Hometown kid Rob Murphy ready to ‘knock it out of the park’ as Motor City Cruise president & GM
Rob Murphy was coming of age in Detroit when the Bad Boys reigned over the NBA and were beloved in the city. As he began his coaching career in the same Detroit Public School League where he played as a student at Mumford High, the aspirational goal to be involved at basketball’s highest level, the NBA, never really left him.
Through stints as a championship coach at Detroit Crockett High, assistant gigs at Kent State and under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse – a steppingstone he shares with Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, whom Murphy considers not only a friend but a mentor – and for the last 10 years as head coach at Eastern Michigan, it remained a latent quest for Murphy, immersed in the university and broader Ypsilanti communities while becoming the second winningest coach of all time at EMU.
But opportunity and aspiration met for the 47-year-old this week when Murphy took a trailblazing job as the president and general manager of the Motor City Cruise, the G League affiliate of the Pistons that begins play later this year in a new arena on Wayne State University’s campus.
“I’ve always wanted to work at the highest level of basketball all my life,” Murphy said Wednesday as his hiring was announced. “Once Troy got the job last year, I immediately had some thoughts about maybe this could be an opportunity – I could work in the NBA for my hometown team I grew up around.”
As president and general manager, Murphy will be responsible for all phases of Cruise operation where he’ll be able to marry his instincts for spotting and developing basketball players with the skills he picked up as a mid-major head coach, where part of the job is to cultivate relationships with donors and sponsors to help fund the program and the larger athletic department.
Murphy said he’ll lean on Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, chief business officer Mike Zavodsky and executive vice president of operations Josh Bartelstein for help on the business side and work with Weaver, assistant GM David Mincberg and coach Dwane Casey on the basketball side over the next several months before the Cruise begin their maiden season.
“I have to get in there and really have those conversations,” he said. “I’ll let those guys lead and figure out which way we’ll go in building out the team. I believe I’m a great talent evaluator, but I’ll let those guys lead. On the business side, in these infant stages I want to jump in and learn and get some direction and then sort of lead the way from there.”
In searching for underappreciated talent that might one day be developed into NBA-caliber players, there probably won’t be much separation between the evaluations of Weaver and Murphy. Murphy was named his team’s best defensive player as a senior at Wilberforce (Ohio) and he values the same traits in players that Weaver has worked to add to the Pistons, turning over the entire roster since his June hire save for second-year forward Sekou Doumbouya.
“Toughness, mentally and physically,” Murphy said in describing the profile of a player who would appeal to Weaver. “Playing extremely hard. Having a high basketball IQ is important in really understanding the game. He wants to recruit guys that are willing to work and being great teammates and great in the community. That’s what he stands for and that’s what we’ll continue to look for.”
The Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center in Detroit’s New Center area was built with the idea of housing a G League team in mind, so the Pistons and Cruise will share a roof there and Cruise home games will be a short car ride – or walk – away at Wayne State. Murphy’s college roots will serve him well as he unearths partnership opportunities and creates career paths for Wayne State students with the Cruise.
Murphy launched the Rob Murphy Foundation while coaching at Eastern Michigan, which created community-based programs including The Reading Challenge and Gift of Sharing for underserved youth in Ypsilanti and Detroit. Those experiences will serve him well while working for an organization that under owner Tom Gores has made community service an abiding principle.
“It’s a huge step. I’ve been in a leadership position at Eastern Michigan, but to be able to become a president and general manager of a G League team is unbelievable,” Murphy said. “For Tom Gores, Arn Tellem and Troy Weaver to have a belief in me, I’m forever thankful. I’m thankful and grateful and ready to knock it out of the park.”