The Sports Sitdown: Concord’s Becky Bonner on life inside the NBA bubble

  • Samuel Habib interviews Becky Bonner. Watch the full interview at Courtesy

  • Concord native Becky Bonner (right, white pants) walks off the court at AdventHealth Arena in Orlando, Fla., with Orlando Magic players on Aug. 26. Bonner is the Director of Player Development and Basketball Operations for the Magic. JOE MURPHY/ NBAE via Getty Images

  • Concord’s Becky Bonner is the Director of Player Development and Basketball Operations for the Magic. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 11/16/2020 1:26:53 PM

Concord native Becky Bonner is in her fourth season as the Director of Player Development and Basketball Operations for the Orlando Magic. Bonner says she “wears many hats” in the position, doing things like attending all practices and games, helping with recruiting and much more.

Bonner went to Concord High and then played basketball in college at Stanford University and Boston University before playing professionally in Europe. When she finished her career in Europe, she came back to the U.S. and worked on the coaching staffs at the University of Maryland and the University of Louisville. From there, she moved to New York to work for the NBA as part of the league’s Basketball Operations International, and to take on an operations support role for USA Basketball and the national men’s team for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Samuel: What is your current role with the Orlando Magic and what are your main responsibilities?

Becky: My title is Director of Player Development and Basketball Operations, and it’s a front office role, sort of the bridge between the front office and coaches, players and performance staff, so I wear a lot of hats. I go to every practice, I travel with the team, I’m in the draft room at draft time or trade deadline or free agency strategy discussions. And we on-board or welcome new players to the area and make sure that they have everything they need. So it’s pretty much a service-based role where you’re just there to make everybody else’s life easier.

Samuel: How has COVID-19 impacted the Orlando Magic?

Becky: Well the NBA has done a great job as a league, mandating protocols to make sure that everybody is safe, and staying healthy as best that they can in their markets. And so the Magic are falling in line with those protocols and so we’re not in the office. We’re using Zoom like we are now. We meet virtually for the pre-draft process. It’s all different because you do a virtual combine. The athletes that we are looking at didn’t finish their college seasons and there’s no Pro Days. It’s just very very different. So, I would say that COVID has had a big impact on the way that things operate, but at the same time we’ve done a really nice job innovating, and making sure that we are still staying connected and getting what we need virtually.

Samuel: Did you live inside the bubble system at Walt Disney World? If so, what was it like living and working in the bubble environment with players, coaches and other personnel?

Becky: I lived in the bubble, yes I did. I stayed at the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney. I live about seven miles from Disney myself, so it was very strange to be living in a hotel seven miles from where I actually live. I had actually never been to Disney before, not as a kid or even living here in Orlando. So, that was also kind of neat. I could see the Magic Kingdom Castle and get that Disney level of service and fun from the people that we interacted with from the Disney staff, who were phenomenal. They made us feel right at home. The NBA put on an absolutely incredible undertaking of logistics to make sure that we had everything we needed and they did a great job. Our campus had eight teams staying at the Grand Floridian and we were each in our little building. It kind of made you feel like you were on campus in college. So you could say, ‘Oh, there’s the Houston Rockets, that’s their building, and there’s the Brooklyn Nets’ building.’ And then the pool was sort of the center of campus. So you could go to the pool, there were some lawn activities. We had a big cornhole tournament and James Harden it turns out is really good at cornhole, so he beat our team and it was just a really interesting experience, because no one bothered the athletes. It was just us. Each team on our campus got two golf carts because it was like a seven minute walk to get from your building to your meal space, and it was fun using the golf carts with the guys.

They had various activities for the guys to do and for us to do whether it was fishing or going out on a pontoon boat, or heading to Disney golf courses or bowling. We participated in all those things and we were able to focus and go to practice and work hard. But there was also a lot of down time, so there was a lot of time for team bonding and togetherness. And I think it was really good for everyone to have that rather than be all lonely or sitting in your room the whole time playing video games. And we were at the safest place you could be. We got tested every single day and we wore our masks and we followed protocols and we had no worries.

Samuel: How do you feel about athletes using their platforms to protest injustice?

Becky: I think it’s great and I fully support our athletes in anything that uses their platform for something as important as raising awareness for social justice and change.

Samuel: Gender diversity is still lacking in leadership positions in professional sports in America and across the globe. Why is gender diversity important in sports and how can we change sports culture to be more inclusive?

Becky: I feel like sports culture is becoming more inclusive. There’s a number of women working in the NFL, MLB. Maybe I should be more knowledgeable on this subject, but there’s a number of great women that work in the NBA. We have five women on our basketball ops staff at the Orlando Magic. And so I just think it’s important to have. … Inclusion, whether it’s gender or race, is to me diversity. And inclusion is something that is always going to make a group an organization or a company better.

Samuel: What kind of challenges do you experience in your position?

Becky: There’s lots of challenges with the role. Our league is super competitive, and we’re a business, so it’s challenging winning in such a competitive league like the NBA. All 30 teams are spending a lot of money to put together the best rosters that set them up for winning. So, I find that to be the biggest challenge is to get everything going in the winning direction, and do my part or serve my role as a part of that, keeping that winning mentality on a daily basis is something that I think people that work for teams in our league find challenging.

Samuel: How did you begin your career?

Becky: Well, I played basketball as a young girl, and I played in college and after finishing up with college, I still wanted to try to play. So I played overseas for a season in Sweden. And after that I worked at an after school program in the Concord area and worked at basketball camps, and I really enjoyed being around the game. So I began my career by putting myself out there, and I was the assistant director of operations at the University of Maryland under Brenda Frese. So she gave me an opportunity to learn from her program, and I learned through having two brothers (Matt and Luke) that also played basketball and were highly recruited. Between the three of us we just kind of had a pretty big basketball network and so just by kind of being involved and included in so many things that they did, I was able to kind of pave my own way.

Samuel: What was your most memorable moment playing basketball at Concord High School? What about at the college and professional level?

Becky: I think my most memorable moment at Concord High, if I can remember, because I’m getting older and I have a hard time remembering from high school years, and I don’t want to miss or recreate a memory that isn’t accurate, but I always really enjoyed playing in our Christmas tournament. It always felt like a special time and we would play local teams and then maybe like an out-of-town team would come and it felt like people would come to our games. It was just like always a special tournament to me, and I enjoyed playing in it. For college, there’s a lot of memories that come to mind. I played at a time when Tennessee women’s basketball was sort of legendary. UConn was legendary, and so I think playing at Tennessee was incredible.

Pat Summitt was their coach, Tamika Catchings was on their roster and they were just so talented. I had grown up seeing them on TV and just to be a freshman out there on the court it was really, really memorable. You know, most of my memories for my basketball teams have to do with my teammates, having special times off the court, or little things that we did on the court are always memorable. I’m so fortunate that I’ve met so many great women throughout the years, whether they were my teammates, a manager on the team, or a coach or training staff member, I just feel like those memories sometimes outweigh my basketball memories But professionally, I think of my teammates. I don’t really think of anything on the court that stands out because I always worked really hard and tried my best and I just have a hard time remembering those moments I guess as I get older.

Samuel: How did your experience as an athlete help you in your current role as the Director of Player Development and Basketball Operations?

Becky: I think my experience as an athlete helped me in my current role because it helps relate to what it’s like for the players and what they go through. Whether that’s things that they do like having a routine, a balance, a balance on and off the court and living a balanced life. Maintaining healthy habits both mentally and physically with nutrition, and being in shape, and working hard, and knowing what it feels like to have a bad game or have a great game. Or, you know, miss a shot, or have a high pressure situation.

Samuel: What has been your most memorable moment working with the Orlando Magic?

Becky: Our first season here we didn’t win a lot of games, and then my second season here I got to be part of a playoff team when we hadn’t made the playoffs in six years or so. What was extra special is we were at Boston playing and we clinched the eighth seed for the playoffs against Boston. My parents were there, I think Luke came with his family, and we got in the locker room and we were so happy and just that moment was really special to clinch that playoff berth after having such a challenging season the season before.

Samuel: How has COVID-19 impacted your life outside of work?

Becky: Well, I haven’t seen my family in a long time, I think it might be the longest time ever. It would have been great and really special to be able to go up to New Hampshire and visit my mom and dad and my brothers who are all in the state right now. Especially fall is my favorite time of year, and obviously as you guys know New Hampshire fall is beautiful, and so for me personally it’s just hard to to be away from my family, and not be able to see them in person.

Samuel: What did a typical day look like for you before COVID-19? And what does a typical workday look like for you now?

Becky: Before COVID, my days were very busy and very active. I always walk around with my laptop in my hand because I’m super-mobile. It’s a lot of interactions with people whether it’s a player, a coach, performance staff, an agent, a friend or a family member. It’s just a lot of different touch points and I would travel a lot more and be at the arena a lot more, and you know be involved in many aspects of the way that the organization runs in-person. And so obviously now the only difference is everything is kind of you know further away whether that’s a phone call, Facetime, Zoom or a text or an email. But that’s the biggest difference is that in-person connection.

Samuel: You have traveled around the globe working with the U.S. men’s Olympic Basketball team and the NBA-sponsored Basketball Without Borders program. How has COVID-19 impacted basketball on a global scale?

Becky: I think similar to here in the U.S. I think COVID has sort of affected everybody very similarly, and it’s the young kids, the young athletes that probably haven’t had the opportunity to gain as much exposure, because their competition schedule has been interrupted by COVID-19 and they are the ones that I feel for, but at the same time, obviously, the Olympics were canceled, lots of other tournaments and championships were canceled or postponed. So, it’s had a really big effect on everybody globally.

Samuel: Thanks for that interview it was great speaking with you.

Becky: Thank you, I appreciate your time.

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