Gersson Rosas rolled his head back and chuckled after hearing the question: How did being Latino affect his ability to land jobs in basketball?
It was as if all those slights had flashed in his mind at that instant.
“Sometimes it doesn’t make sense,” Rosas said. “Sometimes you’d get, ‘You’re overqualified.’ The response to what happened is not very transparent, but that’s life. There’s a lot of things that happen that you don’t understand or have control over. You can get bitter and get upset and get frustrated or you can get better.”
The Timberwolves president, hired less than two months ago, said he wouldn’t be where he is if he had chosen the former path. The only Latino to hold this high a position in the NBA, Rosas just completed his first draft and is headed toward his first free-agent season in his new role.
His path to Minnesota was not a traditional one in basketball circles, both personally and professionally. He and his parents migrated to the United States from Colombia when he was 3. They settled in Houston, where Rosas found his love of basketball and a city he embraced.
He went to the University of Houston and worked for the Rockets for 17 years. Along the way, he held almost every job possible on the basketball side of a franchise. He interviewed for multiple GM jobs, and even held one briefly in Dallas. That was all leading up to this moment for Rosas, an opportunity to run a franchise, a chance that has come at the culmination of a unique basketball life. It’s one he doesn’t want to squander. Not just for himself, but for those who took a chance on him and other Latinos who may come after him.
“It’s definitely the road less traveled, and the odds are stacked against you,” Rosas said. “Being an immigrant in this country … it’s almost a responsibility, if somebody is willing to give you those opportunities, as an immigrant, a person coming into this country, you want to make the country proud.”
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich was a tough idea for Rosas and his parents to wrap their heads around. A sandwich? With peanut butter and jelly on it? What sorcery was this?
“There is no peanut butter and jelly sandwich in Colombia,” Rosas said. “That’s not part of our culture.”
It’s an example of how complicated the assimilation process can be, especially when it came to mastering English, which Rosas and his parents began studying upon their move to Houston. The move had its trying moments, especially as it related to the family they left behind in Colombia.
“The opportunity in this country is incredible, and it’s worth the sacrifices that are made, but it’s not easy,” Rosas said. “It’s language. It’s culture, it’s family. Communication isn’t where it’s at today. I remember taping holiday greetings, Christmas greetings to our family in Colombia on an old tape and mailing it over so they could have it and receiving tapes back and forth. That piece of culture and family was different.”
But it was a move parents Leonardo, an entrepreneur, and Gloria, who worked in public relations, made to maximize their careers and opportunities for Gersson and his three brothers. Sports played a big part on both sides of his family. His father played soccer while his mom’s side played a lot of basketball. Hoops eventually rubbed off on Rosas, and in high school he made up his mind to pursue a career of it — and he found a path in scouting and player development.
Thanks in large part to one of his mentors, current Utah Jazz executive vice president Dennis Lindsey, he was able to land a job in the Rockets organization a few years after interning there and then returned to the team after dabbling in coaching at the high school and college levels. He stayed when Daryl Morey took over in 2007 and turned the Rockets into a cutting-edge franchise renowned for the use of analytics and player development.
Rosas left briefly for the Mavericks job in 2013 but came back to Houston when it wasn’t the right fit, a risky move considering the times he wondered if he’d ever get an opportunity like that again.
“I always had faith that I would be at the right place,” Rosas said. “For all the nos that I got, it helped me understand the yes when it came. … With what we have here, I couldn’t be happier to know this is where I was supposed to be.”
To Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, one of the best things about the NBA is building relationships. Sometimes you work with people and then you may not anymore, but when you reconnect, it’s like no time has passed. That’s the kind of relationship D’Antoni said he’ll likely have with Rosas.
“He does a great job of asking about your family, checking our guys to make sure their mental health and the way people interact with each other develops a culture that leads to winning,” D’Antoni said. “I appreciated that, and he’s very good at that.”
Rosas spent time working closely with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2014 and 2016 with USA Basketball, and Krzyzewski also counts Rosas as a good friend.
“I know whenever I talk to him, whatever he says is the truth,” Krzyzewski said. “He knows the same thing for me and there’s no hidden agendas. … You look for those people in whatever profession you’re in, and those are the people you want to deal with.”
Relationships are the crux of how Rosas wants to operate the Wolves. Open dialogue, valuing different voices and coming to a consensus. And he values voices that may not have always had access to the NBA. Rosas would like to pay his success forward. Hopefully, his climb up the ladder will make it a little easier for Latinos and people of diverse backgrounds to gain entry into an NBA career.
“A lot of people have helped me get to this point, and because of that I have a responsibility to help others,” Rosas said. “We have such a special fraternity in the NBA, people that have been supportive of me. I need to help build a strong base, not only for Latinos but other individuals who want to be involved in the NBA.”
His success is not lost on other Latinos in the league.
“Gersson is just another example of how much opportunity exists in the NBA for people from any background if you put the time and dedication in to your passion,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said. “Gersson understands the importance of being a role model for the Latino community both within the basketball world and world at large.”
One of Rosas’ early jobs included translating for agents who were trying to broker deals for players with European teams. When he worked with USA Basketball, he had precise knowledge of the international teams the Americans were facing.
“We’re playing against the top teams in the world, he’s right on target with his analysis of each team and guy,” Krzyzewski said.
D’Antoni experienced the same when he worked with Rosas in Houston. To him, it was no accident Rosas was such a keen evaluator of talent, especially with overseas players.
“We all have life experiences that we might know it at the time that prepares us for what becomes the future,” D’Antoni said. “He knows the international players where they might view a new experience and how they can fit in to the culture of the NBA. But his biggest asset is developing a family-type atmosphere that I think is probably underrated in the NBA. It goes a long way to success.”
Basketball, Colombia, Houston and now Minnesota. Family has taken on different shapes for Rosas. His family’s migration to America led to a career in basketball. People he worked with in the Rockets and USA Basketball became close friends. Now, there’s a family to form with the Wolves. There are also games to win, but building that kind of familiarity with the Wolves can help with that.
“I see the passion and desire for this organization to do something that hasn’t been done,” Rosas said. “They’ve had successes, they’ve had failures, they’ve had challenges, but this market and this fan base, they want something meaningful that has staying power, and that’s our motivation right now.”