Tommy Greer is one of the league club's most-respected CEO. (Image: Supplied by the South East Melbourne Phoenix, Graphic Design: Theo Dimou)

Transitioning from athlete to post-athlete is one of the most difficult adjustments for a professional. For South East Melbourne Phoenix CEO Tommy Greer, it’s been a seamless transition.

Before making his mark within the NBL department, Greer enjoyed an illustrious career for the Melbourne Tigers, now Melbourne United, playing 227 games from 2005 to 2014, captaining the team, including winning two championships in 2006 and 2008.

Greer would experience playing under legendary coach Al Westover, who delivered the ultimate success to the franchise twice, winning coach of the year in 2006.

Well before calling time on his decade-long playing career, Greer was steadfast in his plans about transitioning to the next phase of his career.

“As I started getting to the end of my basketball career, I started dealing with numerous injuries. Playing time was diminishing, and that’s when my focus started to shift to life after basketball,” Greer told The Inner Sanctum.

“I always felt that I could have continued my basketball career either at the Tigers or another club for a few more years. Ultimately, it made the decision that it was time to start life after basketball.

“In my final few years of playing, my mindset shifted. I started focusing on what I needed to do to put myself in a good position to be able to enter the workforce and I guess, continue working in the sport I loved.”

A valuable stage in Greer’s post-playing career came in September 2014. Former Melbourne United CEO and current NBL Chief Operating Officer Vince Crivelli instilled constant belief in Greer’s learning mindset, with the pair working closely together as Greer advanced from player development to basketball operations manager.

His role would be instrumental in branding talent pools for young and upcoming players and working with club legend Darryl McDonald in establishing player appearances and expectations. Greer intuitively reflects on how his partnership with Crivelli gave him the utmost opportunity to put himself in the deep end.

“It’s incredibly important. And all the steps along the journey, you learn so much,” Greer said.

“I always say that one of the greatest attributes I feel like I have as a CEO of a professional sporting club is having played so many different roles within clubs and the league.

“So having that perspective. That full sort of spectrum perspective across the sport.”

During the 2000s and early 2010s, the league faced a dire situation – unlike the halcyon days of the 1990s. Teams such as the Singapore Slingers, Townsville Crocodiles, West Sydney Razorbacks, Gold Coast Blaze, Canberra Cannons, Hunter Pirates, and South Dragons had all become defunct.

Desperate times require desperate measures.

And in 2015, one name would change the entirety of the NBL landscape: Larry Kestleman.

Kestleman earned millions as a Real Estate mogul and co-founded the phone internet company Dodo in 2001, selling it for just under $230 million in 2013. His adventurous plan of making wholesale changes in 100 days was his ambition.

It seemed an ambitious goal, but thinking abundantly was Kestleman’s ammo.

Part of his big creative strategy was joining forces with CEO Jeremy Loeliger, the current league Commissioner. When talking about the league’s re-emergence under the pair, Greer remembers the “skeleton staff” due to the small numbers operating in headquarters, roughly ten people.

But coincidently, he saw growth and untapped potential under Kestleman and Loeliger in rejuvenating basketball in Australia.

“It was an exciting time for the sport. I believed in what Larry was trying to achieve at the time,” Greer said.

“Everyone who was in there at the time was working incredibly hard towards achieving that vision that Larry had put forward. And I learned a lot during that time.

“So being within an organisation being as aggressive as the NBL was at that time, provided me a whole lot of opportunity to be able to sort of step into some situations that I potentially wouldn’t have been able to different situations.

“And that was an incredible advantage to me and the early part of my career.”

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Greer’s meticulous achievements helped build his brand within league confines. His new task was taking upon the special projects and player relations in March 2016. A position he would fulfil until April 2017.

Within 13 months, he played an integral role in developing and promoting the Basketball Without Borders Asia Recap. Greer reflects on this position as being “great opportunities.” His work saw him connect and build key relationships with the NBA – and their NBA Cares program, CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) and FIBA.

Having worked closely with Kestleman and Loeliger, another prominent member in the league’s growth is former league Chief Operating Officer Andy Crook, currently the Managing Director for Whitewall Sport.

“He was fantastic at the time,” Greer said, talking about Crooks.

“He was there during the significant growth phase, and I think you pick up important pieces of learning from most people that you work with. From Vince Crivelli’s early days at Melbourne United, even back to my playing days and certain coaches over time and how you deal with teams and different personalities into my post-playing career work.”

“I mentioned Vince. But Lauren Hansen, Jeremy Loeliger, and Larry Kestleman.”

“You pick things up from all of these people along the journey. And it’s incredibly important to always, continue that growth mindset.”

With his work done and dusted as general manager for major events and programs from April 2017 to June 2018, implementing pathways for upcoming Australian basketballers in collaboration with Basketball Australia, a coveted CEO position for South East Melbourne Phoenix opened up.

Conversations about bringing a ninth team into the league were gaining traction. In July 2018, Co-Owner of EFL club Swansea City, Romie Chaudhari, came on board, with the team securing its licence. On August 22, Greer would be appointed inaugural club CEO. As for the process, Greer said it came about whilst working as general manager for major events and programs.

“Part of that role was to work with potential new licensees within the NBL. And so I worked with a few different candidates who were looking at considering purchasing licences,” Greer said.

“And then, of course, Romie Chaudhari came along and he began that process. So, I started taking him through that for a period of time.

“And once he purchased the licence, we had built such a trusted relationship that he offered me the opportunity to get the club started in the general manager role to see how things went over that period till the commencement of our first game.

“Then, upon the success of that first game and first season, I was moved into the CEO role.”

Coming up with the team’s colours was the next item on the menu. The decision to instil the colours of white, black, lime green, and bottle green was about establishing a new brand, but not forgetting about the greats and clubs that had come and gone from the region.

“We wanted to stand out,” Greer said.

“We wanted to be something different. Something fun. Something energetic that kids and families could get behind. And then, when you looked at the sort of colour spectrum of the rest of the league. There was clearly a colour sort of missing there.

“And so green was the colour we thought would stand out, pop. It’d be fun.”

When elaborating on the colours and their representation, Greer refers to the importance of connecting South East Melbourne with the Dandenong Rangers.

To promote itself across the league, on November 17, 2018, on the club’s X account, formerly Twitter, they put out a promo video representing who and what they stand for. Their hashtag, RiseUp, is synonymous with its identity.

Greer remembers this video as “encompassing” in what the club strives to be.

“That video did a really good job of highlighting the enormous participation numbers of basketball out in this region and families and the Friday night hoops and the Saturday morning domestic.

“That’s what we want to highlight. We wanted to highlight we were going to be the team that represented the heartland of the sport.”

Having occupied the Phoenix CEO role for five and a half years, challenges aren’t foreign to Greer. He experienced the league’s obstacles in re-establishing and marketing its brand in 2015. When reflecting on the most significant hurdle, he refers to the COVID pandemic in March 2020, at the end of the club’s inaugural season.

“That was probably the most substantial challenge that we’ve faced as a franchise to this point,” Greer said.

“To have put so much work into launching the franchise and then to have all of that momentum halted for 18 months, potentially two years. You get back out there and start growing your fan base, and development and re-engage with the community was a really difficult challenge.”

His long list of achievements within the league speaks for itself. But for the ever-curious Greer, he sees unfinished business for the Phoenix, in pursuit of capturing a maiden championship to the heartland.

“We’re growing year on year. But we are yet to achieve the heights that we set out to when we started the franchise,” Greer said.

“We want to win championships. We want to be the benchmark in the NBL. And we’ve still got work to do if we want to get to that point.

“For me, the focus remains here at South East Melbourne Phoenix.”

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