Curtis Oakley Jr., NBA league Operations, CO2YouthFoundation | Hoop Story #087

Curtis Oakley Jr., NBA league Operations, CO2YouthFoundation | Hoop Story #087

Curtis Oakley Jr. was born into the world of basketball. He grew up looking up to his uncle Charles Oakley, an NBA player for the New York Knicks, which sparked a passion for the game and for the NBA

Oakley played Division I college basketball at Bryant University where he not only pursued his athletic dreams but also earned a degree in communications and business management. 

Oakley has worked In league operations for the NBA since 2017. He began as a game reviewer and has played a crucial role in the organization's growth specifically in the establishment and expansion of NBA Africa.

Family as well as his community serve as a driving factor for Oakley. Oakley actively gives back to his community through his organization, The Curtis Oakley Jr Youth foundation. Oakley’s journey in basketball is a key example of dedication, passion, and making a positive impact.

Where did your love for the game of basketball begin? When did you say to yourself “Yeah I really love this game and I want to have a career in basketball.” ? 

I come from a big basketball family in Cleveland Ohio. My uncle was playing in the NBA when I was born in ‘94. He was playing for the Knicks. Obviously my family were real big fans of him and just the NBA and sport of basketball in general.

Everywhere I looked and everywhere I turned there was a basketball somewhere. My family was always playing basketball or watching my uncles games or just other games that were on. Basketball was just always around.

My Parents put me in little rec leagues as soon as possible. I started that at around 6 years old and just kept playing until college.

I went to college at Bryant University in Rhode Island and it was really a great experience.

I played division one college basketball, and  that was always a goal and dream of mine. 

Outside of basketball Bryant also has a very good business school. I ended up pursuing a degree in communications and business management. Being in a great business environment like the oine at Bryant really prepared me for the professional world. I was taking a lot of informative courses and presentations and making good connections. That made the transition to my career much easier and I'm super thankful i had the opportunity to be a student athlete and experience a new environment.

What were some of your favorite moments from your college career?

I think one of the memorable experiences was during a 10-day trip to Italy in my freshman year. It was the first time we traveled to Italy and played against several professional teams. It was also my first time outside the country, coming from Cleveland, which made the whole experience amazing.

I also remember my first game against Indiana University, playing under the bright lights in front of around 20,000 people – a completely new and exhilarating experience.

Another memorable experience was beating Boston College during my freshman year. There were truly a lot of highlights and unforgettable memories during my time in college.

You work in league operations for the NBA. What does a typical day look like for you and what type of roles do you take on?

There are a lot of different moving parts involved ian league operations. Typically in the morning I come in and start reviewing plays that game reviewers have flagged as potential misses or situations that might need addressing. They've graded the calls from the previous night as either correct or incorrect. Additionally, I'm involved in generating the last two-minute reports, especially when there's controversy at the end of games.

League operations revolve around managing team requests and addressing what teams want to see. It also includes overseeing rule interpretations, game flow improvements, and other aspects that keep everything running smoothly. Our department, in a nutshell, handles the schedule, and the head of our department even played a role in creating the In season tournament. Essentially, all the behind-the-scenes elements you witness on the court fall under the purview of league operations, including events and other related matters.

How did you start working in league operations? What was the first step you took?

I got into league operations by connecting with my former manager, who now works for the Chicago Bulls. Back then, I was a game reviewer, analyzing referee performance daily after each NBA game. We went through all the angles from every arena, examining every millisecond of game play during the NBA season. This journey began in 2017, starting as a game reviewer. Over time, I progressed to managing all the games as the lead game reviewer. As my role evolved, I took on various responsibilities in league operations. So, it all started with being a game reviewer, and that's how I grew in the league office.

How did your childhood experiences inspire you to create your own foundation and give back to your community?

Well, for me, it's always been about giving respect and showing love to those who came before me and inspired me. I was fortunate to have people like my uncle, my father, and basketball players in the city who served as role models. Working for the NBA, alongside my brother who also works for the NBA, and having amazing coworkers, I felt a sense of responsibility. Representation matters to me, and I believe that by going back to my community, I could inspire kids. I wanted to show that while playing the game and earning scholarships for college is great, the ball will stop bouncing for all of us one day.

Being involved in professional sports has various avenues beyond playing, and I wanted to showcase that to the kids back home. So, we started with basketball camps – it's something I'm familiar with. The camps are free, providing T-shirts, school supplies, lunch, snacks, and creating a community gathering. My coworkers even fly into Cleveland to be a part of it. During these camps, we not only focus on basketball but also introduce educational aspects. We want to expand into more educational initiatives. Overall, it's about shining a light on the kids and letting them know about different opportunities in professional sports beyond playing in the NBA. It's a way for me to give back to my community whenever I go back home.

You've mentioned the influence your family has had in supporting your career and love for the game. You've also mentioned that your brother also works for the NBA. How has your experience been being able to learn from and work beside family?

Being able to work alongside family has been a truly special experience for me. It's almost like a family business, especially considering my uncle played for 20 years, I've been with the NBA for seven years, and now my brother is making great strides in his career with the NBA. He graduated from an HBCU, and now we're involved in organizing HBCU classics and All-Star events. It's a unique dynamic that ties our family even closer to the world of basketball.

For example, I absolutely love working during All-Star Weekend. It's an incredible feeling to be surrounded by everyone from the basketball world. It's like a full-circle moment for me, having followed my uncle’s career and being part of a family that has always been connected to the game. When I was involved in All-Star Weekend in Cleveland a couple of years ago, it felt like a personal full-circle moment, not just for me but for my family as well, especially with my brother also being a part of it.

During your time working for the NBA, how have you seen the organization grow and evolve?

The NBA is really making it a point to make a footprint in Africa., I've been involved in the Basketball Africa League, taking trips to Egypt and Rwanda over the last few years to contribute to growing the game in Africa. This experience has been incredibly life-changing for me.

There is so much talent in Africa, and the NBA is committed to nurturing that talent within the continent and helping that ecosystem grow. There are NBA academies in Johannesburg and NBA Academy in Senegal. These highlight the organization's dedication to supporting the growth of basketball in Africa.

As the NBA continues to invest globally, this year's expansion to Cape Town, South Africa, is another exciting development. I'm eager to see how the NBA further expands its global reach, similar to the way soccer has become a worldwide phenomenon. The growth of the NBA reflects its potential to offer the world a more diverse experience and I’m happy I’m a part of that.

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