Every year, the Toronto Raptors select two professionals to join the Wayne and Theresa Embry Fellowship program. This program allows fellows to gain experience in all facets of an NBA franchise — from public relations, to medical, to front office operations, to coaching and more.
The fellowship tries to find applicants who, like Wayne & Theresa Embry, demonstrate a commitment to social impact and the game of basketball. Though a background in basketball is not necessarily a requirement, successful applicants have a passion for the game and may have experience working in a basketball environment.
Wayne Embry, the fellowship’s namesake, was the first African-American general manager and president in the NBA, after a successful career as a player. He was the general manager for the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Toronto Raptors at various points in his career. He was vice-president and then president of the Cavaliers in the 1990s.
He has over 50 years experience in the NBA as a player and front office executive. He is currently a senior basketball advisor to the Toronto Raptors.
Embry’s personal philosophy revolves around the eight P’s: Perseverance, Passion, Purpose, Persistence, Perception, Performance, Preparation, and Pride. All values that that successful fellowship applicants hold close.
As the team prepares to search for their next fellows, we sat down with the two young professionals currently going through the year-long fellowship.
“I wasn’t sure that there was a career for me in sports with my educational background in law,” says current fellow Niloofar Abedzadeh, “I started learning about the CBA and really got interested and curious about how salary cap works, how CBA rules affect those player contracts, trades, and all the transactions around the league.”
Abedzadeh decided to apply for the fellowship as she finished her Law Degree at Syracuse University. She had recently interned with the Brooklyn Nets, and realized her background in law could translate to a career in sports.
Gregory Ho came to the fellowship with background in a different area of sports. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology and a Master’s in Sport Science — most recently interning with the University of Pittsburgh Men’s Basketball Team.
“I’ve known about the fellowship for years,” says Ho, “it was always on my radar. I’d finished my master’s degree at Pittsburgh in sports science, worked with their basketball team, and felt like learning from an NCAA sport team gave me a readily applicable experience to work at a higher level.”
Both Ho and Abedzadeh came into the fellowship with specific interests in mind — Ho to learn about the medical side of the NBA, and Abedzadeh to learn about the front office side of things. Yet, both say that one of the best parts of the structure of the fellowship is that you get experience in nearly every different department that helps run an NBA team.
“My favourite was coaching,” says Ho, “being able to be in meetings, hearing them discuss their reports, especially because I work with medical and they work so closely with coaching.”
Ho describes the opportunity to see how coaches interpret the medical staff’s reports and insights was extremely rewarding and unique.
For Abedzadeh, many of the rotations were highlights. “Summer League, training camp with the entire team, G League showcase, seeing the behind the scenes of public relations, broadcasting and production,” she says, “otherwise you wouldn’t have a chance to see those sides, this fellowship provides that unique access.”
When it comes to the kind of person that makes a good fellow, both Ho and Abedzadeh say that the most important trait an applicant can have is passion for basketball.
“Be excited to talk about yourself. Share why you’re unique, don’t feel like you just have to tick the boxes,” says Ho.
As they start to think about the end of their time as fellows, Ho and Abedzadeh both say that they have a strengthened sense of what they want their futures to hold after completing the fellowship.
“I think more than anything it solidified my interest in what I want to do long term,” Abedzadeh says, “but at the same time, just getting that opportunity to see all the other departments has been invaluable.”
“You get a much broader sense of how the different departments work together,” adds Ho.