Jon Steinberg ’93
When Jon Steinberg ’93 got his first job in professional basketball, he did so by mailing letters and his resume to different franchises. By the time he got his second job – six months later – he applied via email. That’s how fast things change in the NBA.
“Things change and I change with them,” says Steinberg, senior director of basketball communications with the Atlanta Hawks. “It’s funny – I’ve been here for 24 years, but it doesn’t feel like it because everything keeps changing.”
Spending nearly a quarter-century with one organization is almost unheard-of in professional sports, especially when the person in question is someone who had one simple objective when they first stepped on to campus.
“My only goal was to graduate in four years,” Steinberg explains. “I had no career in mind.”
That lack of aspiration, or inspiration, began to fade as Steinberg became more involved in the Highlander community.
“I served as a student assistant in the sports information department with former sports information directors Rick Rogers and Mike Ashley ’83,” he says. “They were terrific in allowing me to learn by performing hands-on work. I was just a dumb kid, and they were quick to give advice on what to do and how to do it.”
Steinberg also served as assistant sports editor with the Tartan, Radford University's weekly student newspaper. “That experience was priceless in understanding journalism, which helps me to this very day.”
He continues, “At the Tartan, I was able to connect with like-minded people with similar ambitions. It was a really fun time.”
With graduation on the horizon, Steinberg began mailing out the aforementioned letters and resumes to any and every sports franchise. “I had decided that I wanted to be a sportswriter, so I wanted a summer job in the sports industry.”
That summer job is now in year 25, and counting.
“From that effort, I received a summer internship with the then-Washington Bullets (now Wizards) in public relations,” he explains. “The unpaid internship then turned into a paid job that would last through the end of the calendar year. That opportunity allowed me to continue to learn the business as well as meet people within the industry.”
As his time with the Bullets drew to a close, Steinberg began looking for his next gig within the industry. Luckily, he did not need to look very far.
“One of my jobs was to go through the team’s email account – remember this was in the early days of the internet,” he says. “It was while I was doing this that I saw an opening with the Atlanta Hawks that would, coincidentally, begin when my current job ended.”
Steinberg has worked in essentially the same department with the same organization ever since. Fortunately, no two days, let alone 24 seasons, are the same in the NBA.
“Each season is its own entity and has its own story.”
Depending upon the time of year, Steinberg’s job responsibilities can vary. “I divide my job into four parts. There is the traditional media role, where I help the players handle their media obligations, pitch story ideas, write press releases, etc. Then there is the game night role, where I make sure that the media covering the game have the resources they need, as well as handle player and coach ticket allocations.
“I’m also the de facto Hawks historian, so in cases of jersey retirements or special events – like the upcoming 50th season in Atlanta celebration – I provide stories and information regarding the history of the team. Then there is the ‘do whatever you need to do’ part of the job, which is exactly what it sounds like – doing whatever needs to be done to get the job done.”
Despite the long days and grueling road trips with the team, Steinberg understands that he is in a unique position. “I have been through three different ownership groups, multiple general managers and coaches, and I have been fortunate to last as long as I have. My love, loyalty and passion for my job has kept me from burning out. The names and faces may have changed, but the Hawks are still a great organization to work for.”
It is under the constant specter of change that Steinberg has been able to learn his most valuable lesson. “Be willing to adjust and adapt to anything. Trends change, technology changes – nothing stays the same.”
Thinking back to his time at Radford University, Steinberg realizes he may not be where he is today without those four years – yes, he did graduate on time – and those who helped him along the way.
“My time at Radford University, it was more than just fun,” he says. “It laid the foundation of who I am today. I became a much more well-rounded person. It was a special time in my life.
“I cannot stress how much of an impact Mike and Rick have had on my career. When I think of Radford University, I think of them.”