Intro to my latest column:
Pro sports executives often talk about strategies for success, offering their opinions on what it takes to build winning teams.
Tommy Sheppard, the Washington Wizards’ new general manager, certainly knows that excellent players are needed to lead his team to victories. But his vision for the team’s path to success also includes something that might best be described as an intangible element: relationships.
Sheppard repeated the word “relationships” numerous times during an exclusive interview with Hoop Scoop in late September. This provided an inside look at Sheppard’s management style early on in his tenure, e.g. before presiding over the team’s day-to-day operations during an actual season.
The GM’s relationship with rookie forward Rui Hachimura can, of course, have a major impact on the team’s current season and future plans.
Which is why Sheppard has diligently worked to be much more than a figurehead in a suit and tie within the Washington organization. He’s already taken the time to establish a relationship with Hachimura, most notably during a 14-day trip to Japan and China in August and September that concluded with several days in Shanghai to see the Akatsuki Five compete at the FIBA World Cup.
As the Wizards were preparing for the 82-game regular season, which begins on Wednesday (a Thursday sports holiday of sorts in Japan) on the road against the Dallas Mavericks, Sheppard explained why he invested 14 days of his summer to start developing a rapport with Rui, including meals, hanging out and discussions about various things.
Sheppard witnessed the electric atmosphere at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 24, when Japan earned an 86-83 victory over Germany, with Hachimura scoring 31 points in a pre-World Cup contest.
“To see all the crowd together that day, it was just a little bit of a snapshot of what’s coming,” Sheppard noted.