Before they were coaches: Eric Musselman

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, May 25, 2020
Arkansas men's basketball coach Eric Musselman is shown during a game against North Texas on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by David Beach
Arkansas men's basketball coach Eric Musselman is shown during a game against North Texas on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — After graduating from the University of San Diego in 1987, Eric Musselman moved to Los Angeles.

Living in his then-girlfriend’s poolhouse at the time, Musselman would play basketball at the Manhattan Beach outdoor courts during the day then go to the LA Summer League. There, he sat down next to a man one day and the two began talking - arguing actually, Musselman recalled - about players.

He asked Musselman if he would be back the next day. Musselman said yes, and their back and forths continued for two more weeks. Then things got interesting.

“He told me he worked for the (San Diego) Clippers and asked if I would like to be an assistant player personnel director,” Musselman told WholeHogSports. “I said yes. Then he said, ‘You’re going to have to sell tickets for the first two months and then as we get closer to basketball season I’d like you to help with all the organization for the draft and scout local games.

“It was an awesome job.”

In that role, Musselman checked out players at UCLA, USC, Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine games. He sold Clippers tickets for roughly two-and-a-half months then became player personnel director for the team.

Selling tickets for the franchise, which finished with a 12-70 record in 1986-87 and won 17 games the following season, proved to be a challenge.

“At that point, the Clippers were terrible,” said Musselman, who made around $12,000 off commission. “A lot of people would hang up their phone. It was a very, very tough job to say the least.”

At the time, Elgin Baylor, inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a decade prior, was the team’s general manager. One way for Musselman to get in on the basketball side was filming Clippers practices. He also had to bring film back and forth between Baylor and head coach Gene Shue.

Musselman made roughly $15,000 once he was elevated from selling tickets.

“One of the duties was handing game tape to the opposing team’s coaching staff after every game,” he said. “It was a way for me to meet people. I just think of the grind.

“I also remember picking up towels off the floor after every Clippers game.”

Player personnel director was not even Musselman’s first gig with the Clippers, though. When his father, Bill Musselman, took a two-year break from coaching in the late 1970s to work in real estate, he worked as a ball boy for the team.

Musselman remembers the guys who tipped and the ones who were rude. He also remembers, because he worked the opposing team’s locker room, which coaches gave the best motivational speeches.

“All of the other ball boys wanted the home locker room,” he said. “I wanted the opposing locker room, because I wanted something new and different every game and to be exposed to different things.”

While Musselman was in college at San Diego, he also worked for the Padres. His job with the team? He started a customer complaint department.

Musselman was required to be at every Padres home game.

“Any complaint, whether it was a parking complaint, whether a firecracker went off in the toilet, if an usher was rude, all of those complaints came to me,” he said. “Then I had to fill out paperwork and send them to different areas about how the problem was going to get rectified.

“I think when you start at the bottom it helps you appreciate everything.”

Before they were coaches

Part 1: Mike Neighbors and Todd Schaefer

Part 2: Dave Van Horn and Matt Hobbs

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