How Raptors tenure helped spur Marc Eversley’s rise to Canadian NBA history

Marc Eversley can remember starting on the road that led to one of the premier jobs in the entire basketball industry, and a Canadian first, like it was yesterday.

Literally. The exact route.

Each morning he would squeeze his six-foot-eight frame into his Dad’s Oldsmobile Delta 88 and pull out of the Brampton home he’d returned to after playing Division II basketball in Urbana, Ohio.

He’d maneuver his way up to Mayfield Road, head east and jump on Hwy 27 and then steer north for a good long while until he hit Highway 89. Then east again, across Highway 400 before pulling into what is now a Tanger Outlets mall.

The trip took about 45 minutes, depending on traffic.

It was how he got to the Nike Factory store that was there at the time (no longer) and looked out at commuters heading south to Toronto and north to cottage country.

Eversley helped build the store from the ground up beginning in 1996.

It was his first real job out of college and turned into a career that is still on the ascent. He moved from selling shoes and merchandise to Nike’s Canadian head office and then Nike’s head office in Portland to working with Nike’s highest-profile basketball athletes — Steve Nash and Vince Carter among them.

He then joined the Toronto Raptors in 2006, starting a career in the NBA that reached a new peak when he was formally announced by the Chicago Bulls as their new general manager on Friday.

Eversley is the first Canadian to hold the role in the modern NBA; a trail blazer in a finely-crafted suit whose family moved from Barbados to London, England to Jane and Finch, and then to Brampton — a well-worn path for Caribbean families looking for better opportunities in the 1960s and ’70s. 

But first, he had to get from Brampton to Highway 89, and the 400.

“That’s where all this [expletive] started,” he said, his Nike career having started with answering a ‘Help Wanted’ notice in the newspaper. 

Basketball in this country has come miles in those intervening 23 years or so, a lot further than that drive to Innisfil — even in weekend traffic.

Where there was always passion — Eversley was part of it as he led his Cardinal Leger Secondary team to the final four at the provincial championships in 1989 — there is now an industry, nascent but growing.

It’s evident in the 22 Canadians who suited up for an NBA game this season — a record number for any country other than the United States.

It’s evident in the vibrant grassroots scene and in the small but expanding number of Canadians in professional basketball, in coaching and basketball operations and, now, at the highest levels of that side of the game too.

Eversley was there at the beginning as Toronto began to grasp the Raptors, the NBA and mainstream basketball culture.

“It’s interesting because when I was at Nike Canada, running sports marketing for all their properties, basketball was kind of an up-and-coming thing,” Eversley said on a conference call Friday to introduce him to Chicago media. “It was kind of gimmicky. But we were committed to pounding the rock per se, and really trying to grow the game of basketball.”

He’s worked for the Philadelphia 76ers as president of basketball operations and prior to that as the director of scouting for the Washington Wizards. But he got his start in the NBA with the Raptors when he was hired by then-Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo to work in player development alongside current Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who was in charge of international scouting. 

But before that — like so many things as it relates to the Raptors — Eversley’s career got its first rocket boost when Vince Carter arrived for the 1998-99 season.  

As Carter’s star rose, Eversley’s did too, as he became Carter’s contact with Nike and essentially his right hand as the high-flyer went supernova.

From inside the bubble, Eversley recognized that superstars’ lives can get complicated quickly and the better he could anticipate issues and requirements before they arose or could be verbalized, the move useful he was.

“Being a player rep [for a shoe company] or being an agent, it doesn’t allow you to live a very normal life. You have to be where the player is,” says Dave Haggith, the senior director of communications for Raptors owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Haggith worked for Carter during his Raptors peak and, as a result, often with Eversley.

“…But that’s the way Marc was. No matter what arena you were in, Marc was there — that’s what makes you indispensable. A lot times if that guy isn’t right there with a player, things can fall apart. But Marc was always there to make sure they didn’t.”

Former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo (Frank Gunn/CP)

It wasn’t always glamorous work — nailing down the details on a photo shoot, making sure a summer camp or fundraiser goes smoothly — but it’s the kind of vital stuff that allows the relationship between stars and brands, or stars and teams, thrive.

“A guy like Mark takes [those jobs] it to another level,” says Haggith. “He anticipates problems and is recommending things before anyone has even thought to ask … it’s nice to see a good guy finish first in this case.”

Basketball at the highest level is a relationship business and Eversley came to it naturally and learned quickly, ending up as part of Carter’s wedding party and the godfather to Carter’s daughter.

“[Vince] and I became very close,” says Eversley. “…and relationships help you move the needle.”

After joining the Raptors — a dream opportunity for a hometown kid — Eversley realized there was still much to learn. Fortunately Colangelo ran an open shop and encouraged his younger staffers to grow in their roles. 

“We can credit Bryan a lot because he opened things up for both of us,” says Ujiri, who worked with Eversley for five years before leaving to take the general manager’s job in Denver. “…We were almost like Bryan’s soldiers. Anything that came up, our offices were right there and he’d scream our names and we’d go and sit on the two chairs in there with him and discuss things … [Colangelo] did a great job of bringing us in. He’d have me present to the [MLSE] board of directors on scouting, and Mark about player development. He didn’t keep things to himself. He was proud of doing that.

“If he was going somewhere, he’d get us on [MLSE chairman] Larry Tanenbaum’s plane to go with him. [Colangelo] was just one of those guys who wanted his guys around him, he was inclusive that way, which gives you the opportunity to learn.”

Eversley says it was Ujiri who taught him the finer points of scouting and finding the next potential NBA player after having spent his career catering to existing stars with Nike and early on with the Raptors.

“Scouting is different. You’re not on the team plane, you’re going to Arkansas and Alabama trying to see six or seven players on one trip. It’s the real world but what makes people good at it is the willingness to grind through it,” says Ujiri. “Marc was very good about opening up himself and coming with me on these scouting trips and building that network, more the grind network — how many assistant coaches do you know when you go to Europe? Who are you going to talk to about players?

“He was really willing to grind it out and he just started tagging along with me, and it became a priority for him to do.”

Masai Ujiri; Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri. (Nathan Dentte/CP)

Eversley earned his stripes in Toronto — he had become assistant general manager before leaving in 2013 as Colangelo was pushed out by former MLSE chief executive officer Tim Leiweke — by helping convince Colangelo to draft DeRozan with the ninth pick in the 2009 draft. In Philadelphia he is credited for finding impressive rookie Matisse Thybulle with the 20th pick in the 2019 draft.

“I owe [Colangelo and Ujiri] a tremendous amount of gratitude,” said Eversley. “Bryan is the guy who actually took a chance on me when I first went to Toronto.

“He really taught me what the NBA is all about. He told me about what the rhythm and the flow of an NBA season looks like, what the playoffs look like.

“And Masai has been like a brother to me. He’s clearly one of the sharpest executives in all of sports right now and he introduced me to the art of scouting and how to truly evaluate talent. And I owe him for that.

“My time in Toronto was unbelievable.

Now his challenge is taking all those lessons and turning around the Bulls. Eversley, who turned 50 last year, was a teenager when the franchise that Michael Jordan built was at its peak. It was fitting that when incoming Bulls president Arturas Karnisovas called to offer him the job, it was in the wee hours of Monday morning and both men were catching up on The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary about the Bulls’ last championship season, all the way back in 1997-98.

Once one of the most glamourous franchises in sports, the Bulls have been mostly a bust since Jordan left, save a for few bright moments when Derrick Rose was healthy.

Can Eversley be part of the solution?

“He has a tremendous presence, and attentiveness, so you connect with him,” says Bill Duffy, one of the NBA’s most influential player agents, and the representative for Bulls star Zach LaVine. “He’s obviously a basketball guy, that’s not in question, but what’s important with this generation is sincerity and the engagement of the players. They don’t like phonies.

“Marc’s very real and it resonates. He’s knows the game, he’s worked for three different organizations and with Arturas it’s going to be a contemporary approach, which is necessary.”

It’s an approach that Eversley first put to use driving up to Innisfil, and which served him well serving Vince Carter and other Raptors stars.
 
His hiring could serve Canadian basketball well also as he leads the way for those coming behind him in a hoops hotbed that produces stars on the floor and now in the executive ranks too.

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