Editor’s note: This story was chosen as one of our top 12 in 2010. In 2010, the Portland Trail Blazers caught a break when local Burmese American Rich Cho was hired to be its general manager. This signified that Asian Americans are reaching the upper echelons of pro basketball.
By Lee Xie
Northwest Asian Weekly
Rich Cho, former assistant general manager (GM) of the Seattle SuperSonics, has been hired to replace Kevin Pritchard as general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Cho, who is the ninth GM in the Trail Blazers’ history, joins the team after spending the past nine seasons as assistant general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Trail Blazers president Larry Miller stated in an open letter to fans that “our top priorities in this process were to find someone who has the proven abilities to be a leader in our business and in our community. Our search was dedicated to finding a person we knew who could immediately take over the daily management of our team and basketball staff while focusing keenly on taking us to the next level as a serious NBA contender. I am convinced Rich Cho is that person.”
Cho, 44, was born in Myanmar, but his family moved to the United States in 1968 when he was 3 years old. They settled in Federal Way, and he attended Decatur High School.
To support the family, Cho’s father worked the graveyard shift at 7-11, according to an interview in The Columbian. Cho himself worked odd jobs to help the family. He was a busboy, a dishwasher at IHOP, a waiter, and a phone solicitor.
After graduating from Washington State University with a degree in engineering, Cho worked for five years as an engineer at Boeing before deciding to go to law school.
According to a 2007 article in the Northwest Asian Weekly (NWAW), Cho did some research and discovered that most people working in the front office of professional sports teams had law degrees, so while working on his own degree at Pepperdine University Law School, he interned with the Sonics in 1995.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I got lucky,” Cho told NWAW in 2007. “As a basketball junkie with an engineering background, I came up with some ideas and luckily, [then-general manager Wally Walker] offered me an internship after the interview.”
Cho was eventually promoted to assistant general manager and vice president of legal affairs.
He drafted and reviewed player contracts, assisted in contract negotiations, and worked on the salary cap support for free agent signings and trades for both the Sonics and the Seattle Storm.
Cho also handled all the legal work that came with the business, such as sponsorship agreements, licensing issues, employment contracts, and immigration issues.
“The guy does it all,” said former Sonics radio play-by-play announcer David Locke in 2007. “If you want to know more about the inner-workings of the front office, Rich is your guy.”
Cho stayed with the Sonics until 2008 and then moved with the re-christened team to Oklahoma, where he served as assistant general manager to the new Oklahoma City Thunder.
Paul Allen, another Northwest native and the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Blazers said in a statement, “Today is a great day for the Trail Blazers organization. As part of our review of a talented pool of candidates with Larry Miller, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Rich Cho. It quickly became very clear to me that he had what we were looking for in a general manager.”
Cho is the first Asian American general manager in NBA history. ♦
Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.
Lee Xie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.