When Rick Sund was playing basketball for Bill Chesbrough in the late 1960s, he never dreamed of ending up where he is today.
“When I went to Ohio University to start my master’s program I was thinking Elgin and Elgin High,” Sund says. “I always respected Ches and he was the athletic director at that time. At that time I was thinking more about being an AD. I wasn’t thinking pro basketball.”
But life has a way of taking twists we don’t expect, and that’s what happened with Sund, who has spent his entire career in high-level management positions with five different NBA teams.
Sund, a native of Elgin and 1969 Elgin High graduate who played basketball and football at Northwestern, will be honored Sunday night by the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame Foundation with a special recognition award when the organization holds its annual banquet and induction ceremony in the Heritage Ballroom at The Centre of Elgin.
“It’s special,” said Sund, a 1983 inductee of the ESHOF. “When I was inducted, it was a special moment and my mom was still alive for that. I’m excited to come back. I try to spend as much time as I can supporting the foundation and the scholarships. Every other year I make it back for the golf outing to help support a real good foundation and the scholarships in Elgin. Elgin had a lot to do with my participation in athletics growing up.”
Sund, who was also a member of the 1966 Elgin Teener League Babe Ruth baseball national championship team, says a free agent tryout with the Milwaukee Bucks actually started his career path.
“The Bucks had shown some interest in me and I spent some time with Wayne Embry but I didn’t go there with the idea of having a career in pro basketball,” Sund said. “But I had to do an internship and that led to a full-time position.”
And a career, as it turned out. After 5 years with the Bucks, Sund became one of the youngest lead executives in the NBA when he was named Player Personnel Director of the Dallas Mavericks, where he worked from 1979-94, elevating to the position of Vice President of Basketball Operations. The Mavs won division titles in 1986 and 1987.
From Dallas, Sund went to Detroit in 1995 as VP of Player Personnel, later assuming the title of Executive VP and General Manager of Basketball Operations. The Pistons made four playoff appearances during Sund’s tenure in Detroit.
From 2001-07, Sund was General Manager of the Seattle SuperSonics, who reached the postseason twice while he was there. Sund and his wife Lea still make their home in Seattle, although his current job is in Atlanta, where he is the Senior Advisor of Basketball Operations, a position that allows him to spend more time in Seattle during the middle months of the NBA season. Prior to taking his current position Sund, now in his 40th year in the NBA, held positions with the Hawks that included Executive VP and GM.
“My contract expired in June and I didn’t want to renew,” Sund said during a Sunday conversation from his office in Atlanta. “I just wanted to take a step back for a year or two.”
The new position will allow Sund to return home to Seattle from December through March, then he’ll return to Atlanta to assist the franchise at the end of the season. Being able to spend a few months at home is something Sund is definitely looking forward to.
“The kids had graduated from college when I moved to Atlanta five years ago, so I got a place here and my wife managed the household in Seattle,” said Sund, now 62. “It’s such a 24/7 gig I didn’t get home at all. I’ll be 62 in June but I didn’t want to retire completely. Now I can spend time in Seattle, too.”
Sund, who fondly recalled conversations he had with Chesbrough, “just sharing notes,” when Sund was new to the NBA and Chesbrough was still coaching, has passed his love for the game down to his son, Patrick, who is currently a member of the basketball operations staff of the Golden State Warriors. The Sund family has deep roots in the Big Ten as well, Rick having graduated from Northwestern, Lea from Wisconsin, daughter Hali from Michigan and Patrick from Indiana.
But Rick’s roots are still in Elgin, and he’s appreciate of the award he’ll receive Sunday night.
“I’m looking forward to being back and seeing everyone,” he said. “The foundation is a really good thing that does nice things with the scholarships.”
Sunday’s festivities: The ESHOF banquet Sunday night will include much more than the recognition of Sund. Five new inductees — Beth Fitchie Barnes, Paul Hudgens, Jim Kossakowski, Ryan Sienko and David Wurm — will take their place in the Hall. A multitude of Outstanding Achievement Award winners will be recognized, but most importantly the Hall of Fame Foundation will recognize the 25 student-athletes chosen to receive $1,000 scholarships. Additionally, Joann Jolitz will receive the Vic Masi Award for her contributions to Elgin sports.
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