciting, talented young teams in the league. In his one year as Trailblazers GM, he made two big, shrewd moves -- trading a role player in exchange for a future first round draft pick, and trading several non-impact players for Gerald Wallace, a first-Team All-NBA Defense All-Star who ignited the team for the rest of the season. Ironically, Cho's trade for Gerald Wallace was with the Charlotte Bobcats. Apparently he impressed their organization so much that the Bobcats immediately recruited Cho to become their GM the day after he was fired by Portland. Cho's recent hiring with Charlotte is widely praised by insiders and reporters across the league.
Cho's abrupt firing last month by the Trailblazers was termed "disgraceful" by prominent writers. The official reason cited by the team was lack of chemistry, which is odd when by all other accounts Cho is extremely sociable, personable, and well liked. There is speculation that Cho wanted to make some recent roster moves which Trailblazers owner Paul Allen was against. Paul Allen has a history of hiring and firing GMs on a yearly basis, and with Cho's departure, their organization will likely continue to operate in dysfunction. Though as GM of the Trailblazers Cho was managing the team near where he grew up, this recent change may end up a blessing in disguise for him.
I've noticed in some media articles that Cho gets pigeonholed as an analytical data cruncher. It should be noted that Cho is a trained lawyer who has proven to be extremely savvy, out-of-the-box, and creative in negotiating and making moves and managing his roster. Cho got his first GM opportunity because Portland coach Nate McMillan recommended Cho based on their past work together with the Supersonics. Charlotte was obviously impressed from interacting with him in their prior trade deal.
Cho's opportunities seem to be limited to chances from those who personally got to interact with him and found out how talented he is. It raises issues of a bamboo ceiling in sports, similar to that found in corporate America or in college admissions for Asian Americans. I was reminded of Kim Ng, the talented MLB executive who served as assistant GM of the Dodgers for a decade, was repeatedly turned down for multiple GM openings, and recently took a job instead with the league office. This recent article talks about the major impact Ichiro Suzuki had on negative perceptions over the ability of Asian athletes to compete in major league baseball, which opened doors for other Asian players. Hopefully, if Cho succeeds as an executive, it will help create a perception change which opens doors for other Asian American managers who simply need to be given an opportunity, whether it's in sports or in upper levels of corporate America.
Click here for a Hyphen interview with Rich Cho from last year.