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Walk-On's Intellectual Journey from Pizzas to Law

By Randy York

A walk-on quarterback who lettered at Nebraska in 2004, Garth Glissman (pictured above) was an attorney in Omaha for 6 ½ years at Kutak Rock, the largest Nebraska-based law firm. A student-athlete who also walked on for a year at Nebraska in basketball, Glissman credits both experiences for helping him become a professional lawyer who had just earned a promotion to become a partner at a law firm he truly loved.

A funny thing happened, however, when the oddest opportunity presented itself to a UNL graduate who was ready to live the dream with his wife, another Nebraska native who was equally eager to settle in the state’s largest city.

Small wonder why the Nebraska Alumni Association invited Glissman to share an exceptional story that enabled an unexpected rise to “2017 Athletic Master” status in a field that he never envisioned until contacted.

Glissman’s intellectual journey throughout his fast-moving career included a variety of skill sets and development, including nine years as a high school basketball coach before becoming an NBA (National Basketball Association) executive in New York City.

The twist through it all was simple because the NBA contacted Glissman rather than the other way around, and just like that, Nebraska’s two-sport walk-on became a senior operations director for the world’s best basketball teams.

Garth Glissman a Major Contributor During UNL’s Masters Week Primarily on UNL Campus

Something like that can only happen in America, and here’s the real kicker – instead of selling Valentino’s Pizzas inside Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, Glissman (No. 15 pictured above)   has become a major contributor for a variety of UNL audiences during Masters Week, which began Wednesday and continues through Saturday.

“When I was working with the athletic department in creating my schedule, I told them to max me out,” Glissman told me Tuesday night. “I want a chance to interact with as many student-athletes as possible and put the emphasis on student. I’m also excited to meet teachers, faculty members, coaches and administrators. I want to give students as much as I can because that was me not that long ago.

“I grew up walking around Nebraska’s campus. That’s home to me,” Glissman said. “It’s who I am, and I want give back as much as possible to help the next generation. I’m excited to max out and keep everything in perspective. Where I am today is the product of all the experiences I had at Nebraska. I was the beneficiary and want to give back. High-quality teachers, coaches, teammates and professors surrounded me. I’m in New York City working for the NBA, but I can promise you that I’m still that kid that loves Nebraska.”

Glissman Cares Deeply about Hardworking, Resourceful, Kind Nebraskans with Pride, Humility

Glissman grew up 15 minutes from Nebraska’s campus. He cares deeply about hardworking, resourceful and kind Nebraskans with the appropriate balance of pride and humility. “The University of Nebraska and its Athletic Department have represented those values in a way that has made our entire state proud,” he said. “I aim to do my part to carry on those values in my work with the NBA.”

Volunteering as the head basketball coach for two Nebraska parochial schools over a nine-year span is proof that Glissman is a giver, not a taker. He also covered hundreds of games as a broadcaster on the radio. He’s passionate about the game and loves every aspect of it.

“People ask how I made the transition from Nebraska to the NBA,” Glissman said. “I guess it’s just the combination of having two principle passions over 10 years – 1) practicing law and 2) coaching basketball. I love both aspects. I believe it’s the combination of two different experiences that gave me the opportunity to be where I am today.”

Without Law School and Coaching Experience, Glissman Would Not Be Where He Is Today

For Glissman (pictured above with 1972 Husker Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers), law school and coaching were hand-in-hand. “Without either one of those experiences, I’m not where I am today,” he said. “I draw upon the experiences I had in both places. I am genuinely interested in both parts. Doing both is a perfect fit for me. I never anticipated something like this, but when the NBA brought it up, it made total sense to me.”

Technically, Glissman’s job is NBA operations. “I use both skill sets,” he said. “I work with lawyers daily, even though I am now moved from the day-to-day practice of law.”

Operations and strategy are unique assets, and corporate recruiters look for major skill sets that reinforce research and define profiles. That description might even fit the unexpected interest in finding, then hiring Glissman.

“I’m very thankful any time you take a leap of faith like we did,” Glissman said. “I had just gotten engaged when our firm made the offer (to become a partner). I’ve always been a competitive person. My wife knows that. I came to New York willing to give everything I had in me.  At the same time, I didn’t know everything that the new job would entail. The nature of our business is the game of basketball. We’re a rapidly evolving environment, so my job continues to evolve. I’m just determined to give this great opportunity every ounce I have and to compete and lock down with no regrets.”

Football spurs Glissman’s athletic memories. As a backup quarterback who rarely played in games, he accepted a scout team role at quarterback. “It was the best opportunity for me to compete,” he said. “I loved the challenge of playing against the Blackshirts. I even loved the physical contact, regardless of how hard I got hit.

“I took pride in getting right back up,” Glissman said. “I viewed the entire experience as a great test of my physical strength. My time as the scout team quarterback instilled in me a competitive fire and the grit that I’ve used to my advantage in my professional career.”

Glissman Proud to See Name Etched in 2004 Brick Wall that Salutes Husker Letterwinners

Garth Glissman is proud to see his name etched in the 2004 brick wall that salutes all Nebraska football letterwinners. It’s a sign of how much he put into practice on a daily basis. “That’s the walk-on mentality,” he said. “That’s the home-state kid who cares about the program and always tries to give his very best.”

He is also a person of faith. “That’s how I was raised,” he said. “When I look back at all the twists and turns in my life, I’m thankful for the setbacks. Everyone plays a role, and I would turn around and do the same thing again. I’m thankful and giving this opportunity everything I possibly have every single day.”

There are days when Glissman shakes his head and thinks about pinching himself while wondering how he ended up in one of the world’s greatest financial and commercial hubs that is very close to Rockefeller Center in Manhatten.

Sometimes, he reminds himself about selling pizzas and embracing the intellectual journey. “I’m in New York City now but I’m still that young kid who walked on for one year in basketball as well,” he said. “I remember how excited I was as a kid and want to keep that excitement.”

When Glissman Was a Young Kid, He Still Knew How Important It Was to Land Tyronn Lue

“It’s part of that internal drive and desire that’s rooted into Nebraskans,” Glissman said. “It guides me in basketball just like it did in football. I’ve gone to World Championships and talked many times with (former Husker) Tyronn Lue (pictured above). On one occasion, Glissman told Lue an interesting story about meeting the now Cleveland head coach when he was just 18 years old and had committed to play at Nebraska. “I saw him play before he even suited up for Nebraska,” he recalled.

“I was in Danny Nee’s summer camp and went to Tyronn to introduce myself. I got to see him in a pick-up game when I was really young,” Glissman said. “I felt like I had some inside access, and I knew all about this 18-year-old, soon-to-be a freshman phenome.

“Sure enough, I got to see him with my own eyes in an elementary school at the time,” Glissman said. “He was a highly touted recruit who came here to play with talented guys. He was a star the moment he stepped on campus. Now his jersey is retired.”

Glissman is a product of Nebraska, a product of the University and a product of the Nebraska football and basketball programs, even though he did not letter in basketball.

“The ideas and balance I had following both programs were influential,” he said. “There was pride and humility. There was drive and determination – all the ideas we admire and the qualities we embrace to give us the enduring values that all Nebraskans want and have.” 

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