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With Baltimore roots running deep, Adam Neuman finds a new path as Big Ten’s chief of staff

Adam Neuman’s New York office is a shrine to his Baltimore childhood.

There’s a glass-enclosed and autographed jersey of Ed Reed and signed mementos from other legendary athletes like Johnny Unitas, Earl Monroe and Michael Phelps, as well as Brooks and Frank Robinson. There’s a piece of the floor and two chairs from Maryland’s Cole Field House, as well as a ticket stub from the first game at Comcast Center (now Xfinity Center). Even the old Bullets, who left town long before the 29-year-old Neuman was born, have their own special place.

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But Neuman’s prized possession, along with a bat signed by Frank Robinson, is draped over the back of his desk chair: a jersey of the late Len Bias.

“His being an under-recruited kind of guy that just started dominating, hearing things like when he and Michael Jordan were on the court together, it wasn’t clear who was better, that’s pretty inspiring,” Neuman said recently. “A lot of my heroes are people that I never met."

The Ravens, Orioles and Terps decor wouldn’t be so unusual if it weren’t located in the Big Ten’s New York office, where Neuman recently began work as the conference’s new chief of staff for strategy and operations.

A 2018 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School who recently worked as an attorney for a prestigious Wall Street firm, Neuman joined the conference officially on Jan. 2, one of the first hires made after Kevin Warren took over as the league’s commissioner following the retirement of Jim Delany.

Asked how he balances his passion for Maryland ― his parents graduated from the school and still have season’s tickets for men’s basketball — and his responsibilities with the Big Ten’s 13 other teams, Neuman said he will take an “expansive” approach.

“There’s always more room in my heart,” he said.

Unlikely journey

Neuman’s path to his current position is not typical in college athletics.

The youngest of three brothers, he played sports growing up in Pikesville and was named the Most Valuable Player on his high school basketball team at the since-closed Yeshivat Rambam, a Jewish day school in Baltimore.

“I was solid, a good shooter,” he said.

The ties to sports came from his parents, particularly his father, Craig.

“I think athletics has always played a huge part in my life,” Neuman said. “My father played basketball with me always when I was young. It was like a routine Sunday: We’d shoot hundreds of jump shots at the [Jewish Community Center]. My parents were huge fans of the Orioles, the Ravens and Maryland.”

What captured Neuman’s interest was the effort his childhood heroes gave on the basketball court.

“You’d watch a game and you’d watch people giving 100%,” he said. “You’d watch people diving into the stands, throwing the ball back in and running back and blocking a shot. That was something that was very inspirational to me, as a life lesson. Sports always spoke to me that way.”

Neuman credits his father, who has run a Baltimore accounting firm for the past 29 years, for helping him to see a future in sports outside the lines. Earlier this month, Neuman was part of a panel discussion in New York where he was asked whether his Big Ten job was the greatest honor of his life.

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“I thought it was a very powerful question,” Neuman recalled. “I said, ‘I do believe it’s one of the greatest honors of my life.' Being attached to Kevin Warren is truly a dream, and being able to assist the Big Ten with major social change and improving the lives of student-athletes is just an incredible opportunity. But the greatest honor of my life is being my father’s son.”

Craig Neuman isn’t completely surprised by the direction his youngest son took.

“It’s not surprising that he’s doing something that is off the beaten path" for a recent law school graduate, the elder Neuman said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He’s always been a creative thinker — I wouldn’t say a nonconformist, but one that doesn’t just accept the way life comes at him. … But it was something that he was going to achieve, with his will to work and his will to create.”

Big Ten connection

It was an internship during law school that led Adam Neuman to his current position.

The summer job was with the Minnesota Vikings, where Warren, a licensed attorney himself, was the team’s chief operating officer. As an undergraduate at Yeshiva University in New York, Neuman wrote speeches for the university president and was allowed to attend meetings of the school’s board of trustees.

One of the trustees was Mark Wilf, who, along with his brother, Zygi, owned the Vikings.

“I used to bug him, ‘I’m going to come work for your team,'” Neuman recalled. “We had this little cat-and-mouse [game] for almost two years, on and off at these trustee meetings. I would see him at various events, and finally he said, ‘I’m going to let you interview, but I can’t hire you [personally], but he put me in touch with Commissioner Warren. That was our first conversation."

Neuman was hired as an intern by the team’s legal department. During his time with the Vikings, he performed several roles and showed both versatility and his deep-rooted work ethic. Eventually, Neuman’s long hours at the internship got him noticed by the Big Ten’s future commissioner.

Warren and Neuman would often be "the last people in the building at Minnesota,” Neuman said. “I wasn’t leaving before he was.”

And Neuman knew that Warren was someone he wanted to work for someday.

“It was more, ‘I wonder where he’s headed?’ ” Neuman said. “He’s interesting and he’s doing such life-changing things. It was never, ‘Let me hitch my star to this wagon.’ I just really enjoyed being around him.”

Neuman appreciated Warren’s interest in the fact that this young law student was an Orthodox Jew, meaning he had certain dietary restrictions and couldn’t work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, no matter the team’s schedule. Neuman had also spent nearly two years after high school studying the Talmud, the body of Jewish law and teachings, in Israel.

“He knew that I kept Kosher because I was eating lettuce with the players every day, and they thought it was the funniest thing in the entire world,” Neuman said. “He didn’t think it was funny. He would say, ‘You’re not eating anything.’ He would buy me nuts. He would find the Kosher certifications. These are things that no one does. No one was doing this for me in law firms.”

The most memorable instance came when Warren took Neuman to a local pancake house one morning for breakfast. As usual, Neuman couldn’t eat anything on the menu.

“Kevin went to the back of the restaurant, found the chef, and 25 minutes later, the chef came out with three pieces of lox in a double-wrapped thing with the star K — for kosher — on it,” Neuman recalled. “We found out later that the restaurant didn’t have that. He had inspired them to leave the restaurant, find it in a store, bring it back and serve it to me. That was the level of detail that Kevin Warren goes to take care of people. That’s pretty sensational.”

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Said Warren: “Everyone who I meet, I try to meet them where they are.”

Getting to work

Warren, considered an unconventional choice to succeed Delany when his hiring was announced this past fall, looks at Neuman’s background as an attorney as just the starting point for his evolving duties with the conference.

“There’s so many different things that I want to accomplish from a work standpoint for the benefit of the conference,” Warren said during an interview last month at the Big Ten’s headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois. “To really be able to scale your efforts, you really need to get young, talented, energetic people who can do that. Adam is one of them.

“I always start with the people, the heart of the person, their integrity and the intellectual capabilities that they have. I don’t see it as a nontraditional hire. I’m just always looking for opportunities to get the best people in the best positions to grow and build the business.”

Coincidentally, one of Neuman’s duties has been accompanying Warren on his around-the-league tour to visit with every Big Ten team, coach and athlete in the coming months. Their first trip happened to be last month at Indiana, on the weekend the Maryland men’s basketball team beat the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall in a down-to-the-wire game.

“It was my first time at a Maryland basketball game where I was not rooting for Maryland,” Neuman said. “That was a really interesting point of inflection of me because of my affinity for the state and also because of the fact that I had gone to so many games and had cheered for them for so many years.

“But I’m in a role now where I’m really treating all 14 teams equally and I’m doing everything in my power to just do what’s best for the conference, and that includes being even and fair-handed in all things I do. I just look forward to Maryland playing in the Sweet 16, playing against some [Southeastern Conference] opponent.”

He paused.

“Then I’ll be able to put my Maryland jersey on and be super excited about that."

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