As part of my continuing series of interviews with New Jersey-based NBA-related people, I present NBA.com’s Fantasy Games Manager, Jon Loomer.
Jon chatted with me about a number of things, including:
- What he does at NBA.com/Fantasy
- His career path
- His skills on the dance floor
- How to get a job in fantasy sports
- What Samuel L. Jackson is really like
- Predictions for the Raptors’ upcoming season
HoopsAddict.com: Could you describe your typical day as NBA.com’s Fantasy Games Manager?
Loomer: There is no typical day on this job, which is one of the many reasons I love the gig. My generic response is that I oversee NBA.com/fantasy. This includes game development, content, stats, partnerships, promotions, advertising, and drinking coffee. You name it, I have my hand in it (even the coffee). I spend much of my day in planning meetings, on the phone with partners, or on the internet — work-related surfing only, of course. We recently wrapped up the NBA.com Fantasy Basketball Draft Guide (on shelves October 2), and we are now in the process of polishing up the Ultimate Fantasy Commissioner (leagues are open!) and finalizing launch details on game and content offerings for this season. Premier Fantasy Championship, NBA Cares Celebrity Fantasy League, new content partner to name a few. [Ed.’s note: See Jon’s first promo of the revamped Ultimate Fantasy Commissioner here.]
This is no newsflash, but it’s incredibly rewarding to do what you love. The great thing about the gig is the control over my product. We brainstorm around here over fantasy content, tools and games on a regular basis. It’s great to be able to say, “You know what would be awesome?….” and do something about it. I fully appreciate that what I do is a “fantasy” job, and I don’t take a minute of it for granted.
HoopsAddict.com: What was your plan coming out of high school? What field of work were you aiming for?
Loomer: Most people I knew coming out of high school didn’t have much of a plan, and those who did have a plan inevitably changed it during their four (seven for some) years in college. For everyone out there graduating from high school who doesn’t know what they want to do, relax. It will be ok. Figure out what makes you happy, and everything will work itself out.
I grew up a huge Wisconsin sports fan, focusing much of my childhood energy on the Brewers, Bucks and Packers. The only things that I knew coming out of high school were that I 1) had a passion for sports, 2) could breakdance with the best of ’em, and 3) enjoyed writing. The breakdancing thing wasn’t going anywhere, especially in the ’90s, so I had to find a way to combine writing with my love for sports. Some of my days growing up were spent in Michigan, and I idolized Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press. Yeah, seems strange that a kid would idolize a sports writer. Maybe that was a stretch. Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Cecil Cooper, Paul Mokeski and then Mitch Albom.
And the fact that I went to a liberal arts college without a journalism major only emphasizes how I really had no idea what I wanted to do. At that point in time, it never struck me that someone could ever do what I am currently doing for a living. Never mind that the Internet was not yet invented (man, how old am I??). The option simply wasn’t fathomable.
HoopsAddict.com: I didn’t have a clue either coming out of high school. So what did you do coming out of college?
Loomer: I wasn’t any more sure about what I wanted to do coming out of college, to be honest with you — outside of knowing that I wanted money overflowing from my pockets (although that would be a waste). I majored in Philosophy with an English concentration, which prepared me for everything and nothing at the same time. I graduated college with good writing and life skills, but no specific place to utilize them. I still had those breakdancing moves, but after college they are only useful at weddings. Most people refuse to pay for that entertainment. I had thoughts of being a teacher (grade school level or Philosophy professor) and even took some courses to head in that direction. When I got married, however, my wife reminded me that we needed to pay the bills, so I took the first reasonable job available. That happened to be in insurance. Exciting, I know. From the beginning, I saw it as a temporary endeavor. Of course, temporary became six years until this NBA gig came around. Thank you, NBA, for saving my life.
HoopsAddict.com: What led you to fantasy basketball and the NBA?
Loomer: My dad was a mathematics and computer science professor, so I’ve always had a solid background in math and statistics. Everything was a statistic or some question about probability with my dad growing up. As annoyed as I was (“The probability that you would choose that pair of underwear was 1,560 to 1!”), it set a very good foundation.
Even before I started playing fantasy sports, I was playing fantasy in my head. My brother and I played Strat-O-Matic and MicroLeague Baseball, and I was addicted to collecting and trading baseball cards. Serious addiction. And when you think about baseball card trading, it’s very similar to fantasy sports. Analysis of talent, buy low, sell high. Fantasy sports didn’t actually find me until I finally played fantasy basketball back in the mid-’90s. I was hooked ever since. Once I found myself in the uncomfortable world of insurance, I quickly decided I needed to use my fantasy skills to find a way out. It was a ridiculous dream, and one I am still surprised was realized. I started out by writing for some other sites before starting my own. Amazingly enough, I actually got out of the fantasy industry altogether in 2004. A year later, I started writing some sports editorials that got my name back in the game. Just as I hit that “no going back” career crossroads, the NBA job opened. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know I’m packing my family up for beautiful New Jersey. Many thanks to the wife.
HoopsAddict.com: Your career path reminds me of my own. I’m currently at the unrelated-field-plus-writing part.
Loomer: My guess is that most people take a similar path into fantasy sports. Go to school for one thing. Start a career completely unrelated. After some time of dissatisfaction, we turn to fantasy sports as an outlet, and potentially as a career savior. Colleges don’t yet have a Fantasy Sports major, as far as I know. They should so that those interested could take a more direct route going forward. If that happens, maybe I’ll go back to teaching (Fantasy Sports Professor).
HoopsAddict.com: What were the top three things you learned along the way that equipped you for your job?
Loomer: The first would be to trust yourself. It’s easy to read someone’s article telling you to take Paul Mokeski in the first round, but when your pick is up and Paul is still on the board, what matters most is what you think. Many of the experts out there are no more equipped to make a decision than you are (this applies to all walks of life). While collecting thoughts from different people is always helpful when forming an opinion, you inevitably will take responsibility for your picks. Trust your gut — in the end, a successful season (career, life, etc.) is much more rewarding when you put thought into your decisions instead of copying off of the guy’s paper next to you. This helps me now as I am ignorant to what other “experts” think. I trust myself.
The second is to think outside the box. Popular opinions often lead to failure, and you will be ridiculed for not thinking mainstream. Whether it’s your fantasy team, interaction with friends, or your career, it’s important to think about things in new and different ways and stand firm in your findings. Use statistics in new ways, question what is accepted fact, challenge authority. I guess this is a variation of the first in some ways, but hang with me.
I also learned to create opportunities if they are not perceived to be there. You can’t sit around waiting for something to happen. That helped me get this job, but it also helps as we continue to develop new games and content on NBA.com.
HoopsAddict.com: For the fantasy fans who want a job in your field, what advice would you give? What skills do you need?
Loomer: There are many jobs in fantasy, so your skills should be specific to your career path. There are always computer jobs — programming, designing, statistics. And if you can do all of these things, why not partner with someone to start your own site? If you enjoy writing, you can do anything from writing weekly articles to updating player news for fantasy sites. If you’re a businessman or investor, take a good idea and make a million bucks with it. In the end, focus on your skills. If you can’t write, don’t try to be a writer. If you aren’t business savvy, don’t start a company.
For anyone in high school or freshly out of college who wants to get into fantasy, I’d suggest that you contact your favorite fantasy websites and offer to write for them. Don’t expect much. You may be lucky to write articles, but you may only be able to update player news and depth charts. Start somewhere. And it should be a site you enjoy, otherwise you won’t enjoy the grunt work. The grunt work I did back in the day helped prepare me for much of what I do now. Like anything, let your strengths work for you. Also, don’t expect to get rich. You may need to start out offering your services for free.
HoopsAddict.com: Can you put in a good word for me at NBA.com?
Loomer: Sure, I’ll tell Jon Loomer all about you.
HoopsAddict.com: Thanks! Changing gears now … Have you met any celebrities (NBA or otherwise) through this job — for instance, through the Celebrity Fantasy League? Or Carmelo calls and complains that you ranked him too low? I know Gilbert Arenas cares about his fantasy rank.
Loomer: Everyone wants to know. In my regular day-to-day activities, I’m talking to the famous Rob Peterson and Dave McMenamin of NBA.com. What, never heard of them? Hmmm….
I’ve encountered a few celebrities and players through this job, but I’m not as closely involved with players on a day-to-day basis as the features writers are (i.e., Peterson and Dave Mac). I did work All-Star weekend this past season as a writer, so I interviewed players as well as celebrities during that time. The Celebrity League does give me some contact with celebs as well. One of the highlights of this job was talking Samuel L. Jackson through last season’s Celebrity Fantasy League draft. Yes, he is the exact same person you’d expect him to be.
HoopsAddict.com: Is it true that Samuel L. is a Raptors fan?
Loomer: My understanding is that Sam is a Raptors fan, but we didn’t talk about it. The majority of the call was spent talking about what players were available and ripping on picks made by George Lopez. If you’re wondering, I had virtually no say in his draft. I made recommendations, but he regularly ignored them (although I wish he would have ignored my suggestion to wait on Mike Miller). Of course, if his team was successful, I’d take full credit.
HoopsAddict.com: Do you think fantasy affects fans’ perception of players?
Loomer: Absolutely. Without fantasy, Shawn Marion is a very good player, but not a superstar. In the eyes of the general public, he is the third best player on the Suns. If you’re a fantasy player, you see things differently. At worst, he is the equal of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, at least in fantasy terms. A good argument can be made that he is more valuable than either player to your fantasy team. On the flip side, we in the fantasy community tend to devalue players who are otherwise seen as superstars by the media and non-fantasy playing population, particularly if their main forte is scoring (or if they can’t make free throws). In the end, fantasy basketball helps us appreciate stats other than points, and in the process helps us appreciate players who don’t otherwise get their due. I think that it ultimately helps form new rules for how media and the general basketball-viewing public will value players.
HoopsAddict.com: Raptors fans would never forgive me if I didn’t ask you: How far into the playoffs do you think the Raps will go this year?
Loomer: Toronto has a nice team. Although they didn’t make any major moves, they will get better naturally with the growth of Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. The addition of Kapono will help open the floor for Bosh, which can only be a good thing. I have concerns about the center position, but at least they are playing in the East. The health of TJ Ford is important, but Calderon is a very capable replacement. It’s a deep roster, and you need depth to go deep into the Playoffs (that was a deep comment). I see no reason why they couldn’t make it to the second round this season.
HoopsAddict.com: I collaborated on a post recently about the Raptors’ injury potential and didn’t mention Ford. Do you think Ford is injury prone?
Loomer: I wouldn’t say that Ford is injury prone. I just see him as a player who has serious injury potential. The neck injury may be behind him, but it’s this type of catastrophic injury that concerns me about a player his size who attacks the basket without fear. He’s a warrior, but that approach can also work against him.
HoopsAddict.com: Who is your fantasy sleeper on this Toronto roster?
Loomer: Depends on what you call a “sleeper.” Andrea Bargnani should have a nice season, improving on the last, but it’s not exactly out of nowhere. Jason Kapono is going too late in most drafts. Particularly if you need three-pointers, he has to be drafted. Jose Calderon is a nice deep sleeper in the event Ford goes down.
HoopsAddict.com: You replied to my email at 10 AM on a Saturday morning. What kind of hours do you keep?
Loomer: It’s funny. I used to keep track of my hours before taking this job (“I’m exhausted, I’ve worked 52 1/2 hours this week”). I’m sure my wife keeps track, but it’s all a part of the daily fabric of my life now. I go into the office Monday through Friday, but the job doesn’t stop there. Since we have a very strong international audience, people read our content, play our games, and use our stats 24 hours a day. Because of that I need to check in regularly to make sure everything is working and updated properly. This doesn’t mean that I’m up at 3 AM every night, but I do occasionally “work” some late nights. When I’m home, the laptop is always on (even if I’m away from it), and when I’m out of the house the Blackberry is always on me. On one hand, you can say that I’m working 80% of my waking hours, seven days of the week. On the other, I hardly see it as work. It’s challenging and exhausting at times, but incredibly rewarding. It also helps keeping things into perspective by reminding myself: “I work for the NBA. My job revolves around fantasy sports. I am not working in insurance.” It’s easy to keep a smile on my face.
Thanks again to Jon for the interview. Be sure to check out his Pre-Season Blog on NBA.com.