Brett Greenberg knew when he was in high school that his love for basketball was not going to translate into any sort of playing career. After being cut a couple of times from the varsity team at McDonogh, he started on a different path with hopes of becoming a coach.
In the Wizards’ recent restructuring in which longtime assistant general manager Tommy Sheppard was promoted to replace team president and GM Ernie Grunfeld, who was fired after last season, Greenberg was named assistant GM for strategy and analytics.
Fellow McDonogh graduate Ben Eidelberg, who has worked for the Wizards since graduating from Maryland in 2015, was promoted to manager of basketball strategy and analytics.
“Being able to take the lead on so many of the things they’ve been able to do speaks volumes about them and what they’re capable of,” Sheppard said. “To literally create a strategy department, Brett’s vision and him helping so much in the analytic area and start figuring out contracts and doing things in a much bigger and meaningful way, he’s been fantastic on the charge.”
Greenberg’s journey began when he became a volunteer assistant at Villa Julie (now Stevenson University) during his senior year in high school, then continued as an undergraduate at Duke, where he worked three years as a manager for legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski and spent his senior year breaking down game film for the Blue Devils.
“I always looked at basketball as my major,” said Greenberg, who actually received a sociology degree in 2008.
By then, Greenberg changed his goal from coaching — and following his grandfather, Bill Lewis, a longtime high school coach and athletic director in Baltimore — to working for an NBA team’s front office as a salary cap specialist.
“Growing up in Baltimore, it tends to be Terp Central and not as many NBA fans,” Greenberg, now 33, recalled recently. “I grew up an NBA fan. It’s kind of been in my genes. I grew up coming to Bullets games and Wizards games.”
Greenberg, who spent one year out of college working for the Miami Heat as an assistant video coordinator before getting a similar position with the Wizards, eventually got his chance to use his “obsession” with the salary cap to further his career when he moved to the front office in 2013.
Greenberg, who was the team’s vice president for basketball analytics and salary cap management before being elevated to assistant GM, first met his new boss when Sheppard was at a practice in Durham scouting a few of Krzyzewski’s players.
“I’m just living my dream every day by getting to work for the team I grew up loving and then also working for someone like Tommy who brought me here,” Greenberg said. “Ernie was great for my career. He did amazing things for me [in] how I got from the video room to the front office.”
Greenberg’s journey took shape during his junior year at Duke when he found a website called CBAFAQ.com, which broke down the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Larry Coon, who started the website and whom Greenberg calls “a legend,” explained the salary cap in terms Greenberg could understand.
“I still thought I wanted to coach, but when I started studying the salary cap rules, just a light bulb went off,” he said. “I think we all reach a point, especially our senior year, where we get tired of studying things and taking classes about things that we don’t think is going to be applicable to us. I just became obsessed about knowing everything about the NBA salary cap rules.”
Greenberg thought he was ready to go right from Duke to working on the salary cap for an NBA team.
“I was pretty naïve back then, when I was sending my resume out to teams telling people I had this video experience and I knew the salary cap and I want to work in your front office,” Greenberg said. “Teams were nice. They said, ‘You know the cap, you have video experience, so go into the video room and spend 20-hour days [breaking down film] and we’ll see if you can make it out.' ”
What helped Greenberg was his familiarity with a computer program that at the time was cutting edge for basketball coaches looking to break down film. Greenberg had used it at both Villa Julie and Duke, and the Heat and Wizards were among the first NBA teams to use it as well.
Though Eidelberg, a fellow Baltimorean, was a much better basketball player than Greenberg — he made the varsity team at McDonogh as a junior, then missed his senior year because of an injury — he knew early on that his interest in the game was more in putting teams together than playing or coaching.
“When I would play video games as a kid, I just wanted to make all the trades. I wasn’t even concerned about really playing the game as much,” recalled Eidelberg, 26. “I just wanted to do free agency, do the trades, manipulate the rosters and then let the rest figure itself out.”
After spending four years as a manager for coach Mark Turgeon’s teams at Maryland, including head manager as a senior, Eidelberg spent a year as a Terps graduate assistant while getting his master’s in marketing analytics.
Eidelberg then got a job with the Wizards working under Greenberg, whom he had first met while attending a summer camp Greenberg’s grandfather established, and later doing his senior project his last three weeks at McDonogh. He periodically returned to the Wizards throughout college to do whatever he could, including serving as a ballboy for several games.
“I knew Brett was working with the Wizards, and I said, ‘Why not leverage this into something I ultimately want to do?’ ” Eidelberg said of his first contact in the spring of 2011. “I was able to assist him in the video room doing [NBA] draft edits. It set me up to get something with Maryland because I got some experience with Synergy, the computer software.”
Eidelberg, who joined the Wizards front office after finishing his master’s and now works directly with Greenberg on the salary cap and analytics, thinks back to his days playing “NBA 2K” and how it led to his current position.
“To be an even a small part of that when I first started, to see myself be more involved today, it’s everything I’ve always wanted to do,” Eidelberg said. “I have to pinch myself sometimes because I can remember being 10 years old in my basement, clicking on a controller and not really understanding the mechanics of the salary cap, hoping to acquire a certain player. Now here I am and it’s actually happening, just no controller and more informed decision.”
The best move Eidelberg made in his basement was signing a then-aging future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan as his team’s mid-level exception.
“I remember not exactly understanding how it worked, but that certain veterans were willing to accept this exception when I didn’t have any cap room,” Eidelberg recalled. “I didn’t understand how, but he took it. I spent hours manipulating the roster.”
Eidelberg said the experience he had in College Park helped with what he has done with the Wizards.
“Especially in a front office position, I have a certain appreciation for the college level,” Eidelberg said. “Especially being a manager and living in The Varsity [apartment complex] with some of the players, you kind of see things that a coach might not see or you understand what might be going on behind the scenes. And just the everyday grind of a college basketball season set me up well for what I needed to do at the next level.”
Greenberg said working so closely again with Eidelberg brings him back to when he was in the video room and Eidelberg was a senior in high school.
“It’s kind of cool that it’s full circle now,” Greenberg said. “He’s going to be a big part of the strategy and analytics department that we’re expanding. He was with us every step of the way through free agency and the draft. He’s got his imprint on a lot of things. He’s got a really, really bright future.”
Said Sheppard: “Like Brett, Ben is someone who we’re certainly growing up behind him to be really valuable. They’ve been tremendous. The most impressive thing is their dedication is fantastic.”
Greenberg looks forward to the Wizards coming full circle, too. The last time the franchise won an NBA championship was as the Washington Bullets in 1978 — eight years before Greenberg was born.
“The dream is to win a championship one day and hug my mom and hug my dad in the stands,” Greenberg said. “This is so much of my childhood memories to begin with and then just having our collective group, knowing that we were able to do something special for the city and the fan base. That for me is the ultimate dream, to bring a parade to Washington.”