Leonsis didn’t stop with Silver. Over the next 3 ½ months, Leonsis said he spoke to 78 people in professional sports and beyond, seeking to learn where he had erred and how he should reconstruct the Wizards into a modern sports organization. He picked the brains of the youngest general manager in the history of major league baseball, a former NFL executive of the year who led his franchise to a Super Bowl win and even the 44th president of the United States. He allowed significant offseason events, including the Wizards’ lottery pick in June’s draft and July’s free agency frenzy, to pass without a hire as speculation and misinformation about potential candidates filled the void. But behind the scenes, Leonsis kept asking questions.
Storyline: Wizards Front Office
Leonsis also reached out to someone he considers a friend: former president Barack Obama. Obama has apparently never been shy about giving Leonsis his opinion of the NBA, according to someone with personal insights into their relationship. The two spoke in late April about the importance of building the right culture for the Wizards. Obama championed the “beauty of the game, teamwork, sacrifice” and surrounding franchise stars with complementary pieces. Obama, who has taken on a role with the NBA-backed Basketball Africa League, also encouraged Leonsis to invest in scouting in Africa.
Leonsis also reached out to Popovich. “I talked to Gregg Popovich for 90 minutes. Not about the job. About, ‘Tell me what you’re seeing in the league, tell me about the candidates that I’m talking to, tell me about how you built excellence in your team without breaching any confidence,’ ” Leonsis said. “It was like getting an MBA.” But at no time, according to Leonsis and Forde, did he try to get an audience with Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri.