Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior With Mike Sarraille is a podcast that inspires individuals to live more fulfilling lives by having conversations with disrupters and high performers from all walks of life. In episode 49, we spoke to Mike Gansey, general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since the Cavaliers hired the high school basketball standout as an intern in 2011, Gansey has ascended through the team’s front office. Gansey shares his insights on leadership and discusses his rise in the sports industry.
Listen to the full episode above (scroll down for the transcript) and see more from this series below.
This interview has not been edited for length or clarity.
Michael Sarraille 00:12
And welcome back to the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast. I’m your host Mike Sarraille. We’re joined here by the Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Mike Gansey. Mike, thanks for joining us.
Mike Gansey 00:22
Thank you for having me.
Michael Sarraille 00:23
So we had coach JB on earlier, to talk about his perspective of leadership with the players, one of the most intriguing, you know, relationships is between the general manager of a sports team in the head coach, I mean, we just talked about this prior to the podcast that the last dance really sort of threw that dynamic into, into the limelight about how critical that role is, and how it can either lift teams up or sink teams, as well, because the players, the players see it, even if you put it best face on in a very toxic relationship, the players sense that as well as the public. Talk a little about how you see the role of the general manager, I know that basic description, you oversee all the player selection and contracts. And ultimately, you do have the tough decision of if you’ve got to let the head coach go, that’s that’s ultimately your decision.
Yeah, no, I mean, it’s a little bit of both, you know, obviously, the big thing is dealing with the head coach and work with the head coach day to day about our roster in general, you know, whether it’s picking players trading players signing players, and then making tough decisions where, you know, some guys are expected to play or think they’re gonna play aren’t playing. So, you know, myself, JB, he’s tremendous to work with. I mean, you know, the trust and communication we have together is key, I think that’s really, really important for the relationship. And the way we have it is high level, and I can talk to him about anything, he can come to me about anything. And, you know, the number one thing is about our players, you know, trying to get them better and trying to get us to win games and, and he’s been great to work with,
Michael Sarraille 02:04
you know, it also highlights you set a tough decision that I think that’s an understatement, because you build serious relationships with these guys. And then, you know, tough again, an understatement of that’s excruciating. After let someone you built a relationship with maybe four years, you trade them to another team, or you gotta let them go.
Yeah, no, I mean, it’s tough. I mean, especially now in the NBA, you’re getting these guys at 1819 years old, you know, especially where we’ve been the last couple of years draft and high in the draft. And, you know, you build a relationship for three, four years. And I think nowadays, these kids, you know, they grow obviously, as they’re in the league more, but like, they know, it’s a business at the end of the day. So like, you know, the time that they’re here, we try to, you know, obviously, first class treat them as the best we can get them better. You know, I mean, the Cavs we were first class and every kind of resource to these players. So, they understand it’s a business, but at the same time, you know, it’s not easy, because you build a relationship with these guys, you know, their families, their wives, their kids, and it’s never easy like that. Those are the hardest days, you know, of the job.
Michael Sarraille 03:05
You say, 18 year olds. You’re not You’re not their father, nor nor is Coach JB. But, you know, I think back to when I was 18 and the only word that comes to mind is jackass. Now, if I had such a skills there to fall into, to money at the age of 18, I mean, there’s got to be some degree of you’re also helping them hashtag adult adulting where does that relationship making sure that they make wise decisions not only with their money, but
no, I think like, you know, for one, like whether you’re trading drafting, like you’re taking a chance on them and you see something in them not only as a player as a person, so they respect that and, you know, at least from my relationship, you know, like obviously it’s business on the court but you know, off the court, you know, how’s your family how’s it going you know, you try to have a mentorship with them and they want to talk to me my doors wide open like they’re struggling on the court and maybe maybe they can’t reach out to coach or they can’t figure out why coaches not playing him or the role on the team. He’s always welcome to come to me and talk to me and you know, obviously Me and Coach are gonna be on the same page but if the if they want another outlet or another, you know, voice that’s not the coaches, I’m always here to talk to them. And you know, obviously I’m gonna do what’s best for the organization, obviously from the coach, but you know, if they want to vent or just hear someone else, I’m always here. And, you know, that’s happened a couple times, you know, throughout my career here and I think it helps because it just, it just makes them feel more comfortable not only with the front office, but also the coaching staff and you know, we want them to be as comfortable as they can with us.
Michael Sarraille 04:35
That’s great. You know, you talk about the organization ultimately the city of Cleveland come first over any one player not everyone is cut out to be a leader because of the decisions that that leaders have to make of letting people go and I know a lot of leaders there’s there’s there’s people that are listening that struggle with that that daily so I don’t I don’t envy you and your position firing people is the the worst One thing that anyone can do, let’s talk about that relationship with JB a little more, because I’d love to know, you guys are not nobody sees eye to eye on everything. What are those discussions? Sort of how did those go? I mean, is there passion behind the closed doors?
Oh, yeah. I mean, like we’re talking about, you know, whether it’s the draft a trade assigning for, for anything, like, you know, he’s gonna like someone, I’m gonna like someone, and, you know, we’re gonna hash it out. And, you know, there’s some heated conversations, which are good, but at the end of the day, when we leave that room, or that, that you know, that that door, we close that door, like, you know, it’s, Hey, this is the decision we’re gonna make whether you know, he’s right, or I’m right, or it’s my guy or his guy, like, we’re gonna go forward, and it’s a group decision. And, you know, we talked about it, and, you know, we’ll go through it in depth, you know, talking about our roster, talk about why, you know, XYZ the pot, you know, the pros, the cons, and, you know, that’s the thing with JB, like, I can come to him with anything, he knows, he can come to me with anything, if, if he’s mad at something I’m doing, you know, are upset with some I’m doing I know, he can come to me and tell me and I can do the same to him. And, and we’ll, you know, we’ll disagree, but then we’ll agree at the end. And, you know, ultimately, we want what’s best for our players and best for the Cavaliers. And that’s what that’s that’s the only thing on our mind,
Michael Sarraille 06:12
it sounds a little like a marriage almost give and take. Because to your point, like
I see JB more than I probably see my kids and my wife. So you know, like, we are kind of married. So
Michael Sarraille 06:24
when you think about that, for anyone, regardless of whatever industry you’re in, if you actually count the amount of hours you spend with your colleagues, it’s much more than your family because that’s five days a week compared to the two days or maybe 14 days of vacation, you get to take a year. That’s that’s pretty insane. It’s it’s almost as if it is your first family hours. So, you know, we often talk about there is a difference between agreement in alignment. But when you guys disagreeing, let’s say you say, hey, JB, we’re gonna go with with your choice on this. Once you step out of that room, you guys are totally aligned, regardless of the outcomes on that decision.
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, that’s the thing. Like, I mean, he’s so easy to deal with, were like, Hey, I got I want this guy for training camp, cuz we got camp coming up, and we need a point guard. So who do you like, you know, and he likes his top guy. Okay, we’ll bring him in. So you know, like, there’s some give and take with stuff, obviously, you know, I’m gonna have probably the ultimate decision, myself and Kobe Altman, but, you know, jayvees in the mix, I mean, he’s us, three are connected at the hip. And no matter what it is, like, you know, he might not agree with something, but he’s gonna be fine move forward. And if he likes a guy that maybe I don’t necessarily like, and he really, really likes him passionate about and, you know, hey, he’s the one coaching them so, and he might have a previous relationship with some of these guys, and I have all the trust in Him. And you know, that’s the thing, like, you just gotta, you gotta move, you got to move beyond your ego and everything. And obviously, with JB, like, you know, he’s one coach on the team. And he’s been, he’s been around the league longer than I have as a coach, you know, I’ve never been an NBA coach like him. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna lean on him a lot for a lot of things.
Michael Sarraille 07:57
So you talked about selection of players, I’m always interested. I mean, there is talent is talent. If somebody’s thrown up an average of you know, 20 to 30 points per game, it’s undeniable that they’re talented. But to what degree do you guys look past that for character? And then also sort of culture fit? And when I say culture fit not likability yet, I’m talking about their team player, they know how to put their needs aside for the better the organization, how does that come into play for you guys?
Yeah, you know, I mean, obviously, like you said, the talents, number one, but I mean, we do so much background and thorough evaluation on these kids, and whether it’s college, you know, whether it’s a trade draft, signing anything, and, you know, like, the thing that we stress is, like, we want high character, guys, you know, which is cliche, but we want guys that, you know, that are going to fight through adversity, they’re going to work hard every day, you know, we got guys that live in the gym, you know, that want to get better, that want to be around each other. And, guys, it’s just our full themselves, you know, like, we want guys that are gonna be about the team, they don’t care if they’re getting the points or, you know, they’re not getting that big contract, they want what’s what’s best for the team. And I think like with JV with the culture that we have, you know, winning helps, obviously, but like, daily good habits, you know, like, trying to win that 1% Every day, you know, you’re not going to have a great day every day, like all of us do, but, you know, try to have more good days than bad in the week. And, you know, if you come in, ready to go do your work, you know, you eat right, you do your rehab, you do your weights, you do your basketball stuff, we’re gonna give you every resource you have anything you need. If you’re a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player, you’re gonna have at your disposal, you just got to ask. And we have all the best coaches in the world. We got the best front office, we had the best ownership. It’s just, you know, like, we’re a small market, but, you know, we have everything in this building, you know, to have success in this league.
Michael Sarraille 09:44
To what degree do you feel like you’re a representative of the city of Cleveland?
A lot, you know, I mean, this is, you know, like a dream job for me really, you know, being being from Cleveland and being a part of the championship debate in 2006 or 2016. And then, now just AC coming from an intern working my way up to where I am now. Like, I’ve had a lot of great people helped me along the way and had a lot of breaks and good luck. But, you know, I’ve, I’ve tried to just put my head down and just be a star in your role. You know, like, I don’t know anything about analytics. I don’t know anything about coaching, but I feel like I’m good at evaluation and people skills and, you know, can get along with people and obviously evaluate good talent to bring in the building. So, you know, I just stay in my lane and do what I can do. And I’m here so I’m pitching myself and I love what I’m doing.
Michael Sarraille 10:33
I’m gonna I’m gonna put you on the spot here. Sell me on the city of Cleveland, Cleveland. What do people not know about? Cleveland? How would you describe this? The city
you’re here in the fall? You know, obviously winters, winters winters could be hit or miss. But I’m a Christmas baby. So I love the snow. I’d rather have a cold, snowy six inches of snow every day. If I could. I don’t know. Let’s play basketball.
Michael Sarraille 10:52
You’d open the stadium ceiling. Oh, yeah, I’d
be out in like three inches, you know, three feet of snow, just shooting hoops. And I don’t even I don’t even plow the driveway. You know, but, but in Cleveland, it’s you know, it’s hard nosed blue cow. I mean, the people are passionate about their sports. I mean, the Guardians, the browns, the Cavs. I mean, that’s what everyone loves. Like, even if you’re not like really a sports fan, you’re still gonna watch, you’re still gonna go to games. Like they’re passionate about sports. And they’re great people. Like, obviously, I grew up here and I have four kids, but like, it’s an unbelievable place to raise a family. You know, the falls, the summers, the springs are beautiful here. And, you know, people are just passionate about their sports. Like, if you’re an athlete, here, you’re going to be a rock star, you know, like, it’s not maybe like some other cities where you know, you’re struggling, you’re not playing well. They’re gonna be all over you, you know, obviously, you’re gonna, you want to live up to your standards, but they’re gonna they’re gonna patch on the back and encourage you and love you. And that’s just kind of the way the city is
Michael Sarraille 11:43
for a kid coming from the Bay Area. There’s something about Cleveland where you feel that man, it is a good representation of that underdog Grigio. Midata. He is very much a good representative of the United States of America. So you guys are I mean, one you came off a season where people predicted only 25 wins. You guys walked away with 44 You have you and JB have now set this this underdog Junkyard Dog mentality culture. How excited are you for the season coming up?
I’m very excited. You know, it’s with all the pandemic stuff this offseason was a lot longer than than normal. So like you’re kind of itching to get going. And you know, obviously with with the trade we made last week for Donovan Mitchell and the year we had and I think the guys are they’re hungry, because we were so close to getting in the playoffs. And yes, we just had a barrage of injuries that kind of hurt us at the end. But you know, we’re excited to have the X on our back. Like we want the expectations, we want the pressure. And I think we’re really excited for this year. And our young guys are ready to keep growing and we got solid vets. I mean, Kevin Love what he did last year was incredible, bringing Ricky Rubio back, and then add in some other vets like, we’re just excited because I know the coaches are excited. And obviously the front office and the players. And now the city of Cleveland is really excited about what’s to come to
Michael Sarraille 13:04
talk to me last question about this Junkyard Dog mentality, and how it just is applicable to anyone, regardless of what they do. Why do you love this, this sort of mantra that you guys have? Because,
you know, I mean, obviously the regular season 82 games, so, you know, I’ve hits a lot of games, I mean, I don’t have to go through it. But these players have to do that every single day, you know, lace their shoes up and get ready. But you know, with us be in Cleveland. And like I said with the city and, you know, be in the blue collar heart knows, like, being the most selfless team and the hardest working team, you know, we got it, we got to outwork guys, you know, now obviously, we’re getting talent. You know, we’re a previous years, you know, we struggled and we’re building through the draft, but now we have the talent plus, I think the mentality of that Junkyard Dog has just come in and, you know, teams are gonna lay down and come through third, fourth quarter, we’re in the best shape of our lives. We’re the best shape of any team in NBA and we just have that mental toughness and that grit and that and that passion, physicality, we’re going to defend because I know, you know, playing for Coach JB, you don’t defend you’re not going to play. So I think a combination of all those and then seeing the success last year with the way coach wanted us to play in the way we had to play. You know, I think guys know, hey, I better step it up even more this year to be able to hopefully get to where we want to go.
Michael Sarraille 14:19
It actually I’m gonna ask one more Lamar Stevens. Yeah. So I know, he helped set this again, this this monitor of the junkyard dog. How does he embody that?
I mean, he’s like, you would think he’s from Cleveland, you know, like, I mean, like, obviously played a Penn State, you know, a football school, but he turned it into a basketball school while he was there. And I mean, he just, you know, he’s not afraid. That’s one thing about him like, he is not afraid of anyone. he’ll, he’ll go up against LeBron James Kawhi. Leonard, you know, Kevin Durant, like, he don’t care. And he did that as a rookie. So, you know, he just came in with this, just this chip on his shoulder, you know, I mean, obviously, he’s tough. He’s gritty. He’s physical. I mean, you know, He’s big and strong. And he just embodies our team. I mean, and the thing about him that I respect the most is like, you know, some nights, he might not be in the rotation. But whenever he’s called upon, he’s ready to go. He’s ready to play. And, you know, he’s turned himself into a really good NBA rotational player.
Michael Sarraille 15:16
Did you know he was an author of? Yeah, I
know, he’s, uh, you know, he, you know, when I was in for this summer vacation, I went to go see him because he’s working at Florida Gulf Coast. And, you know, he just he spent like, 1520 minutes with my kids just hanging out. And that’s just who he is. Now, you know, he’s a monster on the court, and he’s trying to go at your neck, but off the floor. You know, he’s just an unbelievable person and a man who cares about kids, you know, and whoever is gonna, you know, whoever is going to marry him and whoever is gonna have kids, they’re gonna be really lucky to have him as a father and a husband.
Michael Sarraille 15:47
To him, right? Well, Mike, best of luck on the season. I think, you know, people listen to this, and they’re gonna connect, regardless if they’re from Cleveland or not. And I will always choose a team of character over a team of talent, who can’t operate as a team because we either we either win as a team or we lose as individuals. So again, congratulations to the culture you guys have built in the turnaround over the past few seasons, man is not going on.
Now. Thank you so much. I appreciate you coming. Alright,
Michael Sarraille 16:17
I guess again, thank you for joining the Men’s Journal everyday warrior. I’m your host Mike’s really and until next time, we’ll see you.