Around the Association: Francesco Suarez

Around the Association: Francesco Suarez
Photos c/o Francesco Suarez

For quite some time, the shared dream of Filipino hoops fans has been to see a local get drafted and make it to the NBA. Many think that time is coming soon, what with players like Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and Kiefer Ravena making it to the D-League, and Kobe Paras beginning his NCAA Div. I career. 

And yet, there are already Pinoys in the NBA. They may not be playing on the court, but in the front offices, practice facilities, and NBA HQ are many men and women representing three stars and a sun. 

In “Around the Association,” we’ll introduce you to some of them, as we celebrate the first-ever Filipino Heritage Week:

Name and position? Francesco Suarez, Vice President – Global Partnerships, Events & Basketball Operations - NBA Asia

What does the job entail? I sit across three areas of the business: marketing partnerships, events, and basketball operations. And in all three, I have super talented colleagues who are key to making each area a success. For marketing partnerships, we work with brands around Asia to drive their business results using NBA marks, events, and media for their promotions. For the events group, we operate over 30 events in the region—everything from mass participation events, like Jr. NBA presented by Alaska, to exclusive meet-and-greet events with NBA stars. Our basketball operations group is rather like the NBA’s diplomatic corps - working with everyone from federations to local coaches to governments - to build relationships and share our technical basketball expertise.

Filipino roots? My father was (he passed away in 2012) Filipino. His family is originally from Negros, but he grew up partly in Davao and Manila, with a long period of studying in the US. I was born in Manila, but we moved to Hong Kong when I was about a year old. I live in Hong Kong now, with my wife and two sons. We’d like to spend more time in the Philippines. I think it is important for my kids to have a strong sense of their cultural heritage.

First memory of watching the NBA? My first introduction to live, professional basketball was not the NBA, but the PBA. I remember going to a few games with my father and brother, and being blown away by the exciting atmosphere created by the passionate fans. I am still impressed by that same high level of passion at PBA games today. I attended my first live NBA game at age 11, a Jazz game in Salt Lake City, so I’ve always had a soft spot for that team.

Favorite team/player growing up? I really liked the Stockton and Malone era of the Jazz. But these days, because of my wife and kids, I live in a Warriors household…. My wife is from the Bay Area and she and her family grew up supporting the Warriors. Of course, in this era, it is not a hardship to be a Warriors fan. Except for game seven last year.

Describe your path to working for the NBA: Circuitous. Bear with me: I was working for my family trading company when I got involved, as a passion project, in founding the Hong Kong Surfing Association and promoting a surfing competition in 1997. That was my first exposure to sports marketing. It was a rewarding experience so, eventually, I applied for an entry level job at IMG, the global sports marketing company. I spent 10 years there in various roles, and then left to join ANZ Bank. After a couple of years, the NBA came calling, so that was an easy decision! It has been over four fun years now of working with a great team of colleagues, and doing rewarding work in Asia.

Have you ever been star-struck when meeting a player/former player? I’m always a little star-struck. It is such a huge accomplishment to make it into the league. I am always in awe of the high levels of dedication and mental toughness required to get there. But I like to think I don’t show it!  Whether you are with James Harden in Manila or Dikembe Mutombo in Tokyo, you have to put yourself in the mindset of the player and their needs. So no selfies!

How do Filipino friends/acquaintances react upon knowing you work for the NBA? They think it is the coolest job in the world. So, I have to bring them back down to earth and explain that it may not be THE coolest, but it is probably pretty high on the list!

An in-game NBA moment that really sticks out in your memory? Steph Curry’s half-court shot game winner against OKC last year.  

Best part of the job? Everyone has an open and entrepreneurial mindset. We are always trying to improve and innovate, so that is a lot of fun.

You can still pick up the NBA Filipino Heritage Week shirt at all NBA Stores, Titan shops, and the Titan webstore.