Game Changer

An Insider's Story of the Sonics’ Resurgence, the Trail Blazers’ Turnaround, and the Deal that Saved the Seahawks

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Pub Date 10 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 18 Sep 2023

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From groundbreaking trades to team-saving negotiations, Bob Whitsitt reveals the behind-the-scenes deals that changed the destinies of three iconic Pacific Northwest sports teams: the Seahawks, the SuperSonics, and the Trail Blazers. 

In 1994, Whitsitt was named the NBA Executive of the Year—but in 1978 he was just an intern for the Indiana Pacers. Over the next decade and a half, he would find his way to the front lines of an athletic revolution, leading a transformation that took the NBA from an asterisk in sports to a global phenomenon. 

By 1986, at the tender age of thirty, Whitsitt had been recruited to salvage the Seattle SuperSonics, whose glory had faded after the 1979 NBA championship. In just one season, and after many daring player trades, Whitsitt guided the team back to fighting form and into the playoffs. Whitsitt’s grit and risk-taking moves caught the eye of billionaire Paul Allen, who coaxed the savvy executive into taking the helm of the Portland Trail Blazers and leading them back into championship contention. Whitsitt went on to play a pivotal role in convincing Allen to purchase the Seahawks to keep them in town, lobbying for a new stadium—and the implosion of the iconic Kingdome—and ushering in a new era of professional football in Seattle. Whitsitt is the only person to have been both the president and general manager of the Seahawks, Sonics, and Trail Blazers. 

In Game Changer, Whitsitt offers insights and stories from the glory days of three beloved teams, including  

  • how he earned the nickname Trader Bob by mapping his trades many moves—and even years—ahead; 
  • his prescient recruitment of one of the first straight-to-pro basketball players, Shawn Kemp—and why his second signing of Kemp was one of his worst missteps; 
  • his time-tested negotiation tips for any situation; 
  • how he knew the mercurial George Karl was the right man to coach Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and the rest of the scene-stealing Sonics team; 
  • the truth behind the heroics needed to keep the Seahawks in Seattle; 
  • his rankings of the all-time-best NBA players and coaches; 
  • advice for how to get a job in professional sports. 

An unprecedented view into the front office of three of the most beloved franchises in the NBA and NFL during their most pivotal years, Game Changer offers a new vision for pro sports, perfect for students of the game, lifelong fans, and sophisticated dealmakers alike.

From groundbreaking trades to team-saving negotiations, Bob Whitsitt reveals the behind-the-scenes deals that changed the destinies of three iconic Pacific Northwest sports teams: the Seahawks, the...

A Note From the Publisher

BOB WHITSITT has been called the “most influential figure in
Northwest professional sports” by Washington CEO magazine and
“one of professional sports’ sharpest executives” by the Seattle
Times. In seventeen seasons as an NBA president and general
manager, “Trader Bob” built teams that made the playoff s sixteen
times. He was selected NBA Executive of the Year for transforming the Seattle SuperSonics from a non playoff team into the team with the best record in the NBA. In nine years as president and general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers, he built teams that averaged fifty wins per season and he played a key role in the successful completion of the Rose Garden arena. President of the Seattle
Seahawks from 1997 through the beginning of 2005, he negotiated the acquisition of the team for Paul Allen and led a successful statewide referendum that secured $300 million in public funding for the Seahawks’ new football and soccer stadium and exhibition center. Whitsitt is a sports business consultant and attorney. He and his wife, Jan, have lived in the Seattle area for the past thirty-seven years.

BOB WHITSITT has been called the “most influential figure in
Northwest professional sports” by Washington CEO magazine and
“one of professional sports’ sharpest executives” by the Seattle

Advance Praise

Please leave your review on NetGalley and Goodreads:

“Fascinating insider stories filled with 'wow' moments, common sense, and creative craftiness backed by uncommon administrative courage. High-level negotiations while balancing on a high wire!”

—Rick Allen, bestselling author of Inside Pitch: Insiders Reveal How the Ill-Fated Seattle Pilots Got Played into Bankruptcy in One Year

Please leave your review on NetGalley and Goodreads:

“Fascinating insider stories filled...

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Anticipated endorsements from bestselling authors and NBA stars

Digital galley distribution on Edelwiss and NetGalley

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ARC and finished book mailings to trade and select consumer publications

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Tradeshow inclusion

Podcast tour, decision pending

Author connections at Sportico, Sports Business Journal, Yahoo Sports, Forbes Sports

Anticipated endorsements from bestselling authors and NBA stars

Digital galley distribution on Edelwiss and NetGalley

GoodReads/Listopia placement

ARC and finished book mailings to trade and select...

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ISBN 9781959411260
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Featured Reviews

Absolutely terrific book that tells the story of a unique (and amazingly busy) life in the front office of professional sports. Obviously highly recommended to sports fans, it is also full of valuable lessons for anyone in any business. One of my very favorite sports books of the year.

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You have to give Bob Whitsitt credit. The man knows how to keep busy.

Whitsitt is the only man to serve as the general manager of basketball's Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers along with football's Seattle Seahawks. He even did a couple of jobs at the same time, which is mighty impressive.

We only get a hint of what Whitsitt's life was like at his busiest when reading "Game Changer," a memoir on his time in sports. Still, it's more than enough to capture the attention of sports fans.

Whitsitt started as an intern for the Indiana Pacers in 1978, and he climbed the ladder quickly to become an important figure in the front office of the team. It didn't take long for him to move over to a better job in Sacramento, and then jump to the Sonics. Some of his best work was done there, as the team eventually became a contender behind such players as Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. Alas, he opted to move on when working for owner Barry Ackerley - who takes some good-sized shots here - became more than difficult.

Then it was on to Portland, where Whitsitt again built a basketball team that needed rebuilding. The team eventually reached the conference finals a couple of times, but couldn't take that last step to the NBA Finals. Along the way, he worked with Blazers owner and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who became an important influence on his life. Allen comes off in the book as shy and a little quirky, but grew to trust Whitsitt and put all sorts of projects on his plate. It's easy to wonder how he did justice to all of those responsibilities, since he doesn't get into details in that area.

One of those, oddly enough, came when the Seahawks looked as if they might move to California. Allen was one of the few Seattle residents who could write a check for an NFL franchise to keep it in place. Whitsitt helped make it all work, and his "reward" was additional responsibilities with that team. He was involved in bringing in Mike Holmgren from the Green Bay Packers to serve as general manager and coach. The Seahawks didn't prosper until Holmgren gave up the GM's job, which isn't surprising since it sure sounds like he had little interest in stuff that happened off the field. Whitsitt lost his job with the football team in 2005 - two years after he had resigned as the general manager of the Blazers.

Since that time, Whitsitt has stayed out of the front office of sports teams. He's done some consulting and served on boards, and then at age 61 he went to law school. It's never too late to learn a new skill.

The book is something of an excuse for Whitsitt to launch into stories, and he has a bunch of good ones. There are always a variety of reasons, for example, why a sports team completes a certain trade - even if they don't become public for a reason. In one case, the Blazers had a talented teenager in Jermaine O'Neill was mostly was sitting on the bench under coach Mike Dunleavy, who refused to give him minutes even when told to do so by Whitsitt. The Sonics ended up trading O'Neill to Indiana, where he blossomed into a fine player. Whitsitt eventually got around to firing Dunleavy. Other trades that worked out better receive some space in the book too, of course.

Whitsitt's methods for building a basketball team came under scrutiny in both Seattle and Portland, and they probably continue to make "Trader Bob" a controversial figure in the Pacific Northwest to this day. Whitsitt always was willing to take a chance on a player with personal baggage when the rebuilding the team. The price was usually discounted at that reason, so the player could be acquired for pennies, or at least dimes, on the dollar. Sometimes that player could be rehabilitated and then moved elsewhere for someone with more talent. The theory worked well enough for the teams to move up in the standings.

However, that approach seemed to cause problems in the community with fans. Portland's basketball team picked up the nickname of the "Jail Blazers" because many of their players had run-ins with the police. Whitsitt also preferred talent to chemistry, and points out that he did a lot of research into each player and his personality before swinging a trade. It probably comes down to the idea that some people want their favorite team to win, but they want it done in the "right" way. That's an interesting debate to have, but it's fair to say Whitsitt's approach probably didn't give him a long leash with the public.

"Game Changer" certainly has enough interesting material to keep the fans of Whitsitt's teams entertained. What's more, there are enough "behind-the-scenes" material to keep fans of sports from outside the Pacific Northwest entertained. Since it's not a long book, those out-of-towners can enjoy the tales of a sports executive's time in the spotlight without making a major time commitment. It adds up to a successful review of an interesting professional life.

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As a fan of the NBA, I knew the name of Bob Whitsett, and after reading the book, I was amazed at everything he did with the Kansas City Kings, Seattle Supersonics, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Seattle Seahawks. I also enjoyed reading about how he got started in sports administration immediately after finishing graduate school. It started with an internship with the Indiana Pacers in 1978. Just two years prior, is when the ABA merged with the NBA and the Pacers were one of the four teams to merge with the NBA. How cool is that? He started low on the totem pole but did anything and everything asked of him and that he eventually became a GM and President for other teams.

Kings, he helped as the team moved from Kansas City to Sacramento and also helped with the naming rights to ARCO Arena (one of the first companies to put their names on a sporting facility).

Supersonics, he drafted Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Nate McMillian, Dana Barros, and traded for key players like Dale Ellis, Ricky Pierce, and Sam Perkins. He hired George Karl as the head coach. He walked away from a deal for Dennis Rodman in 1993.

Trail Blazers, he helped bring Arvydas Sabonis to the team after several years of playing almost nine years of international basketball and he traded for Rasheed Wallace in 1996. In the 1996 NBA draft, he really wanted to select Kobe Bryant, but he was chosen number 13 by Charlotte – the Trail Blazers had the number 17 pick, and they chose Jermaine O’Neal.

Seahawks, he helped keep the team in Seattle, and assisted with the building of the football stadium.

Those are just a few things he did. When you read the book, you will find a lot more things he did.

For those that want to follow in his footsteps, he provides a brief overview of a GM and negotiating.

Lastly, the Seattle Supersonic team moved to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, and when Seattle gets a new NBA team, you will very likely see Bob’s name and several other former Sonic players involved.

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