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When the buzzer sounded at the end of game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks won their first championship in 50 years. Arjun Mahendroo, ’17, celebrated with tears of joy.

“It was an amazing feeling—a childhood dream come true,” says Mahendroo, now the team’s director of basketball operations.

As a kid, Mahendroo loved watching and playing basketball. After earning an undergraduate degree in business, he even dreamed of working in the NBA, though at the time it seemed nearly impossible. When NBA teams began hiring executives with backgrounds in business and analytics, Mahendroo’s dream began to seem tangible.

He traveled to NBA events in search of connections, securing an internship with the NBA league office, and he was admitted to the Full-Time MBA Program at Booth, where he focused on statistics and econometrics. After graduating, he got an opportunity to work for the Bucks as an intern before landing a full-time job in the front office.

Chicago Booth Magazine spoke with Mahendroo about working in the NBA, helping the Bucks win, and succeeding in professional sports: 

What was it like being hired by the Bucks?

When I graduated from Booth, I didn’t have a job lined up. That was nerve-racking. Networking in the NBA is hard because there are thousands of people reaching out to executives. But I stayed true to the process that I’d built of knocking on doors. I got a break when someone I had worked with at the league office, Tony Bollier, got hired by the new front office in Milwaukee. It wasn’t easy creating those meaningful relationships, but it’s been the difference maker in my career. Tony is now family to me—a big brother I can rely on for anything.

What does it take to be promoted in the NBA?

You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of personal time and be comfortable with not having much job security. Your focus can only be on the team and on winning. Those things can help you succeed.

But even if you do all that, a lot is not in your hands. Expectations are always high, and an injury to a superstar or other unfortunate events could have major consequences. 

But grinding every single day, being all about winning, those things are in your hands. That’s the only way to make it work in this crazy industry.

“The No. 1 things I got from Booth are having the confidence to question the status quo and being numerate—understanding the importance of the numbers as well as their limitations.”

— Arjun Mahendroo

How did Booth help you on your journey to the NBA?

The name recognition catches people’s eyes, which helped get the conversation started for me when I was breaking into the league. But the No. 1 things I got from Booth are having the confidence to question the status quo and being numerate—understanding the importance of the numbers as well as their limitations. Every class at Booth involved analyzing the numbers.

The NBA has changed completely with the analytics revolution over the past decade. Our general manager, Jon Horst, looks at the numbers with every decision we make. And that’s exactly what Booth was like.

What advice do you have for those who want a career in sports?

More than likely, unless you’re a former player or come from an NBA family, you have to be willing to start at the bottom. If you care about titles and salary, this is not the industry for you. It takes a lot of grit to continue grinding in these roles without making much money, often for years.

You have to be humble, hungry, and smart. That’s the mentality our whole Bucks organization has. A lot of folks aren’t “supposed” to be here, including our star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who grew up in Greece with parents who immigrated from Nigeria; Jon Horst; assistant GM Milt Newton; our vice president of basketball operations, Dave Dean; and several others who each had their unique path of unwavering perseverance to get to where they are. And me? I’m a 5 ft., 8 in. Indian guy. I’m not supposed to be here either. But if you embody being humble, hungry, and smart, you might have a shot in the NBA.