Delivering on a Hunch
'The Boiler Room.'
That's what part of the Indiana Pacers' business office came to be called in the early 2000s.
It was a small space within the marketing wing of the franchise, and home to the Pacers' Inside Sales team.
Eight 20-somethings and a manager occupied the room. They sat side-by-side at big rectangular tables, their individual stations divided by tiny partitions about 2.5 feet apart.
Each person's workspace came with a computer, landline telephone, and a headset. There was a whiteboard in The Boiler Room, but not much else.
Fresh air and sunlight were in particularly short supply.
The atmosphere was probably what you'd expect it to be.
"It smelled like a stale gym," said Peter Dinwiddie, who joined the Pacers' Inside Sales group in 2006.
This olfactory distinction seems appropriate. The Boiler Room was adjacent to the Pacers' practice court.
"We used to hoop at lunch, and everyone would bring their gym bags back to The Boiler Room."
Somewhat endearingly, The Boiler Room's clammy confines were also the byproduct of hard work and ambition.
It was a place where green, hungry employees saw themselves starting, but not necessarily staying.
"The Boiler Room was like a big closet where these young kids would come in and work and try to make it by selling tickets," said Ryan Carr, Indiana's Vice President of Player Personnel who's been with the club for nearly two decades.
"I don't know what percentage of them made it out of there, but it was probably pretty low."
Jake Reynolds, who sat right behind Dinwiddie in The Boiler Room, estimates only 50 percent of the Inside Sales staff moved on to better positions in the Pacers organization or elsewhere. The rest couldn't stick it out.
"There was a tremendous level of competition with people wanting to be atop the sales leaderboard," Reynolds said, "but there was also a lot of fun and a tremendous amount of culture and camaraderie."
Carr remembers Dinwiddie telling him a story about getting his necktie cut in honor of closing his first $10,000 ticket sale. It was a Boiler Room tradition.
"You'd sign the tie, it would be framed, and put above a desk," said Reynolds, "and when you first walked into The Boiler Room, you'd see the walls covered in ties of the individuals who came before you. As everyone started their careers in The Boiler Room, that was one of those aspirational things to shoot for."
For many, getting out of The Boiler Room was a defining experience.
"That job tested you," said Reynolds, now the President of Business Operations for the NHL's New Jersey Devils. "It taught you a laundry list of incredible characteristics, like resilience and understanding what you needed to do to find success, even when things are challenging."
As for Peter Dinwiddie, he's doing pretty well himself. The 43-year old was recently hired as the 76ers' Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.
"It's a big part of the story," he said, referring to The Boiler Room. "It was how I got my foot in the door. If I didn't start there, I probably wouldn't be here."
And even though Dinwiddie now has his own private court-side office at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex complete with a spacious personal desk and plenty of natural light, he still abides by a Boiler Room mindset.
"You gotta be willing to work hard, and you can't have a sense of entitlement or think you're too good or too big for any type of job. You have to sacrifice, call audibles, and network, because you never know when an opportunity will present itself."
Just like one did for Dinwiddie a few months ago.
Prior to Peter Dinwiddie formally starting with the 76ers on Oct. 16, his story was almost exclusively an Indianapolis story.
He was raised in the Circle City, attended Cathedral High School, and did his undergrad at Indiana University. Bloomington is about 50 miles south of downtown Indy.
After IU, Dinwiddie earned a law degree at New England Law in Boston. He returned home, passed the Indiana bar exam, and then began working as a contract attorney for Finish Line, the Indianapolis-based sports apparel chain.
As far back as Dinwiddie's youth, basketball has been a major part of his life.
"Growing up in Indiana, that's what you do," he said.
Dinwiddie was constantly on a court. Winter, spring, summer, fall - it didn't matter. His parents installed lights at his childhood house so he could get shots up in the driveway as often as he could.
"I've always been in love with the game, studied the game, but wasn't blessed with the athletic abilities to become a professional basketball player," Dinwiddie said. "I wanted to try and figure out what I could do to maybe have a career in basketball."
Dinwiddie ultimately came to believe his law degree would be his ticket. The thinking might have been somewhat unconventional at the time, but Dinwiddie had done his homework.
During his undergrad days, he took it upon himself to investigate the backgrounds of various NBA front office executives. He began to notice a common thread - many of the people he researched had experience in law.
Dinwiddie became convinced that a law degree - combined with the practical skills he acquired through some sports-related internships - would help him stand out in a big pond.
The challenge, of course, was getting someone to cast a rod.
After about two years at Finish Line, Dinwiddie applied for an opening in the Pacers' Inside Sales department.
Indiana, of course, was his hometown team. He went to games at the old Market Square Arena, and dutifully followed the great Pacer teams of the 1980s and 1990s.
So yes, there was a big allure.
Dinwiddie was offered the job in January 2006. It paid a base salary of $13,000 with 10% commission. The gig was pretty simple: make hundreds of cold calls a week (or in a day, even) and sell as many tickets as you possibly could.
Oh, and there was no overtime.
"It was a matter of how badly you wanted it," said Jake Reynolds, who was part of Dinwiddie's Inside Sales cohort.
The "it" Reynolds alluded to was professional advancement, and for Dinwiddie, the dream had always been to wind up on the basketball side of an organization.
But how would he make such a dramatic leap if he were stuck inside The Boiler Room?
"I was kinda at the bottom of the totem pole, but I knew I just wanted to give it a shot and see what happens."
Diwnwiddie adopted a two-year plan. He felt he could always fall back on his law degree if things didn't work out with the Pacers.
One day, with his career clock tick-tocking along in The Boiler Room, Dinwiddie, who so often played the role of initiator on the phone, found himself on the receiving end of a call that changed the trajectory of his life.
It was Donnie Walsh, a revered figure in Pacers lore. He was the mastermind behind the Reggie Miller era, and built six teams that reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the mid-2000s, Walsh had moved on from his general manager post to become Indiana's CEO. He heard there was a kid in ticket sales who, like him, had gone to law school.
"Donnie was somewhat fascinated with my interests, and took a liking to me," Dinwiddie said.
Following their initial chat, Dinwiddie and Walsh started meeting once every few months. Eventually, the frequency picked up.
"Donnie said, 'Peter, what I want to do is have you meet with me every two weeks, and I'm going to give you various projects. I'll give you access to some different basketball platforms we utilize to help you along. Bring me the work when you're done, then I'll provide feedback and guidance.'"
Dinwiddie leapt at the bait.
By day, he was in The Boiler Room. By night, or perhaps even later than that, he was helping out Basketball Operations.
"He would come in early and meet with Donnie and spend time on Basketball Operations, do his day job from 8:30 to 5:30, then at 5:30, he would do more work for Basketball Operations," said Jake Reynolds, who went on to work for the New York Giants, Washington Wizards, and 76ers after his days with the Pacers. "Peter knew what his end goal was and he was putting himself in position to do anything he could to get the opportunity. It was pretty fun to watch."
And Dinwiddie could sense he was getting close.
Even though his self-imposed two-year deadline was set to expire in January 2008, he felt good about the progress he was making. He granted himself an extension.
"I wanted to keep giving it a shot because I had done so much to get to that point and I didn't want to quit," Dinwiddie said. "I felt like there was some momentum and that I might have been able to make the jump."
His gut was right.
Despite Donnie Walsh leaving for the New York Knicks in April 2008, Dinwiddie had already done enough to impress the Pacers' basketball leadership. Walsh had also put in a good word on his way out the door.
That fall, Dinwiddie got another important call, this time from a guy named Larry.
"My phone rang, and it was Larry Bird. Larry said, 'Peter, can you come down to my office?'"
The Hall of Famer and Hoosier State icon was Indiana's President of Basketball Operations back then.
"Especially in Indiana, it's 'Larry Legend,'" Dinwiddie said. "Everyone knows who he is. He's a folk hero."
So Dinwiddie nervously made the two-minute walk from his desk to Bird's office, anxiously anticipating the cliffhanger.
At that point, he hadn't worked with Bird much.
"Larry introduced himself to me," said Dinwiddie. "Of course I knew who Larry was, but he said that based on Donnie's recommendation, he wanted to offer me a position as Director of Basketball Administration."
And that was how Dinwiddie managed to cross the great divide between the Pacers' business and basketball worlds.
At first, Dinwiddie oversaw a handful of projects for David Morway, who in 2008 had just been named Indiana's General Manager. The assignments ranged from monitoring compliance with the NBA's collective bargaining agreement to contract negotiations.
In 2012, on the heels of Bird stepping aside for health reasons and Walsh subsequently returning to the Pacers' front office, Dinwiddie was elevated to Vice President of Basketball Operations. He was promoted again in 2017 to serve as Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations under Kevin Pritchard.
"The thing about Peter is he's so smart," said Ryan Carr, Indiana's Vice President of Player Personnel. "I don't think he ever forgets anything. It's unbelievable. His attention to detail, his ability to recall is really unique, and something that I had huge respect for."
Indiana's track record with Dinwiddie in the front office speaks for itself. The Pacers have reached the playoffs each of the last five seasons, and nine times in the last 10 years. They made sound personnel moves during Dinwiddie's tenure, too, drafting the likes of Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Myles Turner, while flipping George for future All-Stars Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the same 2017 trade.
"He works really hard," said Carr. "He has no trouble staying until whatever time he needs to stay in the office or work at home. You never have to worry about the work getting done. He'll definitely offer his opinions, always with great ideas, about how moves could affect the future of the team. He's always prepared."
Bigger stage, higher stakes, same Boiler Room attitude.
"I still do hold that philosophy," Dinwiddie said. "Each and every day, things happen that are outside of my scope of control. You just kind of roll with the punches and flow and say, 'What can we do to improve this? What do I have the ability to control and make better?'"
Answers Dinwiddie will continue to seek as he now embarks on the next chapter of his career.
There was a saying of Donnie Walsh's that stuck with Peter Dinwiddie:
"We're all addicted to adrenaline."
Hired by the 76ers in mid-October to serve as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Dinwiddie is now experiencing a new rush.
One part still has to do with winning, which he enjoyed a good amount of in Indiana. The other part, though, is about stepping outside his comfort zone to see how different NBA organizations operate.
"I had been in Indiana for 15 years, and I was extremely comfortable," said Dinwiddie, a father of four kids ages 5 to 12. "My whole lifestyle was extremely comfortable. I wanted to get outside my comfort zone. I believe that in order to grow and develop, you have to do that."
When a vacancy in the Sixers' front office opened up during the offseason, Dinwiddie felt the timing was right to pursue a change.
"It's an unbelievable chance for me to come to a new franchise and bring some things I've learned from Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard into this environment, but at the same time, it's a chance for me to learn and grow from others."
Dinwiddie is now working hand-in-hand with the Sixers' highest-ranking basketball executives. As he describes it, his purpose is to support President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey and General Manager Elton Brand in carrying out the team's strategic vision.
"It's getting to touch so many different departments and trying to make sure we're operating in an efficient manner, then taking that information and making sure Daryl, Elton, and Doc Rivers have the information they need to make decisions," Dinwiddie said. "I'm excited just to continue making sure everyone has everything they need to allow the team to continue to grow and progress."
Excitement, however, has swiftly taken a backseat to action.
The Sixers' front office has been preparing feverishly for the Nov. 18 NBA Draft, as well as the league's free agency period, which gets underway two days later.
Lately, Dinwiddie and his colleagues have been logging marathon days (no exaggeration), checking in at 8:00 am and clocking out at 10:00 pm on a daily basis.
Good thing Dinwiddie is no stranger to balancing urgent demands.
"I'm really looking forward to getting to the season," he said. "I think the pieces are there to win, and win at a high level."
Whatever tweaks the Sixers make in this dramatically truncated offseason, Dinwiddie says the end goals are to build a top-three defense and create more spacing on offense.
He's bullish on the pieces already in place, especially All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
"Those are two highly, highly, highly talented players," said Dinwiddie. "That's an unbelievable foundation. It's such a deep roster. When you have a strong nucleus and you have a strong coaching staff and you have good leadership, it's such a good foundation.
"I think this team can take another step."
If there's anything that retracing Dinwiddie's steps reveals, it's this: he knows a good hunch when he feels it.
The road began in The Boiler Room.
"It's not easy, but you can't have the mindset that you're going to give up," Dinwiddie said. "There are going to be obstacles, but why can't it be you?"
Dinwiddie made it happen.
"To have someone who had a law degree to take that chance and bet on themselves that way that Peter did,to see where he is now is not a surprise," said Jake Reynolds. "It's been a pretty incredible journey to watch."