Pete D’ Alessandro
Setting the bar for the Denver Nuggets
Pete D’Alessandro is currently in his second season with the Denver Nuggets, serving as advisor to the executive vice president of basketball operations, Masai Ujiri. In his current role, D’Alessandro assists in the development of all basketball operations strategies, as well as the management of day-today basketball activities with a focus on trade and free agent negotiations, salary cap management, and collective bargaining agreement rules and regulations.
Prior to joining the Nuggets, D’Alessandro spent five seasons with the Golden State Warriors. He spent his last two years with the Warriors in the role of assistant general manager, after serving the previous three seasons as the team’s director of basketball operations.
D’Alessandro began his career in basketball in 1986 when, as a student at St. John’s University, he served as video coordinator for the men’s basketball team under Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca. A member of the New York State Bar, D’Alessandro graduated from the Law Center in 1994. From 1994â€“96, he briefly entered the political arena, ultimately serving as the campaign manager for New York State Representative Rick Lazio’s successful 1996 re-election bid to the House of Representatives. After his stint in politics, D’Alessandro returned to the sports world in 1997, joining Professional Management Associates (PMA), a sports agency based in Washington, D.C. As vice president at PMA for seven years, he represented both NBA and international basketball players before being hired in 2004 by then Warriors executive vice president of basketball operations and current Hall of Fame inductee, Chris Mullin.
D’Alessandro currently lives in Denver with his wife, Leah, their two-year-old daughter, Kate, and their Jack Russell terrier, Bugsy.
Why did you choose to go to law school?
I think it was a natural progression. I always had an interest in understanding rules, processes, and procedures. Looking back on it, as a kid learning basketball, I was most interested in the technical aspects of the sport. I remember attending summer basketball camp. Rather than play pick-up ball with the other campers in our free time, I was trying to figure out the perfect shooting form, or deciphering the complexities of a match-up zone. It was the rules and strategies that most excited me.
Later, my cousin, Joan Guido, became an attorney. She has been one of the most influential people in my life, so when she chose the law, it naturally piqued my interest.
In college, while working in the basketball office at St. John’s University, I was exposed to the business side of sports. After each season, various agents would come to the university to meet with our potential NBA players. I would make sure I hung around the office to watch the process from a distance. After one of these interviews, I walked one of the agents to his car and asked what it would take to gain entry into his profession. Instead of answering, he asked me a series of questions about my background and my interests. I felt like I was being cross-examined. I told him I had an interest in representing players and was considering law school. He paused for a moment, and then constructed for me what turned out to be a roadmap for my career. He told me that, as a lawyer himself, he had always felt that a J.D. was helpful in order to understand the complexities of the rules surrounding trades, contract negotiations, and business decisions. He also told me that I should spend the upcoming years gaining a wide range of experience. Up until that point, my whole life had been spent in New York and focused on basketball. He suggested that I consider exploring a law school in another region. He advised that, if I did pursue the law, I should begin my career in a field other than sports. I remember him explaining to me that experience in another field provides a broader base of knowledge, which in turn allows you to represent clients better.
I was so impressed with him. He was genuine, and he seemed so thoughtful in providing his advice to me. In that 10-minute conversation, this man, in a parking lot outside of our field house, gently pushed me down my career path.
Years later, after graduating law school and working in the political world, I arranged an informational meeting at PMA. Bill Pollak, the company’s founder and one of the pioneers in the field, agreed to meet with me. He asked me why I was pursuing this path. I told him the story of the agent in the parking lot. He looked at me intensely and said, “I think that was me.” Talk about serendipity.
I was hired by him a short time later and began my journey in sports representation. After working nearly seven years at PMA, there is no doubt in my mind that he was the agent who gave me advice years earlier. Our parking lot conversation is exactly his style. He is a born mentor and a true caretaker for anyone in his life. He is now retired, but as important a figure to me now as he was the day I began working for him.
I actually spent a great deal of time thinking about the advice I had received. I had never lived anywhere but New York and felt that I needed to go away. I explored various parts of the country and decided South Florida would be a perfect place to relocate. I felt it was a thriving area and a beautiful place to live. I had no family or friends there. I had no connection at all. I felt this would be my opportunity to gain my independence along with my degree.
NSU seemed like a forward-thinking law school. It was a newer school with vibrant faculty members. At the time, the new building was scheduled to open soon. It was an exciting time for the school, and I wanted to be a part of an institution on the rise.
Did you know you always wanted to study law?
Law has always fascinated me. I always wanted to know how to get things done, and I gravitated to people who were knowledgeable and weren’t afraid to answer questions confidently. It always seemed to me that attorneys displayed such knowledge and confidence. That was appealing to me. So, I guess I always saw the law as a possibility.
Did you always know you wanted to combine the fields of law and sports?
While working at St. John’s it became clear to me that understanding the law would give me a great advantage in the sports world. I saw it as a niche, an opportunity, and a potential entryway into a highly competitive field of employment.
Were you involved in student organizations while a student at the Law Center?
I wrote a bit for the school paper and at one point was part of a group that began the Italian American Law Students Association. At NSU, we had such a tightly knit group of students that you felt part of a community by simply being a student there.
What is your favorite memory of the Law Center?
One of my favorite memories is the opening of the new school at the beginning of my second year. I was so proud to be a part of that. It was a turning point in the school’s history, and we were there for it. When I travel to South Florida, I sometimes sneak back and just walk around the building remembering that first day.
Another powerful memory is Hurricane Andrew. Obviously, the destruction and devastation was tremendous, but the way we banded together as a school community was inspiring. I remember one of my close friends, Frank Ledee (’94) organizing a group of us to travel to the homes of the elderly to secure their properties prior to the storm. We spent days battening down windows and fastening movable objects. After the storm, Frank Ledee re-doubled his efforts by harnessing his team to clean up the destruction. The school also had organized a number of help missions, and the student body responded without hesitation. As a school, we united as a family to aid our friends and the community. It was a testament to the character of the faculty and staff members and the student body. I have always been proud of that effort.
Who were your favorite professors or classes?
Although I only took a single class with him, I feel Bruce Rogow really helped me in my career. I remember being impressed by his easy manner and persuasive style. In all of his lessons, he stressed taking the high road at all times-especially in times of trial and tribulation. That really stuck with me. When faced with a difficult decision, I have often thought of him and his mantra. It has never yet been proven to be bad advice.
I also have an incredible amount of respect and admiration for John B. Anderson. His was the only class in which I sat front and center. I learned so much about creative thinking in that class. He is truly a visionary. His lessons taught me a great deal about negotiation and diplomacy. As a result of his lessons, to this day, before a negotiation, I try to analyze a counterpart’s issue from his or her own perspective before crafting my strategy and message.
How did you get started at Professional Management Associates?
After graduating law school, I entered the political field. I always knew I wanted to get back into sports but thought the advice I received from Bill Pollak was important. Initially, I volunteered for my local representative’s 1994 campaign and began practicing on eastern Long Island. The representative was re-elected and asked me to serve as campaign manager for his 1996 campaign. It was a fun and exciting time, and I am so appreciative to him for believing in me. I thank him even more because on the campaign I met my wife, Leah.
After winning the 1996 re-election campaign, however, I knew I was at a crossroad. Either I would continue down the political path or take a chance and get into sports. I spent a great deal of time soul searching. Looking back, it really was a difficult decision. I had firmly set my foot on the doorway of a political career. To step back probably meant I would lose an opportunity that I had worked so hard for.
My wife was so helpful in the process for me. She has such an analytical mind and really helped me organize my thoughts. Ultimately, I decided I needed to take a chance. I had come this far in following the road map I had set years earlier toward my goal of working in professional sports. I felt I would regret giving up at this point.
I reached out to everyone I knew in basketball, which has always been my favorite sport. Ultimately, I was led to PMA. They had no open position at the time, but I took a leap of faith and moved to Washington, D.C. There, I worked temporary legal positions hoping to maintain flexibility in case a job in sports opened. I kept in regular communication with Bill Pollak at PMA, but I never pushed him for a job. Instead, I worked in my free time creating documents, which I thought could help him in his upcoming negotiations.
I also regularly presented him with memos and news clippings and met with him as often as I could. In those meetings, I crafted my messages carefully with his objective in mind, expressing to him that I would take a job, should one open. I was clear that I would take any job available, whether it was scouting games or answering phones. I just wanted to learn the field from him as he had an impeccable reputation. I also told him I would not need a contract and that, if after he hired me he didn’t feel it was the right fit for any reason all he would have to do was say so. I would leave without objection. I knew he had no open positions, so I was careful not to pressure him. I always felt he could provide leads for other jobs if none opened at his company. Even if it never led to a job at all, I had really come to respect and admire him. His friendship alone would have been worth the effort.
One afternoon, while working on a temporary assignment at a law firm in D.C., I got a call from him. He asked if I was still looking for a job. I answered yes before he finished his sentence. It was only after we hung up that I realized I never asked what the job was or what it paid. It really didn’t matter. I started three days later- answering phones with a J.D.
How did you come to work for Golden State and the Nuggets?
At PMA I quickly became involved with our clients and our negotiations. Chris Mullin was one of our clients. We had a great deal in common. He had also been player of the year at St. John’s prior to my attendance there. When he was offered the job as executive vice president of basketball operations at Golden State, we spoke about my joining him. It was an exciting opportunity. Still, moving all the way to San Francisco was difficult for me as my wife had recently graduated Georgetown Law School and begun her career in Washington, D.C. In addition, we had purchased a row house on Capitol Hill. Ultimately, it was an opportunity to work with one of the classiest people in the game. I couldn’t pass it up.
After my tenure with Golden State, I was contacted by Masai Ujiri, who had just taken the head of basketball position in Denver. He and I had known each other as colleagues in the field. He was searching for a person who in addition to having a basketball background, specialized in salary caps issues and negotiations. When he called I was discussing a similar position with another club. But, after meeting with him and team president, Josh Kroenke, it quickly became clear what a special opportunity this was.
Shortly thereafter, I was offered the position as his advisor. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
What can you tell students who are interested in a career in law and in sports? What are some items of advice they can use to get into this field?
First, be willing to be humbled. Many people out there have advanced degrees, so get an edge any way you can. If that means starting at the bottom, be willing to start at the very bottom. Second, become a specialist. The sports industry is filled with specialists. Almost every field of law has a corresponding practice in sports. Develop a specialty and you will set yourself apart from the other candidates.
Also, be willing to relocate. I have lived in several cities in my 14 years in sports.
Lastly, be prepared to hear no, but don’t let it stop you. Never pester a potential employer. If someone is kind enough to meet with you but does not have an open job, don’t badger them. Instead develop the relationship and try to offer them something. If they are an avid golfer and you have a connection at an exclusive club, let them know. Try to find a way that makes them want to have a relationship with you. The industry is in constant motion and positions do become available. Keep yourself in the on-deck circle.
How do you stay connected with some of your NSU classmates?
Some of my closest friends came from my experience at NSU. They are all tremendously successful in their respective practices. Chris Ligori (’94) and Tony White (’94) are in Florida,
Scott Sandler (’94) is in Connecticut, and Joe Langone (’94) is in Washington, D.C. They are like brothers to me, and I am so proud of each of their achievements. I go to each of them for advice and outside perspective. They are all bright and have so much integrity that I feel like I have a personal cabinet guiding my career. I only hope I provide them with help in the same way.
We regularly keep in touch and my job allows me to see each of them on occasion. I’ll even attend an NBA or college game with one of them from time to time. Most recently, Scott Sandler was able to join me while I scouted the Big East Tournament. He has a rooting interest as he attended the University of Connecticut as an undergraduate. In law school, we always had a bit of a rivalry as St. John’s is also a Big East school. I last saw Chris Ligori in San Francisco when I was working for the Warriors. He brought his family with him for a visit. Since our graduation in 1994, I probably speak to him once a week. I saw Tony White in Miami when he joined me at a Heat game, and I frequently speak to him by telephone. Joe Langone lived near me when I was in D.C., and we saw each other regularly then and still remain in touch.
Now that you work for the Nuggets, is your day-to-day work different from other fields?
As with most jobs, there is a daily routine to my position. It could be dealing with basketball staff issues, business staff issues, budgeting, the administrative side of scheduling or ticketing, acting as a go between for our staff and the league office, or a variety of other activities. So many people expect the field is solely about the game of basketball, whether scouting, attending games and practices, negotiating contracts, or making trades. These are clearly part of the job-and often the most exciting part-but, the majority of the job is the daily activities that go along with assisting the executive vice president of basketball operations in running the department. It is a wonderful ending to a work day to sit in an arena filled with 20,000 fans cheering for our team.