The Sixers are leading the way in the NBA when it comes to putting women in charge. Meet Lara Price, chief operating officer, and read our other profiles here.
Lara Price had just been promoted to marketing director at the Continental Basketball Association. She had a meeting at a Chicago hotel, and, as usual, she was the first one to arrive.
A male client walked in and said, “Hi.”
“Hello,” she responded.
“Would you mind,” he asked, no longer looking at her, “getting me some coffee?”
She didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely!” she said, and left. It took a few minutes, but she finally found coffee. By the time she returned, the rest of the group had arrived.
She handed the coffee to the executive, then walked to the head of the table, sat down and said, “All right. Let’s get this meeting started.”
She bit her lip and tried not to smile.
“But I remember looking out of the corner of my eye. I could see his mouth drop,” she said. “He was mortified.
“That was my way of showing them I was for real.”
Everything about Price is for real. She’s the team’s chief operating officer, one of the top-ranking women on any NBA team, third on the masthead but often the person who deals most closely with the owners. She’s the voice in the ear of managing partner Josh Harris, the one who gets every job done — from construction of the practice facility in Camden to the construction of the corporate flow chart.
Price, 51, exudes warmth. After 29 years in pro basketball, she is, at least, a big sister to the other eight high-powered women in the Sixers organization whom we profiled. Leadership comes naturally. She was a state champion point guard as a junior at Boulder (Colo.) High in 1984 and returned to the state semis the next year. Thirty-four years later, she’s running another group of winners.
“It’s good to have other women, like Lara, in the organization to look up to, and just to talk to," said Ivana Seric, a data scientist for the Sixers. “Having little chats; it helps to have someone who understands.”
She learned in grade school that a woman could be in charge. Price’s mother, Carolyn, cleaned the house of legendary Colorado entrepreneur Meg Hansson, whose most famous company was Gerry Baby Products, which sold for $73 million in 1997. Price would watch Hansson make business deals over the telephone in her home office, study documents at her desk or bark colorful orders to employees. Hansson would catch Lara Price watching her, and she would explain the machinations of business.
“Having a role model like that let me see that there were different things women could do,” Price said. “She showed me there shouldn’t be any issues dealing with business. I’m sure there were ceilings. I’ve just never seen them.”
And she’s seen it all. The one constant in Price’s career is frequent, abrupt change.
She starting at the CBA in 1990, just after commissioner Jay Ramsdell died in a plane crash, which led to three more changes in commissioner by the time she moved to the NBA in 1994. There, she helped pioneering sports executive Paula Hanson, the league’s vice president of team development, run the NBA events and keep the teams’ marketing efforts legal before she landed at the Sixers in 1996 to head their marketing department. The team was sold two months later.
“I thought I was going to lose my job,” she said. The new ownership’s front man, Pat Croce, loved her.
If there’s a process, she’s trusted it.
Two months after that, the Sixers drafted Allen Iverson. She has helped navigate the two decades of turbulence: Iverson’s various feuds and indiscretions; boutique coaches Larry Brown and Doug Collins; the 2001 run to the NBA Finals, and the 10-win season 15 years later; another sale, to Josh Harris and his partners; oddball general managers Sam Hinkie and Bryan Colangelo.
The tales she could tell. If Price didn’t bury the bodies, she held the flashlight.
“She has built a reputation in this city, in the NBA and in the sports industry as a true leader,” Harris said.
Her reputation: utter competence, zero nonsense. None. She says the coffee incident was the worst thing she ever faced, by design.
“The lines that you don’t cross are derogatory comments, in public or behind closed doors, and touching,” Price said. “Those things you don’t accept, no matter what, and you do speak up. There were not a lot of us to fight. I tried to find a way to fit in without alienating myself; that was my mindset, right or wrong.”
If that sounds more practical than revolutionary, understand that Price is a pragmatist. Bob King, who hired her at the CBA, and Hanson gave her sound, stern advice.
“I learned early on, it’s about how you dress, who you associate with,” Price said. I excused myself from the late-night stuff, even though that’s where a lot of entertaining happened. Which could have hurt me a little bit professionally, but it kept me out of anything that could have potentially happened."
She’s done fine professionally. She’s had more job offers in the past 23 years than Tom Hanks. She never left. She was never done.
“The goal,” she said, “is to win a championship.”
Hard to do without stability, but, then, Price likes to shake things up. For instances, she’s lived in the western suburbs ever since she came to Philly, but she’s moved three times. Just because.
With the practice facility finished, and the team humming nicely — Brett Brown coached them to their first back-to-back 50-win seasons for the first time since 1985-86, when Price was winning big in Boulder — Harris expanded Price’s role in the Sixers’ parent company, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which runs the New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center. That means two road trips to Newark, N.J., every week.
The process of reaching gender equity has been the slowest of all, and it seems to have stalled. A record 24.2 percent of NBA teams’ vice president and higher were women in the 2016-17 season, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) report card for 2017, but that decreased to 23.5 percent in last year’s report. The number is likely to dip further this year, said TIDES director Richard Lapchick. Price isn’t worried.
“There were not a lot of women in the building when I got here. We’re getting there,” Price said. “We’re not there yet. It’s happened naturally. In some people’s opinion, not fast enough. The culture needed to be there to support success in the differences in people.”
She believes in progress but she is not a feminist firebrand. She holds a few other unconventional views, too, such as her perspective on parenting.
“I remember one woman I worked with said, ’It’s not fair: Men get to have everything.’ I disagree with that. I know five men who have missed out on every important event in their children’s lives, so their wife could stay home and be with them,” Price said. “It’s a family choice. If the husband or the wife wants to stay home — someone, in my opinion, needs to do that.”
Price does not have children. She seems to see the players as her personal wards.
Yes, she loved watching Iverson play, and yes, she dealt with all of the Iverson crises, but she speaks most warmly about his gift as a free-hand artist.
Yes, she recognizes the unique package that center Joel Embiid brings, but she delights in his social media trash-talk.
“He motivates himself online, and he means no harm,” Price said.
She sees the best in every player.