While Sam Presti ‘00 wasn’t drafted to the NBA, he made a name for himself off the court in the front offices of the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Presti’s NBA career began by chance after he met R.C. Buford—the general manager of the Spurs—at a basketball camp in Aspen, Colorado. Buford offered Presti an internship with the team and Presti began working with video to help scout players for head coach Gregg Popovich.
“I can’t say enough positive things about that experience in San Antonio,” Presti said. “It had a tremendous effect on me professionally but also personally. [With] the people at the Spurs—[Gregg Popovich], R.C. Buford, and the ownership as well as all the players—I was fortunate to have that be my first experience professionally.”
Throughout his years with the Spurs, Presti worked his way up to the position of Assistant General Manager. In 2007, Presti left San Antonio and was hired by Oklahoma City as their General Manager, a position he has held for 11 years.
Emerson College has been an unlikely source for NBA front office personnel in recent years. Aside from Presti’s long tenure with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, Rob Hennigan ‘04 was named general manager of the Orlando Magic in 2012. After the Magic terminated his contract in 2017, Hennigan joined up with Presti at the Thunder and now serves as the Vice President of Insight & Foresight for Oklahoma City. Hennigan is the all-time leading scorer in Emerson basketball history with 2,196 career points.
Presti said that Emerson played a big role in building the foundation for his future success.
“I look at every experience that you have in life as definitely a platform for the next, and Emerson was a big part of that for me,” Presti said. “My college coach [Hank Smith] was the pivotal person in that experience.”
Emerson’s Communication Studies department hosted Presti on Tuesday, March 19 for a VIP breakfast event. Attendees of this event included the Dean and Faculty from the School of Communication, Athletic department administrators and coaches, sports communication students, and multiple Emerson basketball players
The college introduced the sports communication major in 2017 and Presti said this program, along with Emerson’s location, will give students the opportunity to find jobs in industries like his.
“I think more education, especially in a city like Boston that is so rich in sports tradition and opportunity, will be really beneficial for students,” Presti said.
Under Presti’s guidance, the Thunder won the Western Conference Finals in 2011 and made the conference finals four times. Throughout his career, Presti drafted many of the NBA’s top stars including Tony Parker during his time with the Spurs, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden with the Thunder.
When Presti first joined the Thunder in 2007, they were still the Seattle SuperSonics and he had to undergo the tremendous task of relocating a professional sports franchise. The Seattle SuperSonics’ move to Oklahoma City ended the team’s 41-season tenure in Washington. While Presti said the process was challenging, the move was great for the team.
“You can look at it as a daunting experience or as a tremendous opportunity, and we chose to look at it as an opportunity,” Presti said. “Administratively and logistically there were challenges, but I think anytime you’re going through something like [relocating] you do it with a learning mentality. The people of Oklahoma City welcomed us with open arms and it’s been a beautiful relationship between the community and the city.”
Presti captained the Emerson men’s basketball team during his junior and senior years at the college. During his career, he earned both All-Academic honors and Great Northeastern Athletic Conference All-Tournament Team honors twice. Presti said that his favorite part about playing for the team was the relationships he made along the way.
“The most rewarding part of that experience was definitely the relationships that I built with my teammates and coaches, many of which are still really strong today,” Presti said. “The time together and the things that you go through as a team, regardless of the level of play, is the kind of stuff that lasts forever, and those relationships are things I’m really proud of.”
Correction 3/22/2018: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Emerson’s Communication Studies department as “Emerson’s sports communication department” and incorrectly described the attendees of the event as the administrators from the communication department, sports communication students, and multiple Emerson basketball players. The story has been changed to describe the attendees as the Dean and Faculty from the School of Communication, Athletic department administrators and coaches, sports communication students, and multiple Emerson basketball players.