Sports Commentary: Rich Cho Knows

By Joshua Lee

The NBA just became a lot more complicated this summer, having marked two pioneering firsts to the American basketballing world.

The first Asian American high school California player of the year, Jeremy Lin, was being fitted for the role of native son by returning to the Bay Area and putting on the shirt of his beloved Warriors. Almost immediately after, another piece of news that greatly impacts Asia America and its burgeoning sports scene broke. Somewhere along this summer of hype, free agency, and the NBA becoming the excessively-televised, most expensive playground for the athletic youth (ahem …ahem… Lebron James, DWade, and that other dude who used to rock them dreads), the great basketball powers that be decided to implement change again.

Change. Rich Cho has become the NBA’s new ambassador for it. Cho currently holds the position of general manager of the Portland Trailblazers, the most visible therefore most recognizable face of the basketball front office and of an American athletic subconscious that is just not used to seeing Asian American features at the top of any anything that requires physical activity.

Born in Burma, Rich Cho emigrated to America at age 3. Later studying at Washington University, Cho was originally skilled in engineering, earning a degree and even working as an aerospace engineer for boeing until he felt a nagging ambition that told him pursuing a degree in law was his next logical step.

After obtaining his law degree, the once-Boeing man served under the now-defunct Seattle Sonics (they are currently known as the Oklahoma City Thunder) as a front-office intern. Then 32 year old intern Cho would begin years of experience that led to his groundbreaking, deserved promotion as the head of basketball affairs of the Seattle Supersonics. The Blazers stayed true to type by snatching another front office man from a rival team of the same division that is well-acquainted with how a successful organization in the Western Conference should run. Cho knows success. He knows how to build a playoff team without a major market to run ad space with. Some of the more recent but monumental decisions the Thunder have made to become a Western Conference contender have Cho’s fingerprints, salary-cap management, and scouting all over them. The most compelling example being the selection and grooming fo the 6’ 10” man child, Kevin Durant, who currently serves as the poster boy for Team USA in the World Basketball games.

It looks as if Lin and Cho’s journey will unfairly be forever conjoined under the contexts of both race and time. It has become the summer of Lebron, the new Big 3 and Asia America finally breaking into the hardwood and the corner office adjacent the arena. Lin wears the jersey of his hometown team and dribbles a ball. Cho wears a power suit and discusses the new era of an owner-friendly salary cap system. Men of two different trades, of two very different ethnic backgrounds are forced to shoulder not only the demands of the job they’re getting paid for but the responsibility that so many Asian American ballers and corporate hopefuls will look towards. Breaking racial-barriers, glass ceilings, and hopefully the streak of bad luck for freak injuries that has plagued the team for years. Rich Cho has obtained a high-risk, high-stress job that plays with a substantial amount of money and religious fervor from some of the more passionate fans in the midwest. It looks certain that people will be watching what Cho commits to the pen and paper. Cho has ESPN, the Trailblazers organizations, the good people of Oregon, and the entirety of Asia America to hold him accountable. Asian Americans already see Cho as the pioneering, principle, and prime example of how loudly they can crash the glass ceiling that has teased relentlessly over them in corporate America. It’s going to be an adventure. Everyone’s hoping that Cho knows what the hell he’s doing.

Photo from Gold Sea