Insight on his experiences in the video room, riding shotgun with the Australian national team, and some NBA nerdism.
This feature is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration
Sometimes you have to start at the bottom. At least that is what Mo Dakhil would tell you. Opportunity knocks for those who place themselves in a position to reap the benefits of a lady luck, and merely being present and engaged can separate you from the herd.
Starting off as the go-to laundry ace for a junior college basketball team, Dakhil eventually elevated himself into the video room with esteemed basketball organizations (the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs), basketball royalty (Greg Popovich), and everyone’s favorite Australian instigator (Matthew Dellavedova). But as Dakhil outlines in his story, not every path is black and white, and an opportunity can present itself seemingly out of thin air. You not only must be ready and willing to seize it, but also assertive and attentive to keep that role intact.
We caught up with Dakhil to talk about his fascinating time in the video room, what he is up to now, where he wishes to go, and why after the time-out plays make him feel all tingly inside.
OS: You have held video coordinator positions with various NBA teams including the Clippers, Spurs, and even the Australian national team. How were you able to get started in the business and was working with video for a team always a goal of yours?
MD: My career path is a bit interesting. I always loved basketball as fan, and when I went to junior college, I worked as a student manager for the basketball team as a hobby. I did not intend to work in basketball when I started, but I got bit by the coaching bug about six months in. From then on, I wanted to work in basketball — either college or if I was lucky enough, the pros. I did not know there was even a position as a video coordinator until I transferred to USC and met our VC.
Through a connection that my mentor, than assistant coach at Santa Monica City College Trevor Shickman, I had an opportunity to work Lakers preseason games as a ball boy. There I got to meet the video guys for the Lakers and really experience the inside of an NBA locker room. At that point I realized that is one way I could get in with an NBA team. So one day, after my junior year, one of our assistants at USC asked me to drive one of our seniors to a workout at Saint Monica’s high school. I happily did — not knowing I was walking into a pre-draft workout for a big time sports agency.
There I met to really important figures to me, Neil Olshey and Coach Tim Grgurich. It seemed Neil was a short a helper and asked if I minded helping out. Realizing how high level this workout was, I trying to soak all of this up.
After the workout, I approached Neil and asked him if he minded if I came back to volunteer and he said sure. So every morning before the draft I would head over to the gym and help out; playing dummy defense, rebounding, and passing in drills for guys who were trying to make it to the NBA.
After the draft a few pros started to work out with Neil. It was probably one of the best summers a young basketball dork could ask for. We would work guys out in the mornings and then again in the afternoon. It was truly an amazing experience.
By the time I graduated from USC, Neil was the director of player personnel for the Clippers and he eventually offered me an internship in the video room to work on breaking down college personnel for the draft.
A few years later I was offered an opportunity with the San Antonio Spurs and there I was introduced to Brett Brown who offered me a spot on the Australian Men’s basketball team’s staff.
OS: Many front office executives carve their path to the top in the video room. Was becoming a high-ranking scout or even a general manager ever on your mind? Is it difficult to ascend that type of role without some form of luck?
MD: Several front office and coaches have started in the video room, so it was definitely on my mind. The video room is an amazing place to learn the NBA, and craft your basketball philosophy because you are going to watch SO MUCH basketball. I wanted to coach, so it was always on my mind.
Luck definitely plays a role — you have to get lucky and you have to be good. A coach you are close with gets a job and you may have an opportunity to go with them or someone leaves the staff you are currently on and there are opportunities to move up. That is luck, but you also have to be good at what you are doing. You have to bring value to the position you are stepping in. It takes luck to get some opportunities and it takes skill to stay in the league.
OS: What was it like to be a part of the Australian national team back in 2012?
MD: It was an amazing experience, I was with the Boomers from 2010–12 and I’ve never seen guys so close on a team. There is a thing called Mateship (not sure if it is a technical term of any sorts) which I got to see up close. It’s about having each other’s back, it’s about being there for each other.
I can talk for days about the experience, and even though I’m not Australian, the guys accepted me from day one as one of their own and it was a humbling experience getting to be around them.
So many of those guys I still keep in touch with to this day. I’d never trade my experience with the Boomers for anything else.
OS: You are a contributor to two websites (bballbreakdown.com & fastmodelsports.com) known for their insight on the “x’s and o’s” of the game. In your estimation, has the general NBA fan gotten smarter than when you originally started out in the business?
MD: NBA fans have definitely gotten smarter — there is a definite appetite for more x’s and o’s. Fans want to know what their teams are running and why. We are in a really interesting time where people want to really discuss sports more and more, they are looking for more intelligent conversation. The hardest part is trying to not go over their head by getting too technical. That is something I need to get much better at to help draw in the more causal fan.
OS: Where do you wish to go in the business in the upcoming years? Is there a certain job/role that you have your eyes on?
MD: That is a really great question because I’m not really sure. I would love an opportunity to work with a big network or publication using my knowledge and experience to bring great insights into the game. I really enjoy talking basketball, breaking down what teams are doing, and giving my opinions on what teams are trying to do. I started in this with having no idea what I was doing, I just dove right in. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m still in the process of figuring it out. That is part of the fun.
OS: Who was your favorite player/coach that you had the opportunity to work with? Do you have a story (or stories) you would like to share about them? (I imagine that Jamaal Crawford was an awesome dude to work with.)
MD: Gosh, I have been extremely lucky to work with some of the best in the business. Tough to single out one person, but I will always love my two years with Coach Pop. It is great to see how he operates and how he treats everyone from players to staff. As for players, I’ve been around some of the best in the business. I got to watch up close, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Grant Hill, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamaal Crawford.
Besides the big name guys, it was always fun to be around guys like Willie Green, Caron Butler, Chris Quinn, and Matt Bonner to name a few. I can’t forget the Australian guys who all were amazing. I was really lucky to get to be around all of these guys and so many more that the list goes on and on. And yes, Jamaal is just an all around AMAZING guy. I used to play one on one with him after practice, needless to say I didn’t win a lot or at all for that matter, but I made sure he knew about it when I got a stop.
OS: Based off your Twitter profile, it is apparent that you see the game differently than the casual fan. Do you have a favorite niche team that you enjoy watching in this year’s playoffs?
MD: It is not one team I really try to focus on, as much as what teams do in certain situations. I really try to pay attention to what teams are running after time outs; I think that is really where you get to see some the best basketball minds at work. It is a great way to measure a coach — can he get his team a good look out of an ATO (after the time-out) play? I love seeing it, especially in the playoffs when every possession matters.
OS: Where do you stand on how far the “pace and space” era will go? Is it good for the league that every team is trying to form their own iteration of the Golden State Warriors? Is there any value in going the other way and trying to play with a slower, opposing style?
MD: I love it. 1 on 1 basketball is fairly boring and watching these teams focus on ball and player movement is really how the game is supposed to be played. Every team tries to copy when other teams have success, but it is pretty hard to replicate the Warriors just because of the talent that they have. I think one think that I hope doesn’t happen is that teams literally stop attempting to get mid-range jumpers. I know what the analytics say, and I’m not disputing it, but there is something to taking what the defense is giving you, and if they are giving you elbow jumpers, you need to take advantage of it.
OS: Do you have any advice for students/young professionals that are looking to break into the video room for a team or the sports business in general?
MD: I think the earlier you get involved in basketball the better. If you don’t play for your your high school team, work for them, I’m sure the coach would love the help. If you are in college, see if you can be a manager for the men’s or women’s teams. If there is a D-league team in your neighborhood, check with them. If you are lucky enough to help out in those situations remember that no job is beneath you.
I started out doing laundry on the road for a junior college basketball team, I was the water boy during games at USC. My willingness to do those types of jobs allowed me to network. The last thing I would say, working in the NBA is a privilege, there are only 30 of these jobs and there are plenty of people who want to do what you’re doing. Never take it for granted.
Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.
Want to learn more, or have a story featured about you or your organization? Contact us today.