Brian Wright’s career began by splitting time between grad school at the University of Central Florida and the Orlando Magic front office 10 years ago. He worked his way up from a summer intern to a scouting coordinator, pulling all-nighters between classwork and game film.
At Central Florida, he worked with Dr. Richard Lapchick in the National Consortium for Academics and Sport, where he studied ways to emphasize diversity, community service social issues in sport.
At work, he was being the change he wished to see.
Wright, 34, went from an intern to director of college scouting in Orlando before he became an assistant general manager with the Detroit Pistons, running the team’s NBA Draft process.
In July, Wright joined the Spurs staff as assistant general manager.
“It’s been great so far because this is a place where there are no bad ideas or wrong ideas, it’s an environment where everybody’s free to think creatively,” Wright said. “Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford invite everyone to bring their own diverse background and diversity of thought into the group. Hopefully, the right ideas bubble up, and it gives the organization the tools to make great decisions.”
A career in the NBA was far from Wright’s mind growing up in Silver Spring, Md. The youngest of three brothers and sisters, Wright was the runt of the litter by all definitions as a 5-foot-9 guard.
He planned to attend nearby Towson University, before the coach at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. called days before Wright was set to enroll and asked him to play college basketball on the West Coast.
So Wright plied his trade at a tiny Division III school in Southern California, years before making his way to the Spurs. If it’s a familiar story, La Sierra is about 30 miles away from Pomona-Pitzer, where Popovich was once the coach.
“Being 5-9 doesn’t usually equate to a life in basketball,” Wright said. “And I’m just 5-9 on paper. I’m not sure if I’m actually that tall.”
After La Sierra, Wright enrolled in UCF’s DeVos Sport Business Management program, run by Lapchick.
Lapchick also heads The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which publishes annual racial and gender report cards for professional sports. In Wright, Lapchick said he saw a student who was constantly furthering discussion and seeking different perspectives.
“It was clear from the start with Brian,” Lapchick said. “He made clear not only his love of basketball and the sports business but his commitment to the way the power of sport can affect positive change.”
Without any connections in the NBA, Wright landed a summer internship with the Magic through the DeVos school and turned it into a full-time job. He found a knack and passion for scouting and the art of scouring the world to spot the talent that someone else might have missed. Scouting is a never-ending task where more research can always be done and another draft class is right around the corner.
“Scouting is always about peeling back the layers,” Wright said. “When you see somebody for the first time, you’ll always identify a few traits. It’s our job to go back and get through the layers, figure out who someone is as a player and as a person, then determine if they’ll fit.”
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said adding Wright brings a fresh perspective to the organization . The opening was created by the departure of assistant general managers Sean Marks and Scott Layden, as Marks as now general manager of the Brooklyn Nets while Layden is general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Other former Spurs assistant general managers who are now guiding their own teams include Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, Utah’s Dennis Lindsey, and New Orleans’ Dell Demps.
“The focus Brian had at Central Florida with Dr. Lapchick will create some very interesting discussions on how we can continue to develop ourselves and our program,” Buford said. “From a basketball perspective, we’ve been incredibly impressed by his leadership and his ability to communicate the scouting process.”
Wright said there’s a different pressure in the Spurs organization to maintain the success that comes with a franchise that has made the playoffs for 19 straight seasons. He added that it’s the same challenge that makes every day exciting.
“If there’s any advice I would give, it’s that there isn’t a point in which you’ll know everything or have everything figured out, so keep chipping away at it,” Wright said. “Understand the things you know well, and soak in everything else from the other people at the table. “