ESPN hosts live podcast in Emerson gymnasium


Rachel Culver

Sam Presti (left) appeared on The Woj Pod with senior NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski (right).

By Ethan McDowell

Alumnus and General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder Sam Presti ‘00 returned to campus on Thursday as a guest on Adrian Wojnarowski’s first live podcast with ESPN.

Wojnarowski works as a Senior NBA Insider for ESPN and hosts The Woj Pod where he interviews key figures throughout the National Basketball Association. Presti previously appeared on a podcast with Wojnarowski in 2016.

Wojnarowski’s daughter, Anna, is a sophomore at Emerson, and Wojnarowski said this played a large role in hosting the event at Emerson. 

However, the link between Wojnarowski and Emerson goes back even before his daughter arrived on campus. From interviewing Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry in the Ritz Carlton hotel neighboring Emerson’s campus to watching NBA teams practice in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym, Wojnarowski said he is familiar with the college. 

“I had been around here a lot just for the NBA because teams always practice in the gym,” Wojnarowski said in an interview before the event. “You think about the alumni from the school, and I’ve had nothing but positive history with any of them.”

This is the first time ESPN hosted a The Woj Pod live, and Wojnarowski said the preparation for the event is different than what he is used to. 

“It’s pretty exciting,” Wojnarowski said. “Typically I’m in a studio with a podcast, or sometimes I’m in a hotel room. Sometimes I’m in somebody’s office, and you have the machinery on the desk. It’s a different environment, and having a live audience is pretty good.”

The gym transformed into a podcast studio on Thursday when ESPN assembled a stage displaying The Woj Pod logo behind two red chairs placed under the scoreboard. Wojnarowski and Presti sat on the stage and discussed topics ranging from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offseason to Emerson College basketball. 

Presti played basketball for the Lions before graduating and pursuing a front-office career in the NBA. The Seattle Supersonics, which relocated to Oklahoma in 2008, hired Presti in 2007 to be their general manager and he is in his 12th year in the position. 

“The campus almost feels like it’s an extension of the city streets,” Presti said in an interview. “You spend enough time walking the streets, and they’re extremely familiar. I know the school has changed quite a bit and grown quite a bit since I was here, but it definitely has a familiar feel to it.”

Presti majored in communication, politics, and law, and said he never thought he would manage an NBA franchise. 

“It’s safe to say that had never crossed my mind,” Presti said. “That’s probably a good thing because I think the fact that it was not really a goal in some ways, probably made it more achievable.”

As Presti answered questions from Wojnarowski, he looked out into a crowd of people who are in the same situation as him when he attended Emerson. 

“I think this period of time for people and students in their lives is so transformational,” Presti said. “There’s so many things that you’re experiencing as a college student, especially in part of Boston, at a school like Emerson. I’m jealous in a lot of ways because it’s such a wonderful time. Your life possibilities are really limitless.”

While he realizes many audience members may look up to him, he encourages people to enjoy their college experience. 

“The things that you’re thinking about, even at that point in time, you have no idea how it’s going to turn out,” Presti said. “Just stay in the moment and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t try to live up to anyone else’s standards.” 

In addition to the college students packing the gym’s seats, former Emerson basketball players and alumni attended the event. Chris Taylor ‘11, the assistant general manager of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants—the G-League affiliate for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers—is one of many Emerson alumni in NBA front-office positions. 

Taylor said he used Presti and former Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan ‘04 as inspiration to pursue his goals to reach the NBA when he enrolled in 2007 at the college. 

“I think a lot of people thought it was a little unorthodox to come to a school like Emerson without the big emphasis on sports or anything like some of the larger establishments here in the country,” Taylor said in an interview. “But knowing [Presti]’s history, you definitely kind of pitch that like, ‘hey, if this is what your ultimate goal is, we’ve got some great resources and some guys will be able to tap into and just kind of learn how they broke into it.’”

Wojnarowski said during the podcast that Emerson is one of two schools to have two general managers in the NBA. The University of California Los Angeles is the only other school with two NBA General Managers. 

Before the event, Wojnarowski said Emerson does a great job of preparing students regardless of the career path they are pursuing. 

“There’s a lot of support for each other,” Wojnarowski said. “While it’s a pretty competitive environment, whether it’s in film or journalism, it’s a good competition. It’s a competition where I think people are making each other better.”

Wojnarowski, who said his initial career aspirations included a position covering college basketball for the Hartford Courant, stressed the importance of staying determined in order to achieve one’s goals.

“This is a business that really rewards tenacity, and it doesn’t matter necessarily where you went to school or your background,” Wojnarowski said. “You can will your way into the places you want to go and I’m probably a pretty good example of that.”