Matina Kolokotronis' cool job: Sacramento Kings COO
When Matina Kolokotronis plays like a girl, she's unlocking her unstoppable potential. Kolokotronis is the only woman in the NBA to hold the titles of both chief operating officer and president of business operations, her previous position.
Entering her 21st season with the Sacramento Kings, the longtime Sacramento resident has been integral to the development of the team's new downtown arena, Golden 1 Center, as well as its adjacent $500 million mixed-use development project, Downtown Commons. Golden 1 Center is recognized as the greenest and most technologically advanced arena in the world. Additionally, it is the first professional sports venue in the world to achieve LEED Platinum certification. Together, Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons represents a $1 billion investment in downtown Sacramento. Kolokotronis spearheaded the project under the revolutionary vision of Kings owner and Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé.
Before being named president of business operations, Kolokotronis served as legal consultant for the Kings' business and basketball operations teams, negotiating player and staff contracts. Prior to that, she served as director of the Sacramento Kings Foundation, overseeing strategic development and fundraising activities. Before joining the franchise, Kolokotronis was an associate with Miller, Owen & Trost, practicing contract and sports law. The Kings happened to be one of her clients.
Ahead of Wednesday's Lakers-Kings game at Golden 1 Center (10:30 p.m. ET/ESPN), Kolotronis discusses her path to the league, the power of sports and how anyone can change the game.
Here is her story, in her words:
If you can see it, then you can see the path to it
I grew up in an incredibly traditional Greek family. It's like my version of the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." My dad worked and my mom was a housewife. They stressed to my sisters and [me] to get educated. We weren't really told why, but [like the movie] I think they just wanted us equipped to find a husband [and felt being educated would help].
When I moved to Sacramento for law school at the University of the Pacific, the partner at the law firm that hired me after I graduated was Nancy Miller. She was the first woman I had met that had a successful career, was married with children and was actively involved in the community. That's when I realized that I could have that too. She's still my mentor to this day and one of my best friends. Nancy showed me a path and possibility toward something that I didn't know I wanted until I saw it. That's why it's important for young girls and women to have mentors. If you can see it, then you can see the path to it. It's that simple.
Greek school really paid off
In 1996, [then Kings general manager] Geoff Petrie called me. He had told me, "I understand you know how to read and write Greek, so could you help us negotiate the contract for this Greek player we're drafting?" The player was Peja Stojakovic. My first thought was, "Greek school really paid off." So I negotiated Peja's contract and started working for Geoff at that point. It was an incredible opportunity that opened up a new world to me and was the spark for so many wonderful and exciting experiences.
When opportunity knocks, you need to pounce
I was six months pregnant with my third child when Geoff had called me. It probably wasn't the most ideal time to jump into something new, but it was an exciting opportunity. I believe when opportunity knocks, you need to pounce on it. You never know what tremendous journey it will take you on.
I stand by the saying, "Anything is possible." Whatever your dream is, you can make it happen. You never know where life is going to lead you so you have to stay open to the possibilities and be fearless.
Growing up, I played intramural sports. Along with teaching me teamwork and everyday life skills, they taught me how to solve problems which is basically what I do for a living.
I believe when opportunity knocks, you need to pounce on it. You never know what tremendous journey it will take you on.Matina Kolokotronis
Golden 1 Center is more than just basketball
In 2010, I was promoted to president of business operations through the whole drama of the team possibly relocating. I'm from Sacramento, so it was really, really important to me that Sacramento had a team. Soon after that, Vivek bought the team.
You never know how it's going to go with a new owner, but we hit it off and I really believed in what he was doing for Sacramento. He had the right vision that buying the Kings was more than just basketball. He wanted to do good and really transform the city. He promoted me to COO. Now, I focus on the overall strategy of the company. I'm really proud to have this job to further impact Sacramento.
Milestones in building an arena in two years
When Vivek bought the team, he made a commitment to the fans, the city and the league that he'd have a new arena built in three years. He pushed that schedule to two years, so we were moving at a very fast pace. My role was to lead the strategy of building Golden 1 Center and the adjacent mixed-use projects while overseeing and sustaining the budget and timeline.
We had tremendous amounts of milestones in the process. Initially, we didn't have a successful legislative campaign. Being a lawyer, I was able to drive that in the sense that we needed a bill in order to allow us to build through the California Environmental Quality Act. Then we had to defeat a referendum, so there was a lot of politics surrounding that. We also had to hire an architect, developer and a contractor.
Being in one of the world's most productive agricultural regions, we aimed to have a farm-to-fork plan with the food sold in the arena. Most of our ingredients come from within 150 miles of the arena. I loved executing on the interior. We brought in a lot of unique and beautiful art from local and world renowned artists like Jeff Koons, Bill Fontana, Gale Hart and Bryan Valenzuela. We wanted to do something incredibly unique for Sacramento because we felt like we owed it back to the city. We have the best fans in the world; they deserve the best and we delivered on that.
The team mimics what the city goes through
When I started working for the Kings as a lawyer, my office overlooked the site that is now Golden 1 Center. We're talking 21 years ago. When living in Chicago, I remember walking past Picasso art pieces. There was no Picasso art in Sacramento at the time. It was just a sleepy town. The team mimicked what the city was going through, which was a severe recession. At the end of the recession, Vivek bought the team and revitalized it. Now when I come to work and look out of my window, I see an 18-foot-tall Jeff Koons sculpture in the arena plaza. We've made a tremendous impact on this city and we're only at the beginning of it all.
Everything comes together on game days
My favorite days are the days we play like today because the production and all of the work comes together in one day. In the morning, I [will occasionally] watch players during shootaround, then I look at the run and production of the show [e.g. the national anthem, dance teams, game hosts, award recognitions, how to get the fans hyped]. We'll make a few adjustments depending on what's going on in Sacramento or the world. We have fan and community activation going on throughout the building too. And since we own the building, all of the food and beverages are of the highest quality. Making sure everything is executing at its highest level is the role I play.
A dream job that was never dreamed but still accomplished
I've been with the organization for so long that I've seen it through good times in the beginning, really tough moments in between, and now during a very exciting era. I love Sacramento. I raised three kids here. It's part of who I am. The team is part of the community. It's so incredible to witness the fans love for the team. They helped save the team and the city. I love my job and I feel fortunate and blessed to be in a position to give back to Sacramento. I didn't grow up thinking I was going to be working for the Kings, but it's truly a dream job.