In 1981, everything changed for the Rosas family.
It was by design, sure, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.
Gersson Rosas, who was three at the time, and his family moved from Bogotá, Colombia to Houston, Texas. His parents made the transition from successful professionals in Bogotá to learning a brand-new culture, language and everything else that comes with moving to an unfamiliar country.
Remember that one time you visited Florida and felt uncomfortable? Think about that, times a million.
The move wasn’t about his parents, of course, which is why it was such an unselfish act for them. It was taking a chance that the United States would give Gersson and his brothers a better opportunity to have a successful career and life. But it came with so many challenges and obstacles that unless you’ve been through it, it’s impossible to imagine.
The family, who speaks Spanish as their first language, learned English together. Rosas calls the acculturation process “fun,” but there were times when it definitely wasn’t fun and the family was on the verge of exhaustion and tears.
“As I look back now, I understand how challenging it must have been for them, I can’t imagine myself at that age restarting life basically to give your children a better opportunity,” Rosas said.
This wasn’t a move from Minneapolis to Milwaukee where the biggest difference is one state’s love for pulltabs and the other’s with cheese. This was a life-changing move that would forever shape the family. But it was also a move that Rosas understands was an investment in him and his brothers. What would they do with that opportunity? There was a pressure of sorts to make sure the move was worth it.
Things have worked out for Rosas (and we’ll get to that later), but he’s constantly thinking about what else can he do.
Growing up and still today, his father has instilled the meaning of what sacrifice for the greater good means.
Rosas thinks to himself daily . . .
What sacrifices can I make to make sure my children have their best life?
Moving to a new country and sacrificing everything you have is a pretty tough act to follow, but Rosas is doing what he can.
The conversation hasn’t been had yet about the family’s journey to the United States with his children, but when it happens, it will be in Spanish, the language the family speaks at home.
“That’s our way to continue our culture and continue our traditions,” Rosas said.
The message to his children will be to remember where you came from and how you got here, but also to help others along the way.
“You’ve got to thank God for what you have, but at the same time, you’re given an opportunity to help others and that’s something that’s incredibly important to me,” Rosas said.
Rosas is now the President of Basketball Operations for the Timberwolves after a 16-year stretch with the Houston Rockets. During that time, especially early, Rosas wasn’t focusing on the barriers that he could help break down in a league with very few Latinos, but instead to work as hard as he could, and hope things would work out.
Spoiler alert: Things worked out.
“My motivation was, ‘let’s do what we can here in Houston’, and I was confident that that would allow me to have doors opened for myself professionally and this next opportunity which became a reality, became an opportunity to do things differently.”
Rosas has been with the Timberwolves for less than six months, and it’s been an incredibly positive change for the organization. Along with head coach Ryan Saunders, Rosas visits the business side more than he needs to, and sometimes it’s just to say hi to those doing the behind-the-scenes work, whether that’s in marketing, sales or public relations.
Culture-wise, he wants the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx organization to feel like a family– and a family that’s not afraid to be diverse. Rosas has brought in the best of the best, whatever a person’s background might be.
Rosas has already made hires that reflect just how global the NBA, and the game of basketball, is. With basketball being such a global game, why shouldn’t front offices and coaching staffs also reflect that?
“We have a very diversified approach and it’s not just male or female or races, it’s approaches,” Rosas said. “People from different backgrounds and different perspectives make up our organization and to me, that’s very special, just as somebody gave me an opportunity, somebody took a chance on me, now I’m able to do the same for others.”
There was help along the way for Rosas. While you might expect it to be another Latino, it wasn’t, which is important to understand Rosas’ thinking. It’s not about what you are, but instead, who you are and how can people’s differences end up being used as a strength, instead of something that drives people apart.
Rosas’ biggest mentor through his career has been Dennis Lindsey, who is now the General Manager for the Utah Jazz.
The two spent time initially with the Houston Rockets before Lindsey got an opportunity with the Spurs and now the Jazz. Lindsey was born in Texas and his parents had a foster home. The children that Lindsey grew up with came from all types of different backgrounds and different walks of life. That gave him perspective on life at a young age. Everyone has a different journey and a different path. Eventually, though, we all meet at the same point or at least deserve the opportunity to.
“When he and I connected, he gave me a lot of guidance and direction in terms of what life could be like in the NBA, the good and the bad and the challenges and the opportunities there,” Rosas said. “I’ve learned a lot from him, I’ve leaned a lot on him, but I’ve also learned a lot from him in terms of example.
There are Latinos that Rosas has met with in the NBA, including Hornets coach James Borrego and Knicks assistant coach Kaleb Canales.
Instead of complaining about their hardships or asking why, this group instead looks for opportunities and asks how.
How can we be better? How can we challenge each other to overcome obstacles?
“You can’t let it get you down, you have to find ways to overcome and do things that have maybe never been done in my path and their paths in order to have success in the league, so there’s a friendship, there’s a bond there because we’ve gone through similar challenges and experiences,” Rosas said.
After being named the first Latino to be President of Basketball Operations, Rosas wasn’t shy about describing how important it was to him. Rosas has seen how the love for the game of basketball has grown and developed in South America. When you talk about it for Rosas, he almost immediately deflects the praise from the accomplishment, but instead to the responsibility. It’s not something that he takes lightly. Now it’s time for him to take the next step and help others.
“There can’t be only one (Latino to lead an NBA team) and if there’s only one, then I failed because I haven’t been able to give back and support others’ opportunities or dreams to be the next,” Rosas said.
Nobody gets to the top alone. For Rosas, it started with his parents making the first step to make a lifechanging move. There were those at the Rockets, most notably Lindsey, who helped mentor Rosas. And now it’s his turn to mentor others and be a role model.
Being a role model sounds easy. But being a role model or mentor doesn’t just happen. As Rosas has said more than a few times (for those who are around, they’d argue a few hundred times), it’s actions over words.
“Part of that is taking the time to be a mentor and guide individuals who want to follow in your path, Rosas said. “It’s also giving the opportunities to others that you’re able to find through a process of looking for the best talent where that may be. Knowing you’re being diligent to give everyone an opportunity, but at the same time, you have to be able to look back on our walk, look back on your journey, and see how individuals have helped you and be willing to do the same for others.”
“Not necessarily just for Latinos,” Rosas added. “For anyone that I can help at any point in my career or my life.”
In a movie, this would be the end scene of Rosas’ journey. He hit the pinnacle of his career, and what he’s worked so hard for. To the credits we go.
Not so fast.
After talking with him, it’s clear that this is just the beginning.