Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
Dave Checketts's game
New York Times Magazine pg56 12Mar00 S2
By Mike Wise
He turned Madison Square Garden around, but not without throwing a lot of elbows. Is there any other way to be a sports executive?
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- In the fall of 1984, Dave Checketts sat down in
the 15th floor Manhattan office of David Stern, the commissioner of
the National Basketball Association, and began a life long journey
into the competitive world of professional sports. Then, only 27, he
more closely resembled the Mormon missionary he once was.
In the years that followed, Checketts would blend his disarming
personality with an innate intelligence that would make him one of
America's consummate sports executives. He is now the president of
Madison Square Garden, overseeing more than 8,000 employees and eight
corporate entities. The Garden is owned by Cablevision, the media
colossus the holds sports, entertainment and retail properties. It
controls cable TV rights to 9 of the 11 major pro sports teams in New
York, including the Knicks and the Rangers.
Since becoming president of the Garden in 1994, Checketts has
overseen the restoration of Radio City Music Hall, brought
championship boxing back to the Garden and raised its revenues almost
ninefold. Most importantly, Checketts is credited with creating an
aura at the Garden not seen in 25 years. He has revamped and
revitalized important tourists destinations like Grand Central
Terminal and Times Square.
"Dave has made us a lot of money," James Dolan, Checketts's superior
said. "But that's not why I admire and like him. The Garden has a
grandeur now that it had when I used to go to events in the early
1970's. Some nights, you can just feel the way it used to be. Dave
is an integral part of that."
Yet, with all of his accomplishments, Checketts remains a paradox for
those who have worked for him. He has the youthful charm of one who
looks 30, while at 44-years-old he is faithful to his church, spends
Sundays exclusively with his family and is the consummate operator
and good old boy on the job. He has a teflon reputation that remains
in tact despite a trail of public missteps and private blunders.
His long friendship with Pat Riley, who resurrected the Knicks, ended
one night when he fired him over dessert after dinner. Last May,
after secretly meeting with Phil Jackson, the former Chicago Bulls
coach to discuss the possibility of replacing Jeff Van Gundy, he lied
about the meeting before finally confessing it to the public. Somber
and contrite, Checketts blamed his desire to protect everyone from
"He's got the capacity to define a mission and move toward it with a
sense of relentlessness," said Utah governor and friend, Mike
Leavitt. "That's how a guy from Bountiful Utah, not only plays the
Garden but ends up running it." Checketts grew up in the north Salt
Lake suburb of Bountiful, Utah. Basketball was a way of life for Dave
and his brothers Dan and Larry. After serving a two-year mission in
Southern California for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, Dave graduated from the University of Utah and received an
M.B.A. from BYU. He graduated as one of the top three students in
Following college, Checketts went directly to Bain &Company, a
Boston-based strategy and consulting firm. While exploring the
possibility of purchasing the Boston Celtics for Bain, Checketts paid
a surprise visit to Stern, then the chief council for the NBA. "Here
was this young kid with a winning personality, going on about
strategic vision and the problems with our salary cap and drug
agreement." In just three years, Checketts was to become a Utah Jazz
Personal tragedy struck when his brother Larry fell off the back of a
pick-up truck Dave was driving. They were moving furniture into a
new home and before Dave could realize what had happened, Larry had
fallen off. He circled back a half mile up the road to where Larry
had fallen and suffered massive head injuries. He died six days
later at the age of 31.
Six months after the accident, Dave was still distraught when he
spoke openly to his father about the sad event. "I described the
whole scene to him," Checketts began. "Holding Larry. Him screaming
my name. Telling him I was right there. I wanted sympathy from my
father. I wanted him to just sit and shed a tear or two with me.
And I wasn't getting any. He said," 'Look, you can't bring him back.
My suggestion is that you decide to live your life as a tribute to
him instead of going around acting like you deserve some special
award for going through this.' My father never spoke to me gruffly,
but he said, 'Larry would be ashamed if he saw the way you were
acting now.'" In that moment, Dave's father, who has since passed
away, taught him the harshest lesson of his life: move on, forge
ahead, keep going even when your world is collapsing.
Checketts describes it best when he said, "Look, I exist in a world
that's pretty gruesome." "All I can tell you is this: I'm trying to
keep my balance. Some people who know me might say, 'He's not a
great example of a nice person; he's a malicious, tough and ruthless
guy.' But when the day is done, as long as I've held to my values
and been true to my family and my God, it won't matter what anyone