‘We Want to Be the Best’
By: Alex Kramers
Kings President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Granger is committed to a profoundly clear-cut vision for the revamped Sacramento franchise – no matter how much time and hard work the process may require.
"(We want to be) the most successful and respected franchise in sports," says the former high-ranking League executive, highlighting overarching goals of integrity, excellence, work ethic, openness and fun.
"We want to be the best in the world in everything we do. We want to be the best basketball team in the world – we want to create and sustain a winning team – and do so in a way that enhances the lives of those we touch. From a fan standpoint, we want to make sure our fan experience is second to none, and that can be from a customer service standpoint, a technology standpoint and a community impact standpoint. Our objective here is to make our fans proud to be Kings fans, make our fans proud to be Sacramentans and we want to be (a franchise) that doesn't just serve our fans, but inspires our fans."
After serving as Executive Vice President of the NBA's renowned Team Marketing & Business Operations (TMBO) function – where he gained influential guidance and mentorship from NBA Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver – Granger says he couldn't imagine a more exciting opportunity than overseeing the unveiling of a new era in The River City.
"I think it's the best job in sports," he says. "I think our ownership group is intelligent, ambitious and committed to not just winning, but committed to making a difference in the world. I think our fanbase is the best in the world – they are truly one of the major reasons why I decided to come to Sacramento. I think the opportunity to build an arena that will anchor an entire generational change in downtown Sacramento is humbling and thrilling."
Despite being a basketball fanatic from an early age – who happily recalls discussing the importance of zone defenses and pick-and-roll offenses with his 95-year-old grandmother – and a purple and black admirer for nearly a decade, Granger's unconventional NBA path began at a different kind of magic kingdom.
Determined to work at The Walt Disney World Company on the heels of graduating from Cornell University, Granger encountered an imposing roadblock when he set out to fulfill his passion.
"I literally just packed up my car and moved to Orlando, hoping I would immediately get a job at Disney – I didn't," he says. "Disney, at the time, was under a hiring freeze, so here I was in Orlando without a job."
Undeterred, the Indiana native worked three temporary gigs to make ends meet, aiming to ultimately get his foot in the door at the famed resort.
"I would (dress up as) 'Garfield the Cat' at the character breakfast in the morning, and I would teach tennis lessons in the afternoon at the hotel where I was working," he recounts with a chuckle. "At night, I worked at Universal Studios as a carnival barker – somebody who would guess your birthday, guess your weight, guess the month you were born in, and if I'd get it right, you would win a prize."
Eight months later, Granger left the breakfast circuit when Disney offered him a spot in the company's management training program, leading to a five-year tenure that became integral in helping shape his future NBA executive experience.
"Disney was fantastic – they do such a nice job around employee development that I think the lessons I learned there applied to the rest of my career," he says. "That's everything from attention to detail (to) the importance of process and leadership development and customer service."
After spending a year abroad at the prestigious London School of Economics & Political Science and earning his M.B.A from Yale, he attended Yale Business School, where a pivotal first encounter with Stern on the campus led Granger on his illustrious NBA career path.
"David Stern came to my business school to give a talk … and halfway through his presentation, he makes a joke, saying, 'Every year I pick one business school to go to and this year I picked you all because you're so smart and I want your résumés,'" recalls Granger. "Everybody laughed, but (I had) my résumé with me … I introduced myself, somebody took my résumé and I thought, 'Wow, that was really cool.'"
Much to his surprise, Granger received a phone call from Stern's assistant three days later, culminating in a 45-minute conversation with the Commissioner about his career aspirations.
"(Stern) said, 'If you don't hear from me within 10 days, call me back directly' – they called the next day," says Granger. "I came back to New York, I met with David Stern, Adam Silver and our then head of H.R. and we made up a job for me in our human resources department, working on our professional development for our own employees. I thought, 'This is great – I'm going to get the NBA on my résumé, I'm going to (live in) New York City for two years and then I'm going to go back to a smaller town.' Two years quickly turned into 14 and the greatest job ever, so I got very lucky."
Following a stint as business consultant, Granger – a "Forty Under 40" honoree by the Sports Business Journal in 2010 – earned a promotion to head of TMBO, which he describes as implementing a "culture of collaboration among our teams" in sharing and providing a resource for forward-thinking ideas.
"It essentially serves as an in-house consulting group that works with all 58 teams across all three Leagues – the NBA, the WNBA and the Development League – to help them with all aspects of their business," he says. "It's our job to identify, collect and share best practices across all aspects of the business, whether that's things that can help in ticket sales, things that can help in sponsorship, in marketing, in digital, in community relations, in communications, in game-presentation – you name it."
In one of TMBO's major initiatives, Granger and his team helped organize business support, reconnect with the community and assemble grassroots efforts for the Kings in 2011 – an initial experience that instilled a long-lasting connection with a devoted fanbase he views as "second to none."
"I think Sacramento is a special place, and the love affair between the fans and this team is truly something that is unparalleled," he says. "If not for the fans and their support of this team, it's very clear that this team wouldn't be here today."
Granger – who oversees all team operations in his role as Kings president – is not only excited about the team's long-term stability in Sacramento, but also inspired by the prominent group assembled to develop a state-of-the-art entertainment and sports complex in the heart of downtown Sacramento.
"We've partnered with some of the best firms in the world to help us with this – ICON (Venue Group) from a project management standpoint, Turner from a construction standpoint, AECOM from an architectural standpoint – these firms are the best of the best," he says. "They could choose to do a lot of projects right now, and they chose ours, so we're thrilled with our partners there, we're thrilled about the support we've received from political leaders – both at the local and the state level – we are thrilled with the ongoing support from the community. We continue to press forward to make everyone proud of what we're going to create in downtown Sacramento."
While he's certainly no stranger to Sacramento's passion for the Kings, Granger adds he continues to be in awe of the outpour support from purple and black faithful, who have vaulted the team atop the League in new full-season ticket revenue for the 2013-14 season.
"I think our fans are excited about the direction of our franchise," he says. "I think they're excited about the prospects of a world-class, iconic arena in the heart of downtown, and I think they're just excited for a new chapter in Sacramento Kings basketball."
Stay current with the Kings leader by following him on Twitter: @CGKings.