Shea Dawson is no stranger to being among the only women in a room, and this year, she serves as GM for Overtime Elite’s first-ever TBT team.
The NBA offseason is when the next generation of ballers look to make their mark. From Summer League to EYBL tournaments and everything in between, young men leave it all on the court. One of those primetime tournaments is the TBT, which distinguishes itself from all the rest with its popular Elam Ending format.
In its ninth year, the TBT Tournament tips off this weekend with eight regional rounds.
All eyes will be on the Omaha Regional, where Overtime Elite will run its first-ever team. Led by top twin prospects for the 2023 Draft, Ausar and Amen Thompson, the team will be one of the youngest in the pool. But they’re not letting their youth impede their goals for the event.
For OTE, entering TBT is a chance to deliver on the promise that the organization made to its players who represent some of the most exciting talent in the NBA pipeline.
“We told [our players] we’d provide pre-pro training and game-like situations to get them evaluated by the NBA properly. They’re already on the draft board, so they just need the opportunity to play against comparable talent,” OTE’s TBT Tournament GM Shea Dawson told Boardoom.
Dawson, who also serves as the Head of Athlete Relations at Overtime, is one of just two women serving as GMs among the 64 teams vying for the $1 million prize. She took a break from her team’s grueling preparation to chat with Boardroom about her hopes for the tournament, how her basketball journey led her to this point, and how she leads with love to command the best from her young team.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BERNADETTE DOYKOS: First thing’s first. How are you feeling going into the tournament?
Shea Dawson: I’m feeling very excited. We started with a welcome dinner, and everyone was dapping up right in the beginning of dinner. I already knew that it was gonna be great ’cause normally people are all weird. Well, men or boys are all weird in the beginning when they don’t know each other because they’re trying to like feel it out. But there were no egos here.
It’s a lot of family dynamic here, so it feels very comfortable. It’s a safe space, which I think allows guys to like play out of their element and just be themselves. They’re not holding back. So that’s been really reassuring for me going into the weekend just because I can speak transparently, and I can give the real facts without sugarcoating anything … because they know I care.
BD: How did the opportunity for you to serve as the GM come about?
SD: [I came up] as an athlete advocate, working in grassroots [settings], working in the NBA. Now, I’m going backwards and applying all that information into a system to help create athletes and make them better. I think it was just kind of a natural progression.
Now, if you’re in a pre-pro setting that is a business, [it’s about] explaining all parts of the business so that they understand how it applies to them specifically for their own blueprint for their own path. And explaining that not every path is the same. We have some guys who have two-way contracts now, but maybe they didn’t get drafted in the NBA. [I want them to understand] that making it to the NBA is more than just getting drafted. So, explaining every little scenario along the way and saying, How can you best prepare yourself to put yourself in the best position?
BD: Given your experience in the NBA and with the 76ers, what are some lessons that you learned in a professional organization that you feel like you’re uniquely positioned to be able to impart on your players as they get ready for the next level?
SD: I think explaining the roles of everyone involved. Different people do different things. You have to go advocate for yourself in each department. And also just your time management. No one’s gonna call you and try to get you to go to every single thing on your [calendar]. You have to wanna do that. We’re gonna try and help nudge you, but it’s not gonna be like this at the next level.
BD: How do you work with your players through the process of being young men coming through this space and dealing not only with what they’re doing on the court, but also everything else that’s going around?
SD: One thing I love is allowing them to be able to fail here early when it’s not intense. It’s not on the line. It’s not life or death. [I’m] able to point out certain things, like, Hey, this is a lesson that you have to learn. So we’re gonna go hard on you for this one. You will miss out on this [this time], but it’s not the end of the world. And the next year, you’ll see the change. And you’re like, ‘oh my God, they listened.’
Being able to help manage expectations is one of the biggest things here. At the next level, they don’t have time. They’ll cut you in a minute. Here, we’re gonna love you. We’re gonna remind you, we’re gonna nudge you, we’re gonna talk to you. We’re gonna explain. So I think just the difference of we’re nice here, but we’re all also a little bit strict here. Over there, they’re not gonna care. So just trying to give them that real-life example of what’s really coming.
BD: TBT is exactly what you promised players when they joined the team: an opportunity to prepare for the pros through high-level preparation and competition. Do you feel like their participation is the next-level stage for them to be jumping onto?
SD: I absolutely feel that. We’re gonna be on ESPN, too! We believe our players are great. We know they’re great, but the world hasn’t seen them. We’re excited for them. I’m excited for them. Their parents are excited. Their family who maybe hasn’t seen them play in years gets to tune in. And I think that makes me emotional. Just thinking about how the pep in their step is different — been different since TBT because they know now that this is a test that they’ve been asking for.
This is something that they can kind of hang their hats on and compare themselves to other guys who’ve been where they want to go.
We’re going into the lion’s den. We’re going into Creighton’s home gym, where they get to sleep in their beds and [have] familiarity. And we’re going into a place we’ve never been with players who hadn’t known each other before we got together. That’s also a challenge, and I love challenges. I love being able to prove doubters wrong. But I don’t think there’s a losing situation here. Our players already got better.
BD: How are you getting your guys ready to play against some grown-ass men?
SD: They’re already ready. I didn’t need to get them ready. They love to play basketball. I never have to force them to come to the gym. I have to force them to leave, actually.
All I need to do is make sure they know that we care about them, that we love them, and that we’re here to support them no matter what happens. This is a big opportunity, and we want you to perform well. But if you don’t, we still love you. We still care. We’re still gonna go hard for you.
BD: In your particular role as the GM, how do you see the way that you have been able to sort of make this whole thing happen?
SD: Love lots, lots of love. I think having a loving eye allows for the camaraderie and the culture to kind of be elevated. They know that I got their back and the coaches got their back … And the love looks different, but the care is there. I know that I’m going to try and do my best to make sure this player feels heard and communicated with.
BD: As somebody who has been in these places and spaces for the entirety of your career where you’re probably one of very few women, what is that experience like for you? How do you feel like it has impacted the way that you have developed as a professional?
SD: It’s emotional because as a woman, you kick and scream and try to show your value. Like, even when you add value, even when it’s clear as day, it’s not easily or always recognized. It’s discouraging sometimes. But when you lead with love, love is everywhere, and not everybody leads with love.
Sometimes, I have to reinvent myself. Sometimes, I have to kill off parts of myself that don’t serve me anymore. I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned when I wanted to quit. I was saying, like, ‘Oh, it’s so hard,’ just trying to get that respect that you deserve.’ [But I’ve realized] it’s not that you deserve the respect, but that you demand and negotiate for it.
BD: As you take over this GM position, are there any people that you look to who are your go-to inspirations as you assert your own position?
SD: Oh, man. So many. Someone who helped me out a lot when I was at the Sixers was Marc Eversley. He’s now the GM of the Bulls. He always believed in me, [and] he always put me in position.
Liron Fanan, she works with the Cavaliers. She gave me a shot to be an intern at Summer League. And ever since then, I’ve kind of just been building those blocks. My friend, Les Straus, she runs Pango All-American Camp. She also leaned in for me.
Each of those people run their own particular areas specifically outside of a box. Like, they do it their way. I kind of gravitate to people who do it their own way. Everyone jokes that I’m rainbows and sunshine. And, like, yeah, all my s—t is rainbows and sunshine. There’s just no way I’m not gonna come in with a good attitude. No matter what. I might cry, I might get pissed, but it won’t last like that. I’m gonna continue to lead.