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Q & A with Richard Cho

Assistant General Manager for the Oklahoma City Thunder

Before he attended law school, Richard Cho (JD '97) was an engineer with love of sports. After studying sports law at Pepperdine, he worked his way up to become the assistant general manager for the Oklahoma City Thunder pro basketball team. In this interview, Cho talks about following his passion, his love for Pepperdine, and why his daughter is his good luck charm.

When did you decide that sports law was the field for you?

My undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering. While working as an engineer at Boeing Airplane Company, I realized that my true passion was sports. I left Boeing to come to law school with the specific purpose of getting into the field of sports law.

I was fortunate to obtain an internship with the Seattle SuperSonics during the summer after my first year. I interned again after my second year and again while I was studying for the Washington Bar after graduation. I’ve been with the team full-time since 1998 and when the Sonics franchise relocated to Oklahoma City, we relocated with the team.

Why did you choose to attend Pepperdine School of Law?

I wanted to be near a big sports hub like Los Angeles to improve my chances of getting into the sports industry. When I came down to Malibu for a visit, the law school was hosting a charity tennis tournament on campus. I grew up playing competitive tennis, so when the professors and students invited me to play I jumped at the chance.

I immediately noticed the positive camaraderie and interaction among the students and staff and knew that Pepperdine was the place for me. Luckily for me, I wound up meeting my future wife, Julie Heintz-Cho (JD '97), in my section.

Which professor(s) really impacted your law school experience?

Pepperdine has so many great professors that it’s hard to choose just one. Professors Kerr, McDermott, Caldwell, Chase, Saxer, and Popovich were all outstanding and I was fortunate enough to learn from all of them.

My father passed away from a heart attack just a few days before my second year of law school started and the compassion and support I received from my professors and fellow students is something I’ll never forget. I was very close to my father and really struggled that semester, even contemplating quitting law school or taking the year off. Looking back, staying at Pepperdine and finishing law school was the best way to honor the memory of my dad.

What do you love about your job?

I’m involved in every aspect of basketball operations from drafting player contracts and participating in contract negotiations to scouting potential players for the draft and free agency. It’s an exciting field to be in and I love the fact I can use the analytical skills I acquired from law school and engineering school with my passion for basketball.

What challenges does your job bring?

Pro sports is a very unique business. Every transaction the team makes is second-guessed and scrutinized by the media and fans. Building a team involves a lot of behind the scenes work that the public doesn’t necessarily see or realize but is vital to our decision-making process as well as the growth and development of our players. I think a lot of people would be surprised by the amount of time we spend in preparing for the NBA draft, free agency, the NBA trade deadline, and contract negotiations.

Tell us a funny story about an experience on the job.

When the team participated in the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery, I represented the team in the back room at NBA headquarters where the ping-pong balls are drawn to determine each team’s respective draft lottery position. That was the year we got lucky in the draft lottery by getting the second overall pick in the draft, and we used that pick to eventually draft Kevin Durant.

When the media asked me what good luck charm I brought, I showed them a picture of Miranda, our oldest daughter who was two and a half years old at the time. After we got lucky with the ping-pong balls, her picture showed up in newspapers and Web sites around the country as the lucky charm for us getting the second pick in the draft.

As a side note, my wife Julie and I wanted to choose a name with some sort of some sort of legal connotation for our first daughter, so that’s how we chose Miranda.

What advice would you give law students wanting to pursue sports law?

Try to do an internship to get your foot in the door, and be persistent. Once you are doing your internship, make yourself indispensable by working hard, learning as much as you can, and helping out on anything and everything.

Thanks Rich!

by Morgan Thrower