Former Bulls staffer Shaun Hickombottom chases new career dream

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Former Bulls' staffer Hickombottom chases new dream originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Like many businesses, the NBA is about relationships. Coaches. Players. Executives. Agents. All perform their best with strong working relationships.

Shaun Hickombottom is living proof of this.

You may not have heard of Hickombottom. He’s one of those unassuming, behind-the-scenes staffers that help make organizations run smoothly. Plenty of powerful people seek him out as a resource.

Over 14 years with the Chicago Bulls, Hickombottom rose from public and media relations assistant to director of player and team services, working on the basketball operations side as, in his words, “a Swiss army knife” point of contact for all matters big and small for players.

His contacts list is vast and filled with genuine relationships. He has everyone from Scottie Pippen to Derrick Rose to Zach LaVine on speed dial.

That’s why leaving his hometown franchise wasn’t an easy decision. But he’s doing so to become vice president of operations for On Time Agency because of a relationship — with CEO and founder and former NBA player Ramon Sessions.

“Working for the Bulls was a dream come true, man,” the Downers Grove native and Montini Catholic High School graduate said. “My brother and I were diehard Bulls fans growing up. I can remember being 7 years old watching the '91 Finals in my living room and falling asleep during Game 5 and then waking up at the end and running outside and celebrating. I remember watching every game-clinching Finals game with my brother and my Dad.

“I wasn’t looking for anything. I was happy. I loved working for Artūras (Karnišovas), Marc (Eversley), Billy (Donovan). They let me rock. They trusted me. They communicated with me. They included me in high-level stuff.

“But I’ve known Ramon since '07. We’ve had a good relationship since then. He’s just this super impressive dude. I think he’s special. And the opportunity he presented to me, everything just lined up. It’s time to try a new challenge.”

Hickombottom, 38, met Sessions when he worked for the Milwaukee Bucks as a public and media relations intern. Sessions arrived as an unheralded second-round pick only to carve out an 11-year NBA career.

“We stayed in close contact,” Sessions said. “Every summer I would hit him up about my basketball camps. Our relationship just grew.”

They stayed in touch as Sessions moved through his playing career, which included an active role with the National Basketball Players Association. During the 2019-20 season, Sessions worked in the New Orleans Pelicans front office as director of basketball operations.

He then became an NBPA-certified agent and self-funded his boutique agency, which he hopes to grow at his preferred pace.

“Me starting what I started, I don’t want to say it wouldn’t have happened, but knowing that I was going to be able to hire somebody like Shaun really made it make sense,” Sessions said. “Everybody knows you can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t have a great team behind you, it may not work. Shaun as my first big hire is a blessing.

“Obviously being with a great organization like the Bulls and being from Chicago, this had to make sense for him. It was an easy decision for me. Fortunately, he believed in what we’re doing.

“Shaun is super respected. He’s trustworthy, a hard worker. I know from a character standpoint what he brings and the relationships he has.”

Those relationships are what Hickombottom values most.

His Bulls job evolved and grew over the years, including him adding travel responsibilities when former Bulls staffer Karen Stack Umlauf left the administrative side to join the coaching ranks. He first moved from media relations to basketball operations with the support and urging of former executives John Paxson, Gar Forman and Randy Brown, the latter of whom moved from the front office to the coaching ranks to create an initial opportunity.

“I was the first or primary contact when we drafted a player or traded for a player or signed a free agent. Calling that player. Calling the family. Making sure the player gets acclimated in the city,” Hickombottom said. “If he needed a realtor, setting him up with a realtor. Setting him up with the DMV. Everything that a player needed to feel comfortable in the city of Chicago, I was there.”

Hickombottom created programming and mentorship sessions on topics ranging from financial management to career transition for all players but often skewed to younger players. He’d have a payroll department staffer cover things as basic but important as knowing how to read a paycheck.

“Players think they make this amount of money,” Hickombottom said. “But with taxes, buying tickets on the road, hotel charges, that’s coming out of your check.”

He booked team outings like a trip to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., and a trip to New York for players’ mothers that featured massages for them and a team dinner for all.

In short, Hickombottom served as a one-stop shop for needs big and small for players.

“Did I love getting 2 am calls? No. But doing those things built that trust,” Hickombottom said. “To be able to build some genuine relationships with players, build that trust so they could come to me with anything, that’s what I enjoyed about my job.”

It’s a position important enough that management already has filled it, hiring Shaquin Albrow as senior manager of team services and player development. Albrow had worked for the Suns.

Hickombottom’s older brother, Tony, worked as a football agent at Priority Sports for 10 years before getting his MBA and segueing into the business world. When they were kids watching the Bulls’ dynasty, the Hickombottoms talked about working in sports.

Shaun is continuing his dream.

“Marc and Artūras could not have been any better when I came to them with this. They were fantastic. I respect the hell out of those guys,” Hickombottom said. “My wife, who has been so supportive of me, always says that I'm so nonchalant about what my job entailed. But she's right. Sometimes I do have to sit back and pinch myself. The Bulls are my favorite team of all-time and I worked for them for 14 years and I have relationships with some of the greats.

“But the sky is the limit for this new challenge. I’m confident in the work that I do and that we’re going to succeed.”

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