• Joe Tertzakian

By (Big) Joe Tertzakian | My life - the great ride so far, lessons, tidbits and ideas for ALL


Preface by Janx....

I remember the large fellow that used to stand behind the Brisbane Bullets bench on all their road trips.

We all thought he was the owner, as he seemed to just carry himself a certain way. Despite his weight he still had that air of regal leadership about him.

PICTURED: Joe back in the day at the Gold Coast Blaze. Legend of the game, loved by all, brings successful culture where ever he goes.

Years later, recently, I was lucky enough to work with this same man. Joe is someone that you hear so much good stuff about you just wonder if it is all true. The work ethic, the care for others by actions, sometimes a tough talker, you know you don't want to cross him but that is the qualities of a great leader sometimes. As our Operations Manager, Manager, Leader whatever for our U18 State team he was outstanding. I place the positive experience we provide athletes with as almost as important as winning. We have to develop talent and if the kids love their experience and get great value from the journey they are going to work harder to experience that again and will continue to love the game, which will greatly aid in their development in my view. That was the case with our state group that Joe was involved with in 2017. In our exit interviews all players that had done state before rated it as their most enjoyable state experience and those that had not done nationals before stated it was their best basketball experience so far. I personally credit Joe for a lot of this as well as the players and the rest of my staff on that trip

PICTURED: Joe with the U18 SA Metro Men's team in the 2017. Phenomenal work ethic, outstanding leader of men, organisation plus and outdoes himself each day in the kitchen. "Get out of my kitchen!"

Joe told us at our first meeting when we arrived at our accommodation: "If you do the right thing, keep it real, you are going to have the times of your lives." That we all did and Joe was one of the key reasons why the journey was valued by ALL. Delivering on his promise against a backdrop of some on court struggles was even more challenging but he did deliver. Everything went like clockwork. Players were on time to meetings, focussed on the off court processes throughout, the meals were awesome, no one was allowed to help with the cleaning, players were happy, it was a great vibe. What are the key things he does to create this environment? Any ideas that team managers could apply?

I remember at our technical meeting Joe in his normal comedic self says as we get out the car, quoting Ron Burgandy, "watch me, I'm kind of a big deal." I crack up laughing, what a funny comment. I soon realise that whilst he was messing around he was also right. We are quickly greeted in the foyer by Paul Maley (GM of Basketball Australia) who beelines towards Joe for a handshake/hug and chat. I head upstairs whilst he and Maley chew the fat, I'm hanging with the other SA coaches. Joe walks in and all eyes turn on him. Watching this guy work the room is Presidential at times, everyone knows who he is and most know him personally. The Basketball Australia peeps speak, Joe gets singled for a mention in the meeting which was funny. Post meeting we want to make a quick getaway but Joe is again holding court, people from ALL OTHER STATES are all standing around him looking up while he talks, converses and jokes around. I laugh to myself and come to the conclusion he "is kind of a big deal." That is how the week went when Joe was at the stadium. Everyone wanted to talk to the guy, from NBL greats like Mark Bradtke/Mark Worthington etc, through to elderly administrators that were OAM recipients. How did he become so well-known and respected through the upper echelons of the Australian basketball community?

Since he has arrived at the 36ers as GM of Operations & Basketball, it seems from the outside looking in, the franchise has completely turned around, on court and off. It has become one of the programs people want to be in, players are so well looked after and supported, but respect and performance is demanded. You know whilst he is a great guy, you don't want to cross Joe, you want to do the right thing by him as he does for you, you want to perform at your best, he stands by what he says and backs up words with actions. He had the whirlwind with the 36ers of having one of the top High School prospects out of the United States in Terrence Ferguson join the team and managing every NBA scout, GM and other staff that wanted to check him out. Then you have Mitch Creek, Nathan Sobey and at times Majok Deng developing and hitting NBA radars and Anthony Drmic's growth through the year made it seem the 36ers is a place where players grow and excel.

The culture and vibe on game night is phenomenal this year, the 36er events the best run they have ever been. Joe, and of course his team of staff and volunteers, is a huge part of that.

Can't wait to hear about it all.

The 36ers are not the first time he has helped to transform an organisation or program and I am intrigued to get any secrets and tidbits with how he does, hear about his values and what he plans to do into the future.

Over to Joe……

Well that an introduction that was, and I truly thank Janx for the opportunity to write this blog and give you all an idea of a bit of the life of Big Joe.

I apologise now if this is very lengthy, but I promise you if you stick with it, it’ll be a great read.

My growth – in size and developing a love for the game growing up

So at the time of me writing this, I am fully recovered from a series of procedures including excess skin removal (13kg) and liposuction (8 Litres) resulting in a whopping 176kg weight loss in just under 3 years.

How did my love for the game develop and how did I get so big?

My battle with weight hasn’t been a secret. I have to wind the clock right back to the end of high school and the start of university. Throughout school, like every other kid in the world at that time, I idolised Michael Jordan. I sacrificed my weekends, I never went out to parties, I never drank underage but instead traded all that for practicing my free-throws and playing in the now famous Joe-Dome.

The Joe-Dome was a purpose build basketball shed made of besser-bricks with NBA spring-loaded heavy-duty rings drilled right through these bricks. So strong, you could hang a car of these, it was indoors, had lightning, a sound system, several couches, a fridge and it was 2-on-2 full court from midnight until the sun came up. The only catch was the court was 12m x 12m square and the rings were 9 foot! It was brutal but it was a hell of a work out and far better than drinking, drugs and partying. Lucky I lived on 5 acres and the court was way way out the back so my parents had no issues with our Jam-Sessions.

However, once school finished and I went to Uni, things started to change. I played less and drank more. I started working at at a restaurant and slowly but surely the weight started packing on. I ended up having to stop playing all together because of back issues and that’s when the weight really ballooned. However I loved the game so much, I took up team managing. My first ever team manager gig was the Southern Districts Spartans Under 20 men’s team that went up to the State Champs in Townsville. I have Eric Bailey as head coach and my team starred none other than Ben Thompson.

PICTURED: Joe, always loving the camera. He has a complex and involved leadership role, that he thrusts his whole life into, with the both the Adelaide 36ers, Adelaide Lightning and all involved with those organisations as the current Deputy Chief Executive Officer.

From local team manager into the NBL, and beginning one of the most successful working relationships/friendships in the NBL

From there, I managed the Spartans Under 18 & Under 20 mens teams for a long long time and was very good at it. During that time, I got involved at ABA level and Paul Mellet (Spartans head coach and Brisbane Bullets assistant coach) mentioned to me that the Bullets were looking for a manager and if I was interested. At that time, I was the game DJ of the Bullets games and really did enjoy that, however the chance to get involved in management with the Bullets was too good to refuse. I came into that role midway through the season and two-games in, the head coach at the time, Richard Orlick was fired and none other than Joey Wright was brought in and that was the start of what’s been probably one of the longest working relationships in professional sports in Australia.

Make no mistake; it wasn’t all roses and butterflies though. Joey was going to fire me at the end of that season after I did treat him pretty poorly. I felt allegiance to the Orlick/Mellet coaching group as they gave me my start in the NBL however, I now know how I acted was wrong and we still look back at it together and have a good laugh. I guess a strong indication of our relationship right now.

PICTURED: One of the NBL's most successful working partnerships/friendships. Coach Joey as the Head Coach, Joe as the Operations Manager... now Deputy CEO. Source: Sunshinecoastdaily.com

The Bullets: Building a winning program

From there we worked at the Bullets together for 9 seasons, won an NBL Championship in 2007 with arguably the best NBL team EVER including a 21 game win streak which I think will never be broken. The team that season really epitomises what we’re about. Just treat people right, they will be happy and then they’ll perform. It’s pretty simple. That camaraderie in that group was something special but not only between the players, but their wives/partners, their kids and the front office. It was really amazing how it all just clicked. There was ZERO arguing, bitching and whinging within this group. It was others first, me second and that showed in the team’s success.

PICTURED: Up there with the best NBL teams of all time. Matter of time before this is replicated down here in Adelaide, we feel. Source: smh.com.au

Wild (and dangerous) ride in Cyprus

In March of 2008, the Brisbane bullets folded and Joey and I ended up going to Cyprus together as coach and manager of Team Apoel. Considered one of the top-three glamour clubs in Cyprus with the owner being named the richest man in Cyprus (once being released from prison!) What an amazing life experience that turned out to be. We nearly died twice, we got spat on by fans, we incited a riot at out home venue, our bus was attacked on our way out of a game in another city and corruption was rife with a lot of euro passing through brown paper bags in and around the change rooms and carparks, but it all added to the life experience.

It also brought home just how lucky we truly are here in Australia and just how good our quality of basketball here is. Bear in mind, this was 2008 and it was very funny how little respect they gave the Australian League. We always talked about Chris Goulding heading over there and putting on a show for them with his flamboyant style, flare and creativity. One of the highest paid players in our team earned 15,000 Euro per month and was probably half the player Chris was back in 2008! Not to say he’s lost any game since though!

It also taught Joey and I that there’s more to life than wins and losses. Some of those near life experiences (ok, maybe I’m being a little dramatic) but let me tell you, when you and 30 other people/players are confined to the bathrooms as it’s the safest place in a riot and you can hear the stadium being torn apart, it brings back to reality how precious life can be.

When we got home from that game we both just sat in the driveway in the car together for over an hour in dead silence. It was earie.

The Gold Coast Blaze and another one folds

From Cyprus, we both ended up at back on home soil , forty minutes south from our previous stint with the Bullets and found a home with the newly created franchise, the Gold Coast Blaze for 4 seasons.

The Gold Coast, considered by many to the Australia’s version of Las Vegas lived up to all that hype and some! Big houses, fancy cars, living on the water, jet skies, theme parks, nightlife and of course, pretty guys and girls!

All possible distractions to any person let alone professional athletes, but the groups we had during this time were exceptional. They were focused and one season, the group was even mature enough to put on a self-imposed drinking ban leading into the playoffs.

In all the years I’ve worked with Joey, we have never implemented a curfew nor drinking ban, however they players did their own and it nearly paid off however we were bowed out in the semi finals.

In the 2012 off-season Jason Cadee (Blaze Player) and Daniel Meers (Blaze Media Manager) and I embarked on a huge US/Mexico holiday and during that time away, we were hit with the news that the Gold Coast Blaze ownership group weren’t able to continue on and the team folded too. From that point Joey went onto the 36ers and I chose to look for some stability in the work place.

Stability (of sorts)

After a couple of months on the sideline, I started working at Brisbane Basketball Inc., a basketball association in Brisbane and eventually accepted a role with Basketball Queensland as its Regional Services Manager. After that contract ran out, I took the top job at Ipswich Basketball Association where I had HUGE plans for that place. It’s a goldmine waiting to explode however despite all good intentions, some things are just not workable, and I left after 8 short weeks and took up the CEO’s position at Darwin Basketball Association for the next 16 months before being lured back into the NBL thanks to then CEO of Adelaide 36ers, Guy Hedderwick as its General Manager of Operations & Basketball (plus the Adelaide Lightning and the Titanium Security Arena) in July 2016.

During my first season with the 36ers/Lightning/Titanium there was an ownership change which resulted in senior management change also which has ultimately ended up with my being recently named Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Adelaide 36ers with a succession plan of taking over the role in full rights towards the end of the current season.

My body Transition

During all this time, I had a constant battle with weight. The biggest I got out to was a massive 275kg, probably at the time I started with the Bullets and when the Blaze folded. When you’re in the limelight of the NBL coupled with my personality and “larger than life” aura, you develop a little bit of a celebribyesk attitude. You’re on TV. Everyone knows who you are. You can’t walk down the street without people recognising you. All that naturally makes a person feel good about themselves, no matter the size, colour or gender. That’s human nature really. But you take that all away in one swift blow, and it can bring you down to earth… REAL QUICK!

Simon Kerle and Sam Mackinnon were very brutal with me regarding my weight. Simon once said to me “I don’t care if you die Joe! I certainly won’t be going to your funeral, because if you don’t care about yourself, why should I?

Sam was equally brutal at times however the penny still never dropped. The first real time I made a choice to do something about my weight was my second year with the Blaze. Living on the Gold Coast with so much “plastic” around you, a 275kg person is certainly not making the most of living in paradise! So during the off-season, I engaged not one but two personal trainers. Ashy Bines and Steve Evans, who are both celebrity PT’s on the GC were entrusted with my life and they kickstarted my journey. Hill walks, boxing, beach walks, circuits and much more, six mornings a week for 3 months and I was making a huge difference in my life. They were great for me, then the season started, and I needed to adjust timings which never worked out in the end.

Adam Gibson then took it upon himself to be the caring one as we lived together for several years. I knew he cared, but did not realise how much. I only found out very late in the process that he had contacted my two PT’s and offered to pay for me to continue, thinking it was a financial decision that I stopped training.

PICTURED: Good mates. Joe credits his former housemate Gibbo with being the main instigator in his shape change. Source: botinagy.com

I guess in looking back to where I am now, at 99kg and actually living life, walking, going out, dressing nice, mingling with members of the opposite sex, getting in and out of cars, wearing a seat belt, not having to buy two seats when I fly and so on, the lesson here is, you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it! Understand that you will always have people around you who care and whilst their advice may not sound like good advice, it usually is because they are telling you these things because they care.

Building a winning program again with the Adelaide 36ers

Culture is a term usually thrown around willy, nilly. But I don’t believe you build culture, I believe you develop culture. There is a difference. Culture is reflective of the person you are. So if you’re a good person, your culture will reflect that. If you treat people right, your culture will reflect that. And throw in a little bit of humility and you have a solid foundation for great culture.

I have a reputation of simply “treating people right.” Sure there are some instances where I’ve let people who are friends, associates and/or players down but it’s not on purpose and its certainly not maliciously intended. Trust, Loyalty, Respect. Three simply pillars that develop unquestioned culture both on the court and in the front office.

Lastly, never be afraid or proud to say “sorry.”

PICTURED: Big Joe welcoming recent NBA first round draft pick and trailblazer, of elite High School into the NBL, Terrence Ferguson to the Adelaide 36er's home, theTitanium Arena.

Future goals and aspirations

Like players and coaches who all strive to make it in the NBA, I, as an administrator in senior management have the same goals. To run and NBA team would be and amazing opportunity and challenge as a professional. They are the benchmark of basketball in the world and there’s so much to learn from them.

Team manager’s bible – a small bonus for all the team managers out there

  • Being a team manager to me has always been a passion. I simply love serving people, giving them an experience, treating them right and looking out for them as human beings and people, not just as basketballers. All this can only be achieved properly and consistently by adapting one word. Humble.

  • Know the Job – understand that the 10 days you’re away, you are “working” and you’re not on holidays. You will be the last to go to sleep and the first to wake for 10 straight days on maybe 5 – 6 hours sleep only. Prepare for that mentally and physically.

  • Cook more, Eat out less – these thigns cost a lot of money so the more you cook in, then more you save these kids

  • Kids will be kids – allow them to be themselves. Most of them are young individuals so you have to give them grace

  • Be authoritive – unfortunately, you can’t be “friends” with them. You need to maintain an authoritive persona with them but find that happy balance between friendship and authorative figure

  • Support your coaches at all times – you don’t have to agree with your coaches decisions but you have to support them

  • Communication – communication fixes everything at all levels. Communication with players, coaches, parents, tournament staff, team liaison and anyone who in part of your team both on and off the floor

  • Be a professional, professional – I tell this to all my NBL players. You can be professional, but being a professional, professional is what will set you apart from the rest. Take yourself to another level

  • Have fun – above all, have fun and enjoy the experience

PICTURED: Constantly growth (not in the physical sense anymore) is what Joe is about.. Be it personal growth, growth of those he works with and organisations he has a leadership role in. Source. NT news

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