There might be someone with deeper, more substantial Kings roots out there, say a worm or two. But NBA executive vice president Amy Brooks is formidable competition.
She digs in and hangs around. The Bella Vista High School and Stanford graduate, who oversees the business and marketing arms of the NBA, the WNBA, the NBA Development League and the sport’s ongoing global expansion, unfailingly keeps the Kings within reach.
During the Kings’ relocation ordeals that emotionally paralyzed her Sacramento community, she was a power broker, a major behind-the-scenes influence.
That’s right. Her community. Fair Oaks, to be precise.
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Brooks, who is among the handful of Commissioner Adam Silver’s most trusted advisers, also happens to be a former Silicon Valley software consultant and one-time private basketball coach for the daughters of Joe Montana and Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive. But to fully appreciate her ascension – who she is and what she has accomplished – it helps to start at ground level: Downtown Plaza.
Long before the shopping center was gutted to make way for a sports and entertainment complex, the former Amy Wustefeld sold sneakers at Sporting Feet, an athletic shoe store on the premises once owned by her father.
“My dad (Ed) showed me a picture recently,” Brooks, 40, said during a conversation in her office at NBA headquarters. “He went to visit his old location before it was demolished. It was pretty cool. That’s what I did. I worked in his shoe stores.”
That last part? Small segment of the narrative. Brooks, who is celebrating her 10th season with the league, is one of the best stories seldom told. Under her supervision, the NBA this past year set regular-season records in total attendance, average attendance and sellouts. Additionally, the league attracted 240 million fans to its social media platforms – a 40 percent increase.
Other duties include vetting potential owners, trouble-shooting financial issues among the 30 franchises, conducting workshops on group sales and sponsorships, and routinely accompanying Silver on domestic and international trips. Her immediate schedule features a brief visit to the Golden State Warriors on Monday and Tuesday.
Somehow, amid this whirlwind existence, Brooks found the time to meet her husband, Jon, while playing pickup basketball and give birth to daughters Audrey, 6, and Natalie, 4. Brooks commutes to league headquarters in Manhattan from the family’s home in Connecticut.
But back to the NBA as a global brand. Though the league is forever expanding, with India foremost on the map these days, it remains a small world. When the Kings relocated to Sacramento in 1985, 10-year-old Amy Wustefeld placed basketball atop a list of passions formerly dominated by volleyball, soccer and softball.
“My mom (Anne) wanted me to do ballet,” she said with a grin, “but I didn’t like it. I was a sports kid. I got into the Kings because my dad bought season tickets and took us to games. We would go to watch the other teams – Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson – because the Kings weren’t very good. But when we would leave, all I wanted to talk about was Terry Tyler. He became my favorite. I wrote him a letter, and a couple weeks later he wrote me back. I wrote him another letter, and he wrote me back again. We became pen pals. He inspired me to ask my parents for a hoop for Christmas. So when you talk about the NBA, and its ability to have an impact … I don’t think I would have played basketball, and I certainly wouldn’t be in this job, if I hadn’t become a fan of the Kings.”
Brooks has compiled abundant data to make her case. One wall is decorated with a framed game photo of Tyler and Joe Kleine. Turning to her computer, she clicks on video presentations that mention the Kings, a digital compilation of her exchanges with Tyler and photos of her middle school basketball team, along with images of her letters to The Bee sports section that were printed almost three decades ago.
As her interest in basketball intensified and she grew into her athletic, 5-foot-9 frame, Brooks became an All-Metro selection at Bella Vista and a recruiting prospect for several major colleges. But her loyalty never wavered; since she began attending Tara VanDerveer’s summer basketball camp as a 14-year-old, she was obsessed with the Cardinal. When she tore an ACL her junior year and scholarship offers were withheld, Brooks walked on at Stanford and was rewarded with a full ride for her final season.
VanDerveer went for the payback years later.
“Amy was in the Bay Area meeting with the Warriors not long ago and came down to visit,” VanDerveer said, “so I leveraged the fact she played at Stanford. I said, ‘Give me your top 10 marketing ideas.’ I wrote them all down and shared them with our people. Obviously, she has the tools and knows what she’s doing.”
After her playing career ended, Brooks took a methodical path to the NBA, earning an MBA from Stanford, working in marketing for a startup software company, as a product manager for another firm and a management consultant for Bain & Co. In her spare time, she coached a group of Bay Area youngsters that included Anjali Ranadive and was the only female competing in the Golden Gate recreational basketball league.
Kings chief marketing officer Ben Gumpert, a Rio Americano graduate who later joined Brooks in the NBA office in Manhattan, offered the following scouting report: “Wicked smart. Always on point. She can hang on the analytics front as well as anyone, and she has a great way of presenting ideas. She just blows people out of the water. And she can shoot. She is a better player than I am.”
The Sacramento-New York dots kept connecting: Olympic swimmer and Roseville native Summer Sanders, a former co-host of “NBA Inside Stuff,” recommended Brooks to Silver for a position in marketing. Brooks later lured Gumpert to New York. Brad Sims, another Bella Vista grad and currently the Cleveland Cavaliers’ chief revenue officer, migrated to Manhattan shortly thereafter as well.
The Maloofs’ attempts to relocate the Kings to Anaheim in 2011 and Seattle in 2013 hit close to home. Too close. As Kings employees continued to flee, fearing the worst, then-Commissioner David Stern dispatched dozens of his marketing and business staffers to rebuild the organization under the supervision of team marketing and business operations head Chris Granger. Yes, that Chris Granger. For the better part of four years, Granger, who took over as team president when the Ranadive group purchased the team in May 2013, was the face and voice of the rescue effort.
But there was talk – quiet murmurings mostly – that Granger’s staff included a number of smart, persuasive Sacramentans who cared deeply about the Kings and were urged to operate quietly and efficiently. And it turned out to be true. They were here for weeks, some of them months during that four-year period, all of them monitoring developments closely.
“My dad wanted the inside scoop,” Brooks said, “which I never gave. In some respects, you have to remain neutral. I was the league’s liaison to the Kings on the business side for seven years. I actually had all four California teams. But you can’t ignore the fact that the Kings were very successful for many years, and when you talk about moving a team, that’s the first thing you look at. So you have your league hat on, but I knew in my heart the Kings belonged in Sacramento.”
As the relocation ordeal neared its finale, the landscape on both coasts figured to change. Stern was retiring and being succeeded by Silver, his handpicked choice. Ranadive approached Granger about becoming his team president. Brooks, who cites Granger as her mentor and close friend, was promoted when her boss was enticed to Sacramento.
“Amy doesn’t hesitate to remind me that they broke all the attendance records, gate records, sponsorship records, and she took all those away from me,” Granger said, chuckling. “But she’s a star, an absolute star, and we’re very good friends.”
Silver, when asked how he envisions Brooks’ future within the league, replied her career has no limits. Her two predecessors at team marketing and business operations, Scott O’Neill (Philadelphia 76ers) and Granger, run their own franchises.
“All I can tell you is that Amy has earned the deep respect of our teams and that her knowledge of the business side is unmatched in the industry,” Silver said in a recent phone conversation. “She’s extraordinarily intelligent and direct, yet is self-effacing and collaborative. And when Vivek bought the Kings, she worked very closely with Chris Granger to get that franchise back on its feet. She’s a wonderful story, and in terms of Sacramento, (she) was a major player.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Amy Brooks' home community. It is Fair Oaks.