Something that's never got much mention in the press is that in addition to their formidable investing savvy, many an employee of SAC Capital has been behind some of the greatest upsets in sports history. February 11, 1990. Tokyo, Japan. Buster Douglas versus Mike Tyson, Douglas is 35:1 underdog. Douglas prevails. Why? I can't say his name but ask anyone who was there and they'll tell you the story of a young pup from the Stamford back office whose fluffing skills between rounds Douglas to this day credits with his win. Summer Olympics 2000. Sydney, Australia. Rulon Gardner defeats Alexander Karelin. Rulon Gardner's victory at the Sydney Olympics is the greatest upset in wrestling history. Gardener had no wins on the Olympic level, whereas Karelin had been undefeated for the last decade. Who gave Gardener some last minute tips on his Half Nelson? SAC's head of HR at the time. March 1991. NCAA semifinal game, Duke versus UNLV. UNLV was heavily favored and hadn't lost a game all year. Who snuck into the locker room at half time and promised the Blue Devils "hookers on the house-- and these won't talk" if they pulled out a W? A trader from SAC, always ahead of the curve. Super Bowl III, 1969. New York Jets defeat Baltimore Colts. Who convinced the entire stadium to do a topless wave the likes of which the NFL had never seen, which in turn got the team from New York pumped like no other? Who consulted on Johnny Weir's 2010 Olympic ensembles, even throwing in a hand at the sewing machine at the last hour? Who said MORE NETTING when everyone else said less? You know the answer to all those things.
Which leads us to next year's NBA championship. You probably thought the New Jersey Nets didn't have a shot, right? Wrong! Not now that they've got this secret weapon.
Think of Milton Lee as a technical investor. Except instead of analyzing stocks or commodities, he is analyzing basketball players. A former Wall Street equities trader who has done stints at ING and S.A.C Capital, Lee has joined the refurbished New Jersey Nets as the team’s director of basketball operations. His job is to crunch the statistics of Nets players, looking not just at their scoring percentages but also at their defensive efforts and where on the court they are most successful at hitting the net.
Deal Journal spoke to Lee, 40, from his office in New Jersey about how his background in trading influences the way he looks at basketball. Lee grew up in New Jersey, played junior varsity hoops for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers and has been a life long Nets fan. (No, Seriously.) His favorite player growing up was Otis Birdsong. Despite the team’s dismal recent record (the team won only 12 games last season), Lee says he has never lost faith.
DJ: What are some influences from your Wall Street days?
Lee: Steve Cohen (at S.A.C. Capital) had two mantras: keep on moving, don’t be idle and don’t sit on positions. The other unspoken mantra was you are not going to be right all the time. It’s like basketball if a guy waits for the 100% perfect shot he is never going to take the shot. If you are waiting for the perfect trade you are going to too late. You understand there are a lot of different things that go into a good shot or a good investment than setting up the one perfect opportunity.
DJ: What is your ultimate career goal?
Lee: I don’t know how many 5’ 9’’ Korean guys are head coaches. My goal is to be a [General Manager] of an NBA team.
DJ: What makes you think the Nets can turn it around?
Lee: So many teams in the NBA, the management has one arm tied behind their back either because of bad contracts or financial restrictions. The [Nets] ownership is giving its staff all the resources they need to succeed…We are coming off a 12 and 70 season. To build a championship team it’s going to take time and some luck.
He's being modest, of course. Check back in June.