“I’m done with this,” said Mark Tatum. “And so that’s one of the big forks in my road. And I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was lost, but I ended up taking some business classes, talking to some people and they steered me towards business management and marketing, which I really started enjoying.”
If you were to look at NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum’s career, you’d see nothing but forks in roads that could’ve led to an entirely different life. The reader might think that everyone has forks in the road that they must choose. Some of those don’t lead to NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer.
Eight years ago, and it’s been a long road. He was born in Vung Tau, Vietnam. His family moved to the States after he turned 1. Tatum was already a traveling man even if he didn’t realize it.
“My dad grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and came to the States when he was a teenager,” said Tatum pointing out that his father’s Black. “[His father] joined the Air Force, went to Vietnam, met my mother there, got married, had me and then he brought me and my mother back…”
Tatum said that his parents still live in the East Flatbush neighborhood that he was raised in and have been married for over 50 years. Here’s where the forks begin. Starting with Junior High School 227 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
“They had a program to bring some of the diverse kids, Black and Brown kids, from where I was into their school and so I applied in the fifth grade. Got in and, you know, it ended up me and a couple of other classmates from P.S. 181 [in Flatbush] ended up going to 27 which was an experience in and of itself.”
His time at 227 led him on the path to one of the city’s specialized high schools. He got into Brooklyn Tech, via the specialized high schools admission test (SHSAT) and knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life…back then.
“I actually started off and thought I was going to be a doctor,” said Tatum. “I was a pre-med student at Tech and applied to Cornell pre-med and I was pre-med all the way through my sophomore year.”
Something changed when he started taking an organic chemistry class.
The fork in the road led him to business and marketing. After graduating from Cornell, he jumped right into the fire and started working for Procter & Gamble.
Here comes another fork.
Procter & Gamble were one of the sponsors for the soccer World Cup for the first time in U.S. history. That’s when he ran into businesspeople and marketers from other areas that would change his life.
“Now, I had always loved sports growing up,” said Tatum, noting that he participated in activities almost every day of the week as a kid. He had a eureka moment while marketing the event in New York and New Jersey.
“Wait a minute, there are people who are doing jobs in sports?” asked Tatum. “Like, there’s an actual business around this World Cup thing.” And then I really started thinking, well, yeah, there’s a business around the NBA. There’s a business around Major League Baseball, around the NFL. But, you know, I’ve never thought of it as a business…I wanted to be a New York Yankee growing up, but since I wasn’t going to do that, I guessed that my sports career was over.”His road took him to business school at Harvard where he got his degree and interned at Pepsi working on sports like Major League Soccer and NASCAR. This led to a business and marketing gig at Major League Baseball. He loved the sport and saw opportunities to market it and make it even more popular than it was in the late 1990s.
After a few years in MLB, Tatum took another fork in the road and joined the NBA in 1999. He’s still on that road after working his way up the chain helping the league evolve its message and its product to the masses.
The steadiness in his life, being a part of the NBA since 1999 and being married to Landit Founder and CEO Lisa Skeete Tatum, since 1995 (they have two kids), allows Tatum to never forget who he is.
“I am from New York and I am a New Yorker,” said Tatum. “And specifically Brooklyn. I am from Brooklyn. So I’m a proud, proud, proud New Yorker. And I’ve been all over the world. Before that, I had the good fortune and the blessing of traveling to, you know, dozens and dozens of countries and in cities around the world. There’s nothing like getting off the plane and seeing that ‘Welcome to New York’ sign knowing that I’m back home.”