WNBA President Val Ackerman
Shock Talk - April 7
Everyone has a Sunday morning routine. Mine begins with a visit to the “dog park” with my two black labs, Price and Ehlo, followed by a trip to Caribou Coffee for a $4 Lite White Raspberry Latte to go (my indulgence for the week). I get home just in time to watch “The Sunday Morning Sports Reporters” on ESPN, and then cap the morning off with reading the Sunday newspaper cover to cover…it actually turns into mid-afternoon. I hope that my mother doesn’t read this (I forgot the church part)…
While reading the newspaper, I look forward to being treated to another “corporate corruption” or “corporate meltdown” story about a once-mighty business that is now in trouble. Without fail, these stories feature tales of executives who indulge themselves with trips to the Caribbean on the company’s private jet, pay themselves handsome salaries, have multiple homes and make weekly visits to the spa where they pamper themselves with a nice manicure. I have yet to read one where the President/CEO/COO is characterized as a “workaholic” or even a “micro-manager.”
This past Friday, WNBA President Val Ackerman was in town to meet with the Detroit media, Shock sponsors, and Palace staff members. She touched down at Detroit Metro Airport at 9:04 am, meaning that she was likely out of her house by 5:30 to fly out of LaGuardia at 7:30. Being a naïve New Yorker and on her way to Atlanta for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, Val came to Detroit without a coat. Normally on April 4th, you could expect to get away with that…but as Michiganders know, the fact that it’s April 4th really means nothing. So, Ms. Ackerman found herself in sub-30 degree, rainy (and later icy/sleety/snowy) Detroit wearing a tailored pant-suit and nothing else…at least she had an umbrella.
Her itinerary included multiple stops, beginning with a 10:00 meeting at The Detroit News. We (Val, Bill Laimbeer, Shock PR Director Dennis Sampier and I) slowly made our way up to Auburn Hills, stopping multiple times. The highlight of the day was a meeting at Fox Sports Net in Southfield where Val was scheduled for an in-studio interview. We walked into a dark, deserted office building. We thought we were in the wrong place until the producer, Blaine McGowan, came down the steps with a lighter in hand…the power was out. So, instead of an in-studio interview, we ended up shooting a brief interview with Val outside in the light of day (with rain pouring down in the background). Needless to say, it was not ideal…
After lunch with our friends from March of Dimes (Val is on the national board), we made our way to the Oakland Press. Finally, we got to The Palace at 3:30, just in time for Val’s meeting with PS&E President Tom Wilson. This meeting was followed by a staff address at 4:00 pm and media availability at 4:45 pm. Finally at 5:45, she was able to catch her breath, call her kids, and check e-mail and voicemail. I left her alone for all of 20 minutes before whisking her downstairs to tape a half-time interview for the Pistons game that night on UPN-50. We were then off to the Shock sponsor reception. After speaking and answering questions for 25 minutes, I was hoping to be able to feed her…a daunting task when there is a line of people waiting to talk with her. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful – she had a 7:40 radio interview on WJR, for which the phone was ringing when we got to my office. Finally at 7:50, we went back to the deserted sponsor reception and helped ourselves to the leftovers.
We were in our seats at 8:10…much to Val’s chagrin. I know that if she had it her way, we would have been in the seats at the 8:00 tip-off. However, I had strict orders from her assistant, Joan, to make sure that we fed her. That’s one thing I’ve learned…never upset an important person’s assistant…you’re sure to pay for it later.
After a live half-time interview on WDFN radio, the home of the Pistons, Val made her rounds. She shook hands and talked with everyone – from the ushers to Pistons/Shock owner Mr. Bill Davidson. Finally, after the buzzer sounded at the end of game, we grabbed her luggage and left the building.
I wasn’t expecting to see what we did when we got outside, so I’m sure that Val was shocked (no pun intended) – sleet, snow and rain all at once. My SUV was covered in ice…and it was coming down hard. Again, let me mention…Val had no jacket. And she had been up since at least 5:00 am. Originally, car service was scheduled to pick her up at Palace Security, but because of the egress challenges due to the construction on the I-75 ramps, getting a car into the parking lots at the end of the game would have been a minor miracle. So, it was decided that I would take her to a meeting place, and car service would take her to her hotel near the airport (she was scheduled to fly at 8:30 the next morning). What seemed like a perfectly logical decision was now a very regrettable one. We placed her luggage in the back, Val got in the car, and I grabbed my ice scraper. I finished my side of the car, and the next thing I knew, Val was outside telling me to get in the car so that she could do her side. I wasn’t about to argue with her, so I did what she told me to do. So there she was…the President of the WNBA…a national figure…a women’s basketball “legend”…scraping my car windows in sub-30 degree temperatures and I don’t know what falling from the skies…with no coat on…at the end of a 17-hour day.
I will never forget that moment. She made what I thought already knew crystal clear. Real leaders get their hands dirty, not manicured.