Wayne Embry is a member of an NBA championship team, a Hall of Famer and an advisor to Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo.
But his greatest legacy is being played out today in NBA interview rooms, posh restaurants and limo rides to and from airports.
The pre-draft interview is Embry’s baby. Every time a prospect breaks bread with a potential employer, whenever an agent reminds a young player to look a GM in the eye, Wayne Embry is there.
In the late 1980’s, Embry was frustrated by the poor draft record of the Cleveland Cavaliers team he was managing. He realized stat sheets and workouts, the standard tools of the day, told a limited story.
“I remember once being interviewed for a job in the real world and some of the questions that were asked,” he said. “After the interview, I asked why they wanted me to talk so much about my family. The manager said: ‘Because I wanted to know what kind of work ethic you may have inherited.’”
“I started the process because you scout players and work them out but you don’t get to know them. You watch a guy play and say ‘he’s a great player’ then you see guys with tremendous talent and wonder why they don’t live up to that talent.”
The 75-year-old Embry is a grandfatherly type who specializes in listening.
“I started asking them about when they were young and what their parents did. That complements what you feel when you are watching them.”
When the draft began scooping up high school players and college freshmen, the risk – and the need to know a prospect’s background and values – intensified.
“When you are dealing with 18-or-19 year olds as opposed to 23 or 24-year old men, it’s a lot different,” Embry said. “You try to get a feel for what they like to do beyond basketball. I pay attention to how they look at you. Some of these kids the past week they look you in the eye, I think they are becoming more prepped.”
Embry has developed a go-to question.
“I interviewed a guy who was a lot bigger than me. I saw smaller guys coming in and getting rebounds against him. I said to myself ‘I’ve got to figure out if he’s willing to compete.’
“I said son, the ball goes off the rim, who is going to get the rebound, you or me?’ And he says, ‘I am.’ And I said, what if I say I am. He says, ‘I don’t know.’ I said what if I want it more than you. He says, ‘I don’t know.’
“I followed up with another prospect. Same thing. ‘Who’s going to get the rebound? He says ‘I am.’ What if I want it more than you? ‘I am.’ What if I don’t want you to get it? He says, ‘my Mom blessed me with a big tush too.’
“That’s what I wanted to hear.”