Think the toughest ticket at the NBA All-Star Weekend is the game? Think again.
An event you may not have heard of – the technology summit – is the toughest, most exclusive ticket to get. Even though Sunday’s game – which features Team LeBron vs. Team Giannis and 24 of the world’s best players the league has to offer – if you’re willing to drop cash, you can get tickets.
Michael Jordan’s All-Star party in Chicago – where he led the Bulls to six NBA championships – isn’t an easy invite, but with a few calls, the right person can get access.
The who’s-who of basketball insiders and influential executives is held annually on Friday to kick off the NBA’s biggest weekend of the season.
“It’s the best event of the weekend and most relevant,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “It’s inspiring and forward thinking.”
In Charlotte last February, there were movers and shakers working the room. Golden State general manager Bob Myers talked to Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive. Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis chatted with Charlotte Hornets CEO Fred Whitfield.
The Ringer’s Bill Simmons schmoozed off to the side, and Tooley made his rounds. Agent Rich Paul – who represents LeBron James and Anthony Davis, among others – was spotted talking to one general manager after another.
Former NBA players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Grant Hill and Baron Davis, high-profile agents Jeff Austin, Jim Tanner, Bill Duffey and Warren LeGarie, Miami Heat president Pat Riley, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Detroit Pistons vice chairman and one-time super agent Arn Tellem and former NFL defensive end Justin Tuck were among attendees last year to hear industry leaders talk about the future of sports, media and technology and how it relates to the NBA.
The tech summit is invite-only and limited to about 500 people. Attendees must check in to receive their credential. Extra passes are unavailable. You can’t find a ticket on the secondary market.
At last year’s event, a veteran NHL executive couldn’t get in. The NBA won’t say how many credentials each team gets, but based on attendance from certain teams, it’s about four or five. Credentials are also given to league partners, players, former players, agents, NBA insiders and executives of tech companies with either established NBA relationships or those looking to make inroads.
“It’s one of the most important technology summits in the world,” Ranadive told USA TODAY Sports. “At most tech summits, you see one kind of person from the technology world. Here, you have entertainers, you have athletes, you have business people, you have technologists. It’s all about bringing (the) right people together, and this summit does just that.”
Leonsis points out most panelists are often keynote speakers at other events, not just part of a panel.
“I don’t do panels,” Leonsis said. “I only do keynotes. Except here, and I’m up there with six other people. That’s the power of this. I sit breathlessly by the phone hoping I get an invite on a panel.”
Leonsis can exhale. He’s on a panel this Friday.
It is an off-the-record event for media though certain details are released.
The event begins early with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s opening remarks that usually spotlight a cutting-edge technology that might be years from everyday use. In 2016, Silver had a hologram of Dr. James Naismith on stage talking with him. In 2019, Silver’s opening address included video of the customized, changeable jersey of the future on the 5G network.
The tech summit is Silver’s brainchild (with an assist from Leonard Armato, who was Shaquille O’Neal’s agent at the time), and he had the support of then-Commissioner David Stern. The first tech summit was at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland – a perfect location given Silicon Valley’s proximity at a time when pro sports leagues were learning and exploring how to maximize the Internet.
Silver, who was president of NBA Entertainment, knew the role technology and media were already playing and how they would impact the way the NBA operates and is consumed.
It was a much smaller operation then with a two-person staff. Now, it’s a 10-person staff working year-around on the program, narrowing topics and panelists. Ideas are pitched, and Silver has the final greenlight.
This year’s first panel begins with a discussion on “Stakeholders and Change: Navigating Today’s Leadership Challenges,” moderated by CNN’s Poppy Harlow. WNBA star Sue Bird, Grant Hill, the vice chairman and partial owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca and Kings vice chairman Paul E. Jacobs are panelists.
Wolf Blitzer will moderate “What’s on Next? The Future of Streaming Media” with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Leonsis, Knicks owner James Dolan, Amazon vice president of global sports video Marie Donoghue and YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan.
Fortune executive editor Adam Lashinsky will conduct a one-on-one with Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, and CNN’s John King will lead a discussion on “Talking About My Generation: Content in an Age of Personalization” that features former players and businessmen Magic Johnson and Davis, marketing executive Steve Stoute, who is working on a Knicks rebrand, and Brooklyn owner Joe Tsai.
“I’m super excited to be a part of the tech summit,” Davis, who is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Business Inside the Game (BIG) & Sports & Lifestyle in Culture (SLiC). “I go every year in hopes of developing my business and expertise to be able to offer insight. Adam Silver is a great mentor of mine and (I’m) happy to be selected to offer my point of view.”
Ranadive is on the final panel with Chris Paul, Luka Doncic, Candace Parker, Charles Barkley, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro and WarnerMedia News and Sports chairman and CNN president Jeff Zucker.
“Basketball has always been on the leading edge of technology,” Ranadive said. “The worlds of sports, entertainment, technology and globalization are all coming together. The tech summit is the living example of that. I’m surrounded by people who are way smarter than me, and I get to talk to my colleagues and learn new things and understand what they’re thinking. It’s really about the future.”
Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter.