When professional athletes finish their careers at a relatively young age, some don’t — or won’t — think about what to do next. Others, like former Bulls forward Brad Sellers, pursue entirely new careers you might not expect.
I should correct one thing when referring to Sellers, though — that’s Mayor Sellers to you.
Twenty-six years ago, Sellers was the Bulls number one draft pick; fast forward to November 2011, he was elected mayor of Warrenville Heights, Ohio.
He considers himself to be more of a public official than a politician, but in a recent conversation Sellers told me, “I can be political with the best of them — after learning that in the Bulls and Pistons locker rooms.”
Sellers said his upbringing had everything to do with his new career. In 1970, parents Robert and Jean left urban Cleveland and moved to the predominantly white suburb of Warrenville Heights. They moved in part to seek out better schools. But it was a racially volatile time in America, and the transition was not easy for the family, especially for Brad and his brother, Marvin. His parents countered by becoming active in the community, attending every city council and school board meeting. Eventually, Sellers said, the community learned to respect his parents, and he learned from these experiences. “I was dragged to all the community meetings,” said Sellers, “I would be ingrained with all the conversations.”
Sellers put those lessons on the back burner while he secured his education and pursued a pro basketball career. In 1986, after finishing his college basketball career at Ohio State, Sellers heard he would likely be selected in the first round by the Detroit Pistons, with the 11th pick overall. The night of the draft, two camera crews from local Detroit stations came to his home to await the decision.
Surprisingly though, the Bulls took Sellers at number nine. He didn’t know, but the Bulls’ fan base was shocked and angry by the selection. Prior to the draft, there were some behind the scenes factions of Bulls management and players that wanted Duke’s point guard, Johnny Dawkins, and leaked it to the press.
Sellers went to a local Cleveland television station to do a live interview broadcasted in Chicago. When he went on the air, he heard the ire of the fans at the Bulls draft party — it wasn’t pretty. “I was grinning from ear-to-ear. Next thing, I hear the booing,” he recalled. “I was shelled shocked — this was supposed to be the best day in my life.”
His career in Chicago proved to be a similar roller coaster ride. He played here for three years and enjoyed his teammates, including Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but never quite fit into the system. He was a 7’1” forward with an outside jump shot who played away from the basket. This style of play was uncommon then, but is very much in vogue in the NBA today. Present Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinkney said that Sellers and then General Manager Jerry Krause “were ahead of the times.”
Since Sellers didn’t quite fit in, he asked Jordan to help him convince Bulls management he needed to be dealt. He was sent to Seattle, played in Minnesota and Detroit and finished up his career overseas.
With his playing days over and his finances secure, Sellers knew he wanted to go back home to Warrenville Heights. He played golf and was doing some sports broadcasting but he wanted to continue the work his parents had trained him to do: community service. It didn’t take long (just months after his return) for Mayor Marsha Fudge to enlist him as the economic development director. He held that job for nearly 11 years.
Then, a few years ago, Fudge moved on to become the congressional representative of the district. With the former mayor’s encouragement and Sellers desire to improve his hometown, he was easily elected mayor last November. He garnered support from all demographics: young, old, black and white. He believes his family’s ties to the community, especially the elders that were his parent’s peers, were instrumental in this win. Sellers knocked on all the homeowners’ doors when he campaigned, and even now, if a constituent sends a note or email, he will go to their door to talk.
Sellers said his top priority is improving his home town’s school system.When his family moved there, it was one of the top ten in the state; it has since dropped to the bottom five. “We didn’t evolve and the world passed us by,” said Sellers. He is aiming to get it restored to the top ten or 15. Like many areas, the recession brought rough economic times, but Sellers said they have “survived it.”
Sellers argued that working in government is like playing in the NBA: “It is no different than the politics of a locker room and you have to motivate the people because you can’t do it by yourself.”
He claimed to have no future political aspirations, having just landed the job; but there are Ohio Democrats that want more from him. During a recent campaign stop, Brad greeted President Obama at the Cleveland airport. But for now, he just wants to settle into this new job.
“I enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed going into a NBA arena,” he said. “I thought I’d never say that.”