Sport Management

In Sports by Brock Bourgase

Having recently read two books written by former General Managers – The Road to Hockeytown by Jimmy Devellano and The Inside Game by Wayne Embry – I have been pondering the importance of clear direction in sport. Whether it is the entire organization or specific individuals, integrity is as important as talent. Teams that change course every off-season are at a disadvantage relative to those who can commit to a strategic plan.

Devellano built the Red Wings from a last place finish in to a four time Stanley Cup winner by the turn of the century. He stayed true to his plan, drafted well, and did not make any snap decisions out of desperation. As a result, Detroit accumulated one of the most talented rosters in the National Hockey League and kept the squad together for twenty years. As the team built around Steve Yzerman, there were significant setbacks and adversity in the playoffs. Devellano remained true to his principles, making thoughtful moves based on need, and the team ultimately benefitted.

Wayne Embry was the first African-American General Manager in the National Basketball Association. He learned life lessons on his family farm and basketball lessons playing with Oscar Robinson and the Celtics in the 1960s. After his retirement, he worked as both a Parks and Recreation director in Boston during the tumultuous busing crises and owned multiple McDonald’s franchises. He was the G.M. in Cleveland and Milwaukee before becoming a consultant with the Toronto.

Like Devellano, Embry staunchly believed in putting the right people in the right position to succeed. He wouldn’t hesitate to use lessons from Ray Kroc to help promote the teams that he managed. Embry may have an inconsistent draft record but he seems thoughtful and straightforward. Over the years, he refined his approach rather than panic and reverse himself.

The true value of both books is how they pull back the curtain and show the wheeling and dealings which are now an integral part of sport. Contract negotiations, trades, and personnel decisions are chronicled in detail. Despite their best efforts, both men encountered some scandals and did their best to manage them. For the Raptors, what happens forty-one times per year under the bright lights of the Air Canada Centre comprises only a sliver of the team’s activities.