Episode #27: Published April 30, 2019
Scott O'Neil, CEO of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, doesn't have any hobbies. He is a husband, father, NBA CEO and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who believes prioritization is not a matter of balance but of being 100 percent present wherever he may be in the moment. He is the guy who smiles and says hi to every person he passes, calling many of them by name, and the recent convert who believes we all need to do more to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"We need to do more. We need to be less insular. We need be more loving. We need to be more open. We need to be more assertive. We need to leverage social media. We need to leverage the people we know, the influence we have, and we need to do a better job because this gospel is too special and we need to do a better job sharing it."
1:46- Scott's love for sports is NOT why he loves his job
2:54- Scott O’Neil, the recreation league girls basketball coach
5:54- How Scott O’Neil became an NBA CEO
7:22- When Scott met Lisa
23:12- Scott’s decision to meet with the missionaries
32:32- Experiencing “firsts” as a new member of the Church
36:55- Why being sealed to his family was significant
39:20- Advice to other part-member families
41:18- Why Scott believes he joined the Church at the right time
43:20- Call for missionary work
44:03- Gratitude for his wife
45:58: Balancing being a husband, father, member of the Church and an NBA CEO
48:53- What it means to Scott to be “All In” the gospel of Jesus Christ
Read more about Scott's conversion here.
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Read a full transcript below.
Hi everyone! We hope you've enjoyed the "All In" podcast thus far. We promise to keep the good times coming on our end but wondered if you would be willing to do us a quick favor. If you've enjoyed what you've heard, please write us or leave a review on iTunes or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
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Lisa O'Neil has been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints her entire life. Her husband Scott O'Neil, CEO of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers was raised Catholic.
The two were married over 20 years before Scott decided to meet with the missionaries in 2016. What prepared his heart for that moment? What advice would you give to others in handling a similar situation and how has becoming a member of the church blessed his life? We find out on this week's episode of "All In."
SCOTT O'NEIL received his bachelors degree from Villanova University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.
He was previously the president of Madison Square Garden Sports and is now the CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils and Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment. He and his wife Lisa are the parents of three daughters.
This is "All In," an LDS living podcast where we ask the question what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I'm Morgan Jones and I want to invite you to listen in on a conversation I recently had with Scott O'Neil while in Philadelphia for a video shoot. I hope you enjoy it!
Morgan Jones: Alright. So Scott first of all, when did you begin to love sports?
Scott O'Neil: I have always love sports but that's not why I love what I do. I think sports is a great escape for me now like when I play sports. I still play quite a bit, as much basketball as I can possibly play over the course of a week. I play, I've coached my daughters and still coach my two youngest daughters in basketball which is my true love, one of my true joys in life. And I think that basketball, sports in general but basketball in particular, is a great teacher. And I think it teaches you how to win and how to lose and how to sacrifice of yourself for the greater good. I think it teaches you how to compete and fight for what you want. And I think it teaches you how to sweat and how to work. And I love the aspect of team that in particular team sports brings and that you're working together kind of in concert for something greater. And that's very different from what I do in my day job why I love my job. But the actual sports, that's my escapism from the world.
MJ: When you're coaching your girls in basketball, what's your biggest tip for them?
SO: Well, I have some rules. So my first time, the first game I ever coached, Alexa, my oldest who's now 19 and at UVU and is a freshman and doing great, she was five years old and and it was my first time I'd ever coached. I'm relatively intense. I'm not sure if that will come across in this video but I have a lot of intensity to me. And so I told the ref before the game and I quote, "Don't treat them like girls." In other words, let's let these girls play because I want basketball to be a teacher for them about how hard they want to work. And I think in particular life is pretty hard for girls. I have three girls, three daughters, and I see what happens in middle school and high school and it's not always good and fun and I think that support system you can get from a team is very important. So the first thing I'm always trying to drive is a love of the game. I want all of the young girls and young women who play for me to play the next year. So that's my first objective. The second thing is I want them to know that there's positive energy coming from me all the time you'll never hear me say, "You missed a shot" or "Bad pass." It's always, "You can do it," "Great look," and always very positive. But I do want them to play with intensity and grit. Now this is five year olds just so you remember. OK so I said to my girls, "Alexa, take the ball." So she took the ball, on little 6-foot rims so she dribbles down and gets a basket, the girl dribbles over, (and I say) "Take it," she takes the ball, dribbles down, gets another layup. "Amber, take the ball." Amber takes the ball, dribbles down, gets a bucket. "Anna, take it from her!" Anna takes it so we're up 8 or 10 to nothing right away and the ref is saying "Back off, back off, back off." And I said, "Guys take the ball," so Alexa takes the ball again goes down and gets a layup. Girl's dribbling down again and he's like, "Back off, back off." And I said, "Why don't you ref and why don't you let me coach?" He blew the whistle, stopped traffic. Everyone in the gym including my lovely wife Lisa was giving me the glare of death and that was the end and he said, "If I hear one more word out of you I will personally escort you out of the gym." That's the last issue I've ever had. So I never had that happen again. That was my introduction to coaching. Since then I've been coaching for 15 years, usually two teams, always my daughters'. We do not win a lot. We have a lot of fun. The girls get the name the team. Right now we're the Pandas and the Tigers, two wonderful names for basketball teams.
And I get to know who their friends are and I drive their friends to practice and back and forth to practice and we talk about how things are going at school and what the issues are and what a mean girl is saying and we talk about how you might deal with that. We equate that and kind of make that transition to "Well, it's very similar to what we're playing today. So I use basketball analogously for a lot of points of my life.
MJ: I love that. I don't think there's a better mascot than a panda.
SO: Right. I would like to see a dunking panda. I think that would be interesting.
MJ: Scott, I feel like you have a job that so many people would love to have. How were you able to kind of break into this industry?
SO: Well I think I have the greatest job in the world and I started the old fashioned way.
I mean I was at Villanova University for undergrad as a marketing major. I went to the beach for the summer after I graduated without a job, played a lot of basketball, had a lot of fun and started applying for jobs and was fortunate enough to be hired as a marketing assistant for the New Jersey Nets, they're the Brooklyn Nets now but they were the New Jersey Nets at the time. And not regarded as a championship type organization if you will, but I started when I was 22. I worked, I was making fifteen thousand dollars a year with no vacation, no benefits and no overtime, which I'm sure isn't even legal these days. And I absolutely loved it. I was living in a three bedroom apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, home of Frank Sinatra, with seven of us. So we used to rotate, one month you'd have to sleep on the couch and otherwise you'd just bunk up with your friends. So it was pretty slim pickings financially but I fell in love with the business. I was there all the time, I was the first one in the office and the last one to leave. I was fascinated by the way sports could move crowds. And I've never looked back. I've never had more fun.
MJ: It's amazing. And you met your wife how?
SO: On Mutual.com. No we didn't. There was no mutual.com then. No we wouldn't have met on Mutual.com. So Lisa was an intern.
So she had applied, she's a big basketball fan, big Jazz fan or was. And she'd applied for an internship with all 30 NBA teams and she got three offers for internships, she was at Brigham Young University at the time. So she got an internship offer at the Orlando Magic. Shaq was a rookie that year. Philadelphia 76ers where we are now. That's when the Allen Iverson era (was happening). And then the New Jersey Nets and she took the least desirable one which was New Jersey Nets, which is where I was. So when we talked about hand of God moments that's always one that I always bring up because there's no way anyone in their right mind would have chosen the Nets internship over the Philadelphia 76ers or the Orlando Magic.
MJ: And do you remember what your first impression of her was?
SO: Yes I do. So she's very beautiful now still. And I always mention to my friends she's like a Benjamin Button of women. She gets prettier every year. But she was strikingly beautiful at 21 and I was 22 and I just remember her having just kind of a special light in her eyes and good positive karma and energy. I just wanted to be around her. So I let her ease into an internship, I let her settle in for a good three or four days before I asked her out.
MJ: And then what happened after that? Tell me about your the progression of your relationship.
SO: Sure. Oh boy, you know we fell in love pretty quickly or at least one of us did. And we dated through her internship and then she went down to, there was a national sports radio station in D.C., and so she got a summer internship in D.C. so we would see each other on the weekends and then in the fall, she went back to school and then it was just a long distance.
And then the first time I saw her I think was, I might be getting my years wrong, I think it was the NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, that was when Stockton and Malone were co-MVPs and I went out my dad and my brother and we spent some time with her family. It was a pretty amazing time but I was in love, madly in love with her. And then she was applying for jobs and then she got a job with the New York Mets and she lasted one day, because the commute was like two hours on three different trains and then she kept applying for jobs and she ended up getting hired at the NBA in the league offic. And then she took me to my first sacrament meeting. It was the Spanish-speaking branch in Jersey City, New Jersey. Unfortunately, neither of us speak Spanish. So the fact that we went back the second week is really pretty special.
MJ: So let's back up just a little bit. Do you remember when you first realized or found out that she was a member of the Church?
SO: Probably pretty shortly thereafter. I mean in those days, you know I'm forty nine years old, it was not a very politically correct climate like you'd have today. So things like your background or where you're from or what religion was kind of commonly talked about in the office. So it was probably the first or second day.
MJ: With Lisa, did you have any hesitation about dating a member of the Church or when did that first become a real issue or a thing or was it ever?
SO: It was never, I never hesitated for a minute in dating her because she was a member of the Church. I mean what I was attracted to about her was just her core strength and values, her love and the strength of her family and how beautiful she was. I was young, you know. But she was beautiful inside and out. And so no, being a member the Church was never a factor for me.
MJ: Were you religious growing up?
SO: I always had a strong faith growing up. I was raised in a Catholic family. My dad was born in Bayside Queens, a lower middle class neighborhood. He always tells a story about how the six, he and his five siblings, always stayed in the same bed. So it wasn't a house of many means and the way my dad escaped from his lot in life was to become a Marist Brother, which was an order of the priests or brothers in the Catholic Church. So we grew up, I went to Catholic high school, I went to a Catholic college, went to church every Sunday. I was baptized and confirmed in that church. So I would say I had a very strong faith, a very strong testimony of Jesus Christ but I was not engaged I'd say at a level in the Church.
MJ: So now looking back, and obviously a lot has happened since then, but in retrospect why are you grateful that you chose Lisa?
SO: Well choosing Lisa and Lisa choosing me are two different things. I have not, I've never thought for a second what my life would be like if Lisa and I were not together.
I mean we've been married for 23 years and plan on spending eternity with her so I'm not sure.
I can't even fathom and imagine what life would be like without her and my three daughters and I know that, I've told her this countless times, I'm allowed to do what I do because we have this partnership. We call it Team O'Neil. We have this partnership together and she, when Alexa was born she stopped working and before that previously she had left two jobs previously so I could go to business school and then go take another job. So she sacrificed along the way and has given me strength and support and managed our house and takes the lead in raising our girls. So you know, I can't even begin to fathom what life might look like or where I would be or what I would be doing for a living. I'm just fortunate I am where I am.
MJ: Absolutely. Before you and Lisa got married I understand that you made a commitment to her in regard to religion. Can you tell me what that commitment was and how you were able to keep it over the 21 years even before you joined the Church?
SO: Sure. So we had our own version of a prenup agreement. It wasn't written but it was oral and it was a negotiation. So she has such a strong bond with her family and she grew up in Sandy, outside of Salt Lake City, and had such a strong pull to Utah. And I kept saying like my career, our life is likely going to be here, you know likely based in and around New York somewhere, somehow. That's the center of the sports and entertainment world. And so I was saying that was very important to me. And what was really important to her was that our children would be raised in the LDS Church, which I didn't have much hesitation. She had such a strong faith and conviction, there wasn't much negotiation and then my commitment to her over the top of that was I'll always be there. So I will go to the second meeting. I did not commit to stay for three hours. I know it's now two but it was three at the time and I did not but for a long time, I would go to a Sacrament meeting and then go to another Catholic mass. I did that for five or six years and then stopped doing that. So it was just something I did. I oftentimes loved my time at the various wards. We've moved a lot. I think we've probably been in nine or 10 wards and some have been small little branches and in some of the branches I was given assignments. When you're not a member they give you an assignment versus a calling. So I've had a stake calling, I've had some assignments from bishops and in one small branch we had in a really tough part of town, I was actually teaching and I said to the young branch president, "I don't think I should be teaching." He looked me in the eyes, he was 23 and he said, "I need help. Can you help me?" You know, so I always felt a stronger spirit and closer connection to the ward and to the Church when I was engaged and involved. Many people thought I was, assumed I was, a member. I was pretty active at the ward Christmas party or a fall festival or a trunk or treat or whatever the events we had so I was pretty engaged.
MJ: So over time obviously things happen. People make an impact in your life and eventually you get to the point where you decide to move toward joining the church. But what were some of the significant points along that journey?
SO: OK. There's so many significant points. I'll capture a few of them but I could probably talk to you for 10 hours unfortunately or fortunately. I think the core and most influential person in my spiritual journey and eventual conversion was Lisa. She always stayed prepared. We had a house that was pure and faith- filled. We had family home evenings. It was chaos. I hope none of you have family home evenings like we have family home evenings but it is chaos with these girls. But we had them. The expectation was you get up and you read scriptures and you say family prayer and we pray before our meals, Sundays we're going to church and on Wednesdays the kids are gone to mutual or whatever their activity was and we were a family of faith. So I think Lisa was like the core stability. I think her element of just always being prepared and disciplined and passionate and consistent, I think probably had the greatest impact over the time. I had incredible home teachers. I know we're ministering now but the first person I picked up the phone to call when I decided to get baptized was my home teacher. There's a reason for that. You know, he was there and a big part of my life. Clark Maxwell, President Maxwell and the home teachers I had over the years— David Young and Peter Pilling, Chester Elton, Clark Maxwell and I'm probably missing a couple were just strong, consistent reminders of the power of the gospel, the influence of having the priesthood in the home, the ability to come in and give blessings when we needed them. So I think home teachers were critically important. I had an experience... I went to Harvard Business School and President Eyring's son Matt, Matt Eyring, was a friend of mine. School had a big influence on me. Wilford Cardon, who has since passed away, made a huge impact on me. Tagg Romney, Greg Davis, Drew Johnson and Brian Ashton, just a couple of names of people I know in my class, in my ward, that continue this day to help me on my journey. I think sometimes we talk about spirituality like there's an end point, like you got baptized...and for me, you know, my journey is just beginning. And it's been going on for some time. So I always looked to kind of spiritual giants that I happened to be able to be fortunate enough to spend time around. And I've gotten quite a bit from them.
Elder Sikahema also played a big role in my conversion and in my faith journey. I was at a BYU football game and I turned around in the elevator and Chad Lewis was there. And I used to work for the Eagles when he played, #87. He played for BYU and now he's working for the BYU Athletic Department. So I kind of turned around and I turned around again I said, "Are you Chad Lewis?"
He said, "Yes I am. Nice to meet you. Who are you?" I said "Scott." He said "Oh where are you from?" I said, "Philadelphia" and he said, "You're from Philadelphia? I said, "Yeah I actually used to work for the Eagles when you played." He said "What do you do now? I said, "I actually work at the Philadelphia 76ers." He's like, "You're kidding me." He said, "What do you do?" I said "I'm actually the CEO," and he was like, "You're the CEO of the 76ers?" I said, "Yes I am. Nice to meet you." Elevator opens and we start to take off and he said, "Hey do you know Vai Sikahema?" I said, "I know who he is but I don't know him." And he said, "Well let me connect you with him. I think you'll want to know him."
I said, "Terrific." I texted him from the game and he said, "Hey, could we get together Tuesday at a diner." I said, "Yeah, I'd love to get together with you." So we got together at this diner and he walked in.
He extended his hand and I gave him a big hug. I said, "I'm more of a hugger." He said, "Well, so am I." So we sat down and he said, "Look, I hate to do this to you." He said, "I never like to start a relationship out with asking for a favor but you know the temple's being built here, and I say I'm aware. And he said, "Well, we're having trouble for the youth celebration finding an arena and we have members from Salt Lake coming out to see places and I don't even know where to turn. So I think this is like a hand of God (moment) that you were just dropped into my lap to help me." And I said, "Well I don't know if I've been dropped in your lap but this is one business I can actually help you with." And I said, "Well when are they coming out? He said, "This afternoon." I said, "Well I better get to work then." And so that's how we started our relationship and it's blossomed into an incredible friendship.
He took me through the temple open house and I remember being in a celestial room and him whispering in my ear, "You better get baptized or your daughter is going to be in here by herself on her wedding day." It had no effect on me at the time. I'm just kidding. So he was an incredible force, inviting me to a stake conference and we just had an unusual connection. And he's been a force ever since.
MJ: I love that. I love how you can see all these different people. It kind of all adds up over time and you see God's hand.
SO: Right. There's no other... you can't reasonably come up with any other explanation than God's hand in my life in orchestrating and giving me chance after chance and at some point, you know, even the most stubborn will fall.
MJ: Do you think that Lisa thought you would ever join the church?
SO: I think what she will say is, "I knew he was going to join the church maybe not in this life but definitely the next." I think that's what she'll say but Lisa leads by example. She's a great example. She doesn't scream the loudest, she doesn't scream for attention and she's not waving her arms, "Look at me." She just lives like a really good, solid, faithful, faith-filled, church-based life, like she does the right thing. She lives the right way. And I think that's how she leads.
MJ: So Lisa came to Utah to get her endowments and that's when you called Clark Maxwell about what do you do if you want learn from the missionaries. Is that right? Can you tell me a little bit about what happened there?
SO: So I had been traveling quite a bit and I was in Las Vegas for NBA Summer League and then I was in New York I think for a board meeting and then shot down to Miami. So I was in all these kind of fun cities and got back to Philadelphia the girls were all out west. Lisa was out there as well and she was talking about going to the temple for the first time and I had, in fairness, I had encouraged her you know about a dozen times, maybe not, but six or seven times at least. And was wondering why, I said, "Look... I don't know how it works. I don't know what the rules are. I don't know what kind of life you have to live or lead but I can't imagine anybody in the world being more ready or more prepared or living a better life than you are." So I think her journey to go through the temple and why maybe it took so long was because of how important it was to her.
And it's such a incredible step. Having gone through it myself and understanding the blessings and the power that comes with that, that comes with, I think, a lot of responsibility. And I think she understood the weight of it and maybe that you know, it's that expression, "Man planned and God laughed." I think that you know I don't think we could have planned this—the timing everything seemed to fall into place at the right time and the right reasons. So it was a pretty special time so she went to the temple with her mother and father, her twin brother, his wife Stephanie and then I was home alone and I was just ready. I had been ready probably five or six times earlier in my life and every time I was ready something would happen like I would walk into it a fast and testimony meeting and somebody would get up and say something and I would say, "No thanks." Or you know I would be walking in the hallway and I would get some snide remark and it probably wasn't snide and it was probably, you know, I guess if you're pure of heart you see the adversary working against you but I'd say, no, I'm just too stubborn and not maybe hearing what I want to hear. But I had been down the road before and I never mentioned it to Lisa because you know, everything was great. Like my life was great. I love my relationship with her. Like we understand each other. My family is critically important in my life. It's such a strength and comfort for who I am and what I do and how I live. And I didn't want to just screw it up. I didn't want to like get her excited and then go another way and I just didn't want, I didn't want the pain or drama.
So I called President Maxwell, who was in our stake presidency and he was our home teacher and just like, you know, he should be a mission President. If someone's listening out there, he should be a mission president somewhere. He and his wife are dear friends. And he is everything that's right about a church run by lay people like he lives it. He is it. He means what he says, he says what he means, he lives the gospel every minute of every day and is a great example. And so I call him and say, "Hey, any chance we could catch dinner?" So we went to Red Sombrero, it's like a take-out Mexican place but we were eating outside.
And I just sat down and I said, "Alright, I'm ready to get baptized. How does this actually get done?"
And he said something like, "Only you would start that way." And he said, "Well, have you read the Book of Mormon?" I said, "Yep."
He said, "And you have a testimony? I said, "Yep." And he said, "Well let's call the missionaries and get discussions going." I said, "Well you know, I kind of need the 2.0 version. I've been coming to church for 20 years. So I love missionaries. I love, you know, 19-year-old men walking me through the plan of salvation but I'm really looking for like a little next level conversation," which he laughed of course. And I said, "Oh, one more thing." I said, "I don't want this to be the scuttlebutt. I said I don't know how it works but I imagine there is some role and the bishop knows, then the stake president knows, then the bishop's wife knows and then somebody calls Lisa and this whole thing goes haywire. Like, I can't have it." And he said, "I'll take care of that." And I said, "Can you take care of that?" And he said, "Yeah, we'll figure it out." In a small world, hand of God moment, twist of fate, they came over that night. I think they broke the curfew. So you can talk to that mission present as well. And we had the first discussion and and they were the Spanish-speaking elders and I thought that was funny having (had) my first church experience at a Spanish-speaking branch. And I kind of chuckled to myself at that and President Maxwell would not let me along with them, which I thought was really cute. So we met every day for a week. I just I said, "Look, let's go. You know I'm not slowing the process down. I don't want you to slow it down. Tell me what I have to do between the first time we meet and the second time we meet and I want to punch through." So we met, I think five days in a row. Elder McLaughlin and Elder Carter—wonderful, wonderful missionaries. So we tackled some of the tougher issues that you would want to tackle.
And I think the best thing, the smartest thing, that President Maxwell said to me was, "Look, we don't have it all figured out. You know, at the end the day, you know the timing might not be right or you know we have this blessing of this living prophet and you see what incredible changes President Nelson has driven." And he said, "You have strong faith, you believe in the Book of Mormon, you believe Jesus Christ is our Savior, you believe we have a living prophet. You're going to have to jump over some hurdles, you know?"
And I thought that was so authentic to me and really resonated. And I was ready to go.
And then about five days later, Lisa came home and she walked in the door with our three daughters and I gave Lisa a big hug and kissed the girls and I said, "Hey, you got a minute?" So we went back in our family room and just closed the door because it had like closing doors. And I told her I wanted to be baptized. We both cried and hugged and she just like kept saying like, "Wait what? Is this real?" And the girls came in and were like, "Why are you crying?"
Anyway, we didn't tell them for a few days, I said, "Hey I've got to go through one more of the discussions, and then I want to set a date and I want to go. And she's like, "OK, well let's wait until you set a date and then we'll let the girls know." And a couple of days later we got a chance to tell them, which was a pretty spectacular time too. So it was a wonderful time in my life. It is today. And you know what we've experienced over the last two and a half years is what some people experience over a lifetime and so to have that all condensed has been a blessing beyond words. So it's pretty amazing
MJ: Scott, how have you seen the gospel blessed your family in the past two and a half years?
SO: Well it's been, I think it's been a time of firsts. I remember when I told the girls I was getting baptized they said, "Can we tell anybody? Like how is it gonna work?" I said "I'm gonna send out a bunch of notes tonight." And there's a great big emoji with a little missionary with the Book of Mormon and it says, "I believe" on top. So that's all I sent, I sent it out to like two hundred people I know so word spread pretty quickly and then I followed up with our baptism date and we had, I mean this was not a baptism. This was like a full on party.
So we had people from all over the country, 300-some odd people came, so that was just the start of it. And then you know the next week I'm passing the sacrament and then the week after that I'm blessing it then I became a Melchizedek priesthood holder and then I got my temple recommend, went through the temple and then I got sealed to my family, which was probably the best day of my life. So blessings, giving blessings, blessing my children. Giving them blessings for starting school or when they're struggling. I remember this one story. It probably doesn't matter in the scope of life. But I was at, I'm in Young Men's, so I was a priest advisor and I was messing around with the priests doing something, playing a word game, and I kept losing. And that frustrated me to no end and the bishop came and tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, can you give a blessing to these two women that just walked in? And I had never done it before and I was like, "You mean now? And he's like, "You do know how to give a blessing?" I'm like "Yeah, I can do it." And I remember just walking into one of those little side rooms and placing on my hands on the first elderly woman's head and then the second. And just like feeling a spirit like screaming through my chest, you know, to have that opportunity is pretty amazing and powerful and impactful. I got my patriarchal blessing. So think about all the stuff you do in your entire life as a member of church and then can you imagine compacting that into 12 months? Like it's unbelievable. And so when you ask him a question about what are the blessings? It's almost incalculable. You know I think Lisa will say we have a stronger spirit or having a priesthood leader in the home, there's more balance and I feel like we can do it together and lead. And so I'm sure that's true, she'll be more acutely aware of that than I will. But for me, it's just been this whirlwind of incredible life- defining moments that have changed, I guess, the course of my history. I baptized my dad who passed away and my grandfather and my grandmother. So you know, we're getting through it. And then you know the hours, it gives you a better appreciation when you are a member of just the commitment. It's pretty heavy, you know, in terms of, if you want to magnify your calling and you want to be all in and you want to be who you say you are and be what you're talking the priests about being, you know it's a real commitment.
I had been paying tithing for 20 some odd years so that wasn't an adjustment. A couple of tweaks on the Word of Wisdom and we were there. But the commitment of time, it's real. It's a lot. And you certainly get more than you give but that is no joke, the hours you put in.
MJ: Scott what is your calling in the church right now?
SO: So I'm somewhat in a gray area so I am a priesthood adviser. I also was called to stake young men's secretary and I'm serving in the public affairs key opinion leader system public relations something with Shelby Christensen who's an incredible Saint. So yeah so I'm in the thick of it. I think one of those might be shifting out but I told him as a priesthood adviser, I'd like to have as lifetime calling so I've told the Elder Coons that, and then the stake president and the bishop and both shook their heads and said, "That's not how it works."
MJ: Why do you think, Scott, why was being sealed to your family so important? And can you tell us a little bit more about that day?
SO: I can tell you whatever I remember. It's a bit of a fog. That was something I was most excited about. It's hard,, you know if you grow up, I'm not sure what their correct term is, in like a split-member family.
I don't know what the correct term is but when you have some non-members in your family or a married couple has one member and one non-member, it's a little confusing for the children. In particular the together forever part. You know you have the songs, "Families can be together forever." That and then they have like the temple pictures that they color when they're really little (that are) like "families are eternal" and then they get a little older and they're actually talking about, you know, being sealed and what that means and then they're coming home and saying like, "Hey, wouldn't that be awesome."
And they're, you know, they're confused, frustrated or disappointed or sensitive or, you know, curious and I think all of that traffic went to Lisa. None of that traffic ever came to me. So I think being baptized was just kind of a momentous moment in our family's lives and our history. And then being able to be sealed was something I was even more excited about and so were the girls. And so to have the opportunity to, I wish everyone had the opportunity to be sealed to their families when they were 16 and 13 and 10. I do. To be kneeling at an altar and have these three beautiful angels walk across the room in all white and hold hands and you're around, you know, it was an SRO as we call it the sports business— standing room only— room and just this incredible reverent spirit with all these saints that we love and love us. And boy, that day is the greatest day in my life.
MJ: Scott, what would you say to someone, a family, that maybe is in the same situation that you were in for those 21 years of your marriage? Maybe to a wife that is hoping that her husband will join the Church or to her husband? What would your advice to that family be?
SO: I think my advice to families where one is a member and one is not yet, first, I would say you should talk to Lisa. She'll be much better at this than I will.
But secondly, I think just from my experience I would say, if you're the member, I would just say be faithful and build your testimony and magnify your calling and serve others and love others and be true, be true to who you are and what Heavenly Father expects of you. Live that and also love your spouse a lot. And if that spouse needs room, give him or her room. If that spouse needs to be nudged, give him or her a nudge. But don't quit, eternity is a pretty long time. You want to make sure that you are prepared and you're living a good example and you are giving the person you love every opportunity to see the blessings and joy that the gospel brings you in your life. I think that's the best way to bring them along.
MJ: I have a friend that always says, "Life is long," and when she says it, it's so interesting because it's so opposite of life is short. She's like life is long, like give things time to work themselves out, believe that good things will happen and it's become one of my favorite sayings too.
SO: I love that.
MJ: Scott, when you look back on your life do you feel like you joined the Church at the right time?
SO: You know when I joined the Church, two of my friends told me, "You're coming in at the perfect time."
And I didn't understand what they meant or why. I know that I have a job in my secular life that can bring attention, positive attention, to the Church and I know that the responsibility on me is to live the right way and be an example.
I remember Lisa's grandmother was getting old and she had lost her step a bit. And so like many older people that come for Sunday dinners, what happens is they end up sitting in a chair and then nobody talks to them. And so Gram, as we called her, was sitting in a chair and I had my cool hat on. And Lisa was nudging me, "Go talk to Gram," and I was like, "Why do I have to talk to Gram?" And she's like, "Go talk to Gram." I said, "OK." So I rolled over to Grandma, I pulled up a chair, I held her hands and I said, "How are you doing Gram?" So we were talking a little bit and she said, "You are going to be an incredible member of this Church." I said "Oh Gram, I'm not a member of this Church." She said, "You are going to be an incredible member of this Church." I said, "Oh thanks Gram." She said, "You are going to bring thousands of people into this church." I said, "Gram, I'm Scott. I'm Lisa's husband." And she looked me in the eyes and she says, "You need to lead." And I've always thought about that.
That was probably 15 years ago, maybe more. She has since passed away sadly. And I remember walking over to Lisa and she said, "What were you and Gram talking about?" And I said, "Ah, nothing."
And I always think about that as a responsibility, you know I think about those pioneers that went west. Now, I say to all of the members in Utah that are watching this right now, it's time to come East. There's a lot happening out here, you know.
And this Church is too small. You've got 16 million members. We've got 7.5 billion people on this planet and we need to do more. We need to be less insular. We need be more loving. We need to be more open. We need to be more assertive. We need to leverage social media. We need to leverage the people we know, the influence we have, and we need to do a better job because this gospel is too special and we need to do a better job sharing it.
MJ: Scott, as you've been talking I couldn't help but think about how, on my mission, we made this video and we asked people to share how they felt about the person that introduced them to the gospel. And so, for you, how do you feel about Lisa and specifically Lisa introducing you to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
SO: How do I feel about Lisa? I mean I don't know if I can put this into words but I'm going to give it a whirl. So Lisa is, I'm more in love with her today than I was yesterday and the day before that and the day before that and the day before that. And I'll be more in love with her tomorrow the day after that and the day after that. She's a world class mom, an incredible wife, saint of saints, she's got like the purest heart to help and serve others and she's such an example of humility and I think, you know, I can't imagine a better (person). You know I'm sure there are more wonderful people out there, I just haven't met them yet. I think she's as good as they come in every facet. She's tough, she's smart, she's beautiful. She challenges me to be better and a better man, she's raised incredible girls and she's helping drive the gospel, you know, in her own way, in a different way. She does it through service and love and in helping others. I don't think there's anyone like her in the world.
MJ: I just have two last questions for you. One, what would you say as far as how you balance being a husband, a father, a member of the Church and an NBA CEO?
SO: So how do I balance it all? Big question, a big, big question I get quite a bit. I think the question, I don't think the question is the right question because I don't think balance is something that is attainable and I don't strive for it. So I what strive to do is I strive to make sure that I know what my priorities are and my priorities are my family, my faith, and my work. And so to the extent I'm spending time on my family, my faith, and my work, that's a good start. To the extent that when I'm spending time with my family or with my faith or both, or at my work that I'm wholly present and I am, as I like to say, I am where my feet are. I think I can be better at what I do with the time I have. We don't have a lot of time. As a dad, I don't have a lot of time. I get up in the mornings. (It's) chaos in the morning at my house. People getting ready, breakfast flying all over the place, scrambling for the car, books and book bags and sneakers and blah blah blah. So I've got what? 40 minutes in the morning. I drive Kira to seminary and pick her up. I got my 40 minutes there and then got 40 minutes of chaos in the house. I'll be home tonight at 8:00 and hopefully I'll get an hour with them.
So I've got to spend those two hours, I've got to make sure that I am 100 percent with them. My phone's down, the TV is off and I'm connecting with them on something that matters and something that's real and that I can help them and maybe teach them or maybe learn from them. And then when I'm at work, I'm not worried about what my daughter's doing at school because I'm focusing, I'm here. And when I'm talking to you, I'm talking right at you. I'm not focusing on what I'm doing in five minutes or 10 minutes or what I did five minutes ago. So for me it's about being where my feet are and that's the best way I can live my purest life.
MJ: That is ironic or maybe not ironic at all but I think it's super interesting. A few weeks ago I interviewed Greg McKeown. I don't know if you've ever read "Essentialism," but he's a member of the Church. And when I asked him the "All In" question, he said that he had been reading President Nelson's book or no, he had watched a documentary about President Nelson and in it his kids said that he was 100 percent present wherever he was. So when he was at the hospital he was present, when he was with his family he was present. And Greg said that he thought that's what it meant to be all in. And so you are following the example of the prophet, which is pretty cool.
Last question for you, Scott. What does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
SO: Wow, to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it means that I keep the commandments, that I magnify my calling, that I read my scriptures, that I get on my knees and pray, that I serve and help those that need to be served and helped, that I love people even when they're not ready to love themselves. And that I try to live a life that would make the Savior proud if He were standing right next to me.
MJ: Thank you. Thank you to Scott O'Neil for being willing to share his testimony and story with us.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the LDS living videos featuring Scott and his wife, Lisa, that will be released soon. If you don't want to miss them, subscribe to the LDS living YouTube channel or follow us on Facebook.
You can find the show notes and more episodes of "All In" by visiting LDSLiving.com/allin. Thank you so much.