#MySportsBizStart - David Kone: "Life beyond playing.."

by david kone - Manager, premium hospitality development - cleveland cavaliers | August 15, 2019

I’m in Strasbourg, France playing for a pro basketball team. It’s an exhilarating moment because I've worked so hard to prove my doubters wrong by playing the sport I love at a high level. As I’m on the wing about to make a move to the basket, I’m not moving as smoothly as I normally do. I fight through the pain and get my ankle checked out after the game, which had gotten to be the size of a softball. Once I get it checked out, I get devastating news that I've fractured my foot and strained ligaments in my ankle.

This is where my story begins

For all my athletes out there, you spend so much time working on your craft and playing the game you love. You hear stories about how you can’t play forever but you’re not necessarily focused on that at the time. My reality brought me back to Michigan, where I had no job and tended to my injury through extensive rehab. I was depressed and wondered what my next step was going to be. The beauty of all this is that I always aspired to work in the NBA. I did countless hours of research, networking and learning about different jobs in the industry.

It takes one person to give you an opportunity

Through my networking, I connected with an executive at the Detroit Pistons who randomly reached out to invite me to a sports sales combine hiring event they were hosting. He wanted me to learn about the business side of sports and connect with the different teams who would be there. I didn’t know anything about selling in sports, but this opportunity would change my life. The combine allowed me to learn about the industry and put the lessons I learned into action. Before I knew it, I had different teams interviewing me for an inside sales position. One of them being the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Taking advantage of opportunities

From that hiring event, I decided to start my sports business career with the Cavs, and I began in January 2016. The crazy thing is that my decision wasn’t based on the success of the team. In all honesty, I really wasn’t going to take the opportunity with Cleveland. My ankle was getting better and I was contemplating going back overseas. The reason I took the job is because they cared about me as a person and took the time to show me a long term growth plan on the business side, as long as I put the work in. They also had other sports properties within their family of companies that I could sell, including the Canton Charge (G-League team), Cleveland Monsters (AHL team), and Cleveland Gladiators (AFL team). This meant I could have the experience of selling minor league sports and a powerhouse team like the Cavs to really have a full range of selling skills. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I trusted their training and worked my butt off.

Success takes a village

Being in this industry almost 4 years now, I started on our Organizational Business Development entry level sales team, and through hard work I've worked my way up to being a Manager of Premium Hospitality Development. I get the opportunity to manage an upgraded premium area in our new Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and be a part of our 50th anniversary celebration for this upcoming season! I could not have made it through without great leaders and teammates within the organization. I’ve never been somewhere where they are willing to do anything to help you succeed and achieve all your career goals and dreams. All I had to do was put my head down, work hard and they said they would take care of me. I believed that wholeheartedly and I’m glad I did because I have had experiences that I will never forget. From seeing history made in a city that hadn’t won a championship in 52 years, to seeing some of the biggest concerts in the world and now being a part of a renovated arena that will enhance the experience for anyone that visits Cleveland.

Lessons to others

I’m the prime example of how I was able to still be close to the game I love even though I’m not on the court. It is certainly a bragging right to say you work for an NBA team, but you need to put the work in. There’s no other way around it. My biggest piece of advice is you need to network with as many people in the industry as possible. Everyone knows each other, so if you can make a few connections it’ll help your career tremendously. Once you do find your team, don’t be afraid to ask questions and use all the resources available. You can be as successful as you want to be. It just depends on how bad you want it. Enjoy this journey and celebrate the moments because it can end up being the most fun you’ll ever have at a job.

-David

David Kone is the Manager of Premium Hospitality Development at the Cleveland Cavaliers. He's been there for four years and has been promoted four times. He started his career at the Sport Sales Combine hiring event in Detroit back in 2015. He's living proof that with hard work and commitment you can accomplish your goals in sports. He's always open to helping others and you can reach out to David here.