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Jonathan Chang, Director of Events and Basketball Development For NBA Canada, Leads In Expanding The League From Coast To Coast

Jonathan Chang NBA Canada

Jonathan Chang, Director of Events and Basketball Development For NBA Canada, Leads In Expanding The League From Coast To Coast

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4/6/2020

Jonathan Chang is the Director of Events and Basketball Development for NBA Canada. Since I can remember, I’ve been following NBA Canada. With the Toronto Raptors winning the 2019 NBA Championship, I’ve paid closer attention to the events they host. NBA Canada has hosted some of the biggest names in the league in Canadian cities, selling out all 14 games hosted as part of the NBA Canada Series. Jonathan Chang has helped bring the game coast to coast for millions of Canadians to enjoy and learn the game of basketball for kids and adults of all ages through created basketball development programs. Not only has Jonathan expanded the game in Canada, but he recently helped lead the NBA to enter India. Part of the entrance included the creation of the NBA India Games in the fall of 2019, which Jonathan Chang played a role in propelling. It was my pleasure to chat with Jonathan Chang a short while. In our conversation, we talked about his career in the sport industry, unique adventures with NBA Canada and more.

Please note: The interview with Jonathan Chang was conducted via a phone conversation and later transcribed. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Director of Events and Basketball Development for NBA Canada

NBA Canada is a relatively small office. We’re the largest that we’ve ever been now at 19 employees, but when I came back to the NBA in 2008 we only had 5 employees.

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been exposed to a number of different business units with the NBA from marketing, to marketing partnerships, to digital media sales for NBA.com, to marketing NBA League Pass. Prior to this, I was working on a number of grassroots events, like NBA Hoop-It-Up Three on Three. And now working closely with Canada Basketball on all of our grassroots developments, like Jr. NBA Youth Basketball and the Jr. NBA Global Championship. I also lead on our exhibition game series which is called the NBA Canada Series presented by Bell.

What's been a couple of your favorite events that you've been able to do with NBA Canada?

I’m very proud of our NBA Canada Series because we’re bringing the NBA experience to cities around the country. We’ve played in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, and the plan is to play more games in years to come. I’m pleased with the success we’ve had with 14 sold out games. We had almost 21,000 people for our last game in Montreal. Kawhi Leonard made his Canadian return with the Clippers in Vancouver in October. A couple of years before that, Kevin Durant made his debut in a Warriors uniform, also in Vancouver. We’ve had some of the NBAs biggest stars playing our series from Jimmy Butler to Kevin Love. It’s been a great experience for fans and business partners.

Moving over to your other role as the Events Co-Deputy of NBA India, if you could just tell us about that a little bit as well?

In December 2018 I was approached by the senior vice president of NBA Events about taking on an in market role with the NBA India Games in Mumbai. This is the first two games that any professional US sports league had ever played in Mumbai or India. They play cricket there and they have their own soccer league, but there’s never been an MLB, NHL or NFL games there prior. And we wanted to be the first.

India’s a priority market for the NBA globally, and I think I was approached because the opportunity was really about exhibition games which I had experience with but also about youth development. Due to my background with Jr. NBA, there was lots of opportunities to do clinics, social responsibility, coaching clinics and elite development. The experience provided my children with an opportunity to see my wife’s maternal home. This is a legacy type event that I want to be a part of.

I was supposed to leave in late May, but when the Raptors made the NBA Finals, that changed everything. I ended up staying through the Finals and left in July.

What does it mean to you specifically to bring NBA Basketball to a country where the NBA never had a physical presence before in terms of the games?

It was really exciting. When I talked to the NBA HR department, they asked, what do you want to be remembered for? What are some achievements that you want to be proud of when you look back on your life?

I liked the fact that I could be a part of bringing the NBA to the second most populous country in the world. I was so excited and wanted to see the beauty and culture of India, that’s what kind of sold me on it. It wasn’t a tough sell for me. I was excited about the challenge and the outcome.

How were the two teams were decided upon that got to play there?

The NBA considers India a priority growth market. Sacramento also has an Indian owner, Vivek Ranadive, he’s actually from Mumbai. He was very supportive of the idea.

What are a few of your most memorable experiences?

I would say the All-Star game coming to Toronto in 2016. That was something that I never thought would happen. So that was exceptional. I started working on it in 2013. I’ve worked on 14 All-Star games overall.

The success of the Raptors. Game Six was the most viewed TV show in Canada in the last three years. We never thought we would have a larger viewership than the Stanley Cup Finals in this country.

While in India, I was able to see the Taj Mahal with my family. I was also a part of the NBA China Games in 2014 and went to the Great Wall on my birthday.

I’ve met many NBA stars, but also celebrities and musicians like Will Smith, my favorite actor. I was his handler for the All-Star game in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Recently Dr. James Naismith got a step on the Canada Walk of Fame, the Naismith family actually asked me to sit with them at the induction ceremony. My childhood hero, Isiah Thomas, was his presenter.

For my family and I, social responsibility has always been very important. I’ve been a part of 14 court refurbishments that we’ve done around the country, including rebuilding the North Dartmouth Boys and Girls club that I grew up in. To come full circle to be able to give back to a court that I used to play at in the late eighties, that was really emotional and nostalgic for me personally.

What's been the most challenging part of your career thus far, or any challenges that you've had over the past, over your entire span with the NBA?

I would say the games in India were probably the most challenging. We basically had to rebuild the arena from scratch. The arena we played in only had three thousand seats. There were infrastructure elements that were not present that you’d have for an exhibition game in North America.

The Raptors’ success has really helped the general growth and interest in basketball, and that’s something we’ve never been able to control. But now that they are competitive, I think the momentum continues to grow. It’s been a fun ride. The last five years, I think it’s somewhat assumed that they’re going to make the playoffs every year {Toronto Raptors], so that’s really encouraging for me.

What's your favourite quote that you've heard some from somebody in the NBA circle?

The quote I have is from Michael Jordan, it’s: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something, but I can’t accept not trying.”

And why does that resonate with you so much?

I’ve always tried to work harder than other people do. I’ve always felt blessed to be in the position I am to work the NBA, which basketball aside, is a great organization, but I’ve never want to get too comfortable that I accept, or get complacent that I’ve been here, I’ve done that. I always want to try to do more to improve, to achieve. And I think that a lot of that is driven by motivation, by hard work.

Michael Jordan talks about failure as a key to success and I think I’m somewhat fearful of failure, so that’s why I just try to prepare myself as best I can and do the best I can to try to avoid it.

Phil's Final Thoughts

Jonathan Chang is responsible for spreading the game of basketball from coast to coast to coast in Canada. Some of the NBA’s biggest names have made their debuts in Canadian cities like Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and many more. He also was a key player in hosting the NBA India games in Mumbai. Jonathan Chang lives by a quote from Michael Jordan: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something, but I can’t accept not trying.” Jonathan’s successes in his sport industry career can be attributed to his work ethic and his love for the game of basketball.

Connect With Jonathan Chang


Interview by Phil Goldberg

Posted In Industry Profiles on 4/6/2020