Kathy Behrens mentors NBA superstars
Next up in our Power Players series, which highlights women in the sports business, is Kathy Behrens, the NBA's executive vice president of social responsibility and player programs. Behrens assists NBA players with any off-court issues, while also making sure the league's superstars are giving back to those most in need.
espnW: Tell us a little bit about your job as the NBA's executive vice president of social responsibility and player programs.
Kathy Behrens: Essentially, I work with the group that manages all of our off-court player activities. We help players with transition issues as they come into the NBA, while they're in the league and as they leave. Our player development focus is very much on the adjustments that are needed for life in the NBA. We also work to get players involved in the community.
espnW: What kind of adjustments do players struggle with the most?
KB: There are several adjustments for players coming into the NBA. In many cases players are moving to a new city or country and facing increased demands on their time with travel and practice and playing schedules. They navigate these new challenges while trying to build a career that will last. Preparing for life after basketball, understanding the financial realities of life in the NBA, as well as adjusting to life in the spotlight [are also adjustments].
espnW: Did you ever think you'd be working at the NBA?
KB: No, but I dreamed about it as a child.
espnW: Really? You were into basketball as a kid?
KB: I loved playing basketball as a kid. And a few times a year, my dad would take me to the Garden to see a Knicks game, and I just loved everything about the atmosphere and experience of being at an NBA game.
espnW: What career path did you follow to get to where you are now?
KB: I'm not sure it was a straight line. I worked with Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, then I became the executive director of New York Cares, which is a nonprofit that mobilizes volunteers to help New York's neediest citizens. When the NBA All-Star Game came to New York in 1998, our organization partnered with the league and that gave me a chance to get to know some of the great people at the NBA. I've been with the league since 2000.
espnW: What's your favorite part of your job? What's the most challenging part?
KB: My favorite part is working with the players and helping them realize the impact they can have in the community. It's terrific to watch them get engaged. The most challenging part is when people want to talk about the negative things the players do, rather than the good things they do.
espnW: What advice do you have for females coming up the ranks who are interested in being sports executives?
KB: Don't be afraid to work hard. Be a good colleague and don't be afraid to take chances. Nothing beats a hard worker with a good attitude who's willing to try new things.
espnW: Is there one player who goes above and beyond when it comes to giving back?
KB: Chris Paul. New Orleans was such a big opportunity for our league. He understands how important the team is to the community. He has a genuine commitment is to both New Orleans and where he's from in North Carolina. He's a tremendous player and a great person.
espnW: What are your thoughts on LeBron James' "Decision"?
KB: I think LeBron was able to do a lot of great things for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America with the "Decision" and that's what's important to me. I believe he raised about $3 million through that one event.
espnW: How big of a role do female fans play in the NBA's success?
KB: They are huge both for the NBA and the WNBA. Both leagues have big, diverse fan bases. Women certainly are a big part of what the NBA is about, and the WNBA is a big part of what the NBA is about.
espnW: How does the NBA plan to avoid a lockout similar to the one the NFL is going through right now?
KB: We are 100 percent committed to trying to make a deal, and we're hopeful that we will.
espnW: What's one thing you hope to accomplish in your current job with the league?
KB: I would like to get more people to focus on the good things that the players do instead of the occasional bad. I'm not going to give up on that one.
espnW: We know you work in the basketball world, but what's your personal favorite sport?
KB: My favorite sport is basketball. I've played it since I was a kid. It's the ultimate team sport. It teaches teamwork, communication and sportsmanship.
I also played college ball for the University of Hartford, where I was a guard. I was actually a two-sport athlete in college, playing tennis as well.
espnW: Tennis and basketball, not a typical combination! Have you ever played any of the NBA guys on the tennis court?
KB: I don't play a lot of tennis and have never played with any of our players, but Big Bob Lanier has beaten me on the golf course a couple of times.
espnW: Can you make a 3-pointer?
espnW: What's your idea of happiness?
KB: Spending time with my family. My husband and I have 4-year-old twins. I absolutely love my job, but a day with my family tops everything else.
espnW: Wow, two at one time. Are your twins boys or girls?
KB: I have one of each. Matthew and Maureen. It's perfect because I can have one in the NBA and one in the WNBA.
espnW: How do you balance being a mom with working?
KB: It's challenging. I have tremendous support at home and great support at work. The NBA is a place that strives to make it possible to balance families with our demanding jobs. Finding the right balance is something we take seriously. No one's perfect at it, but we try.
espnW: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not working?
KB: A nice round of golf never hurt anybody.
espnW: Are you good on the links?
KB: I'm working on getting better.