When Shelby Weaver was tasked with helping build a sports team—the Raptors 905—from scratch, she attended a then-NBA D League conference at Las Vegas Summer League where she was overloaded with how-to information and given a binder.
Said binder, though, didn’t contain information on very specific problems—like what to do when a washer and dryer need to be installed in the team’s locker room and there isn’t a vent in sight, leaving no choice but to drill through the roof, which led to a wall that was nothing but brick and concrete, which led to a glass window that would also need drilling for the pipe to pass through. Officials of the formerly named Hershey Centre were clear about possible ramifications for property damage and Weaver was warned a hefty fine awaited if things went haywire.
“[Then-director of team operations] John (Wiggins) and I said, ‘This is our only option so we need to do this,’” Weaver recalls. “The contractor said, ‘This might break,’ and we said, ‘Alright.’ So they drill and drill and drill, and the glass is shaking, shaking, shaking, and John and I are freaking out.”
Conveying the stress of that moment from Tampa via Zoom, Weaver explained she knew trouble awaited if the plan didn’t work out in quite a… colourful way. The plan ultimately worked and the team had a laundry option at the back of a locker room to avail of. The 905 have progressed to become a stable, fully functional G League basketball organization that won the title in 2017, and was also named Franchise of the Year after the 2019-20 season. Weaver, in the meantime, has progressed to the parent organization—she is now the Toronto Raptors’ director of player advancement, a position that has her wearing different hats but primarily sees her assisting players in pursuing passions or causes beyond basketball.
“Masai (Ujiri)—he isn’t just the president of the Toronto Raptors, he’s a global leader. That just sets the tone right there that you can be more than just your career and your job.”
“Our guys are naturally curious about a lot of things and so I’ve learned from them as much as they’ve learned from me,” Weaver said. “Our guys have proven time and time again that they’re not just gonna roll up there and dribble a basketball. They have skills and dreams and a voice that they use, right up to Masai (Ujiri)—he isn’t just the president of the Toronto Raptors, he’s a global leader. That just sets the tone right there that you can be more than just your career and your job.”
Weaver is also a glowing example of the way women have been playing a key role in the Raptors organization’s success. When Ujiri was first hired by the team in 2013, it had only one female staff member. Today, it has 14. “They were not hired because we wanted to hire women, they were hired because they’re the best at what they do,” Ujiri said during a keynote speech last year.
How Weaver went from MLSE administrative assistant in 2012 to Ujiri offering her a chance to help build up the 905 to now adding to the growing list of women who can be found in NBA front office roles is a long story wrapped around a simple premise: Weaver missed basketball.
Having played growing up and through high school, Weaver was looking forward to taking it to another level at St. Francis Xavier in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But a Habitat for Humanity trip to Ecuador would prove costly, resulting in her contracting a mystery parasite. She fell sick not knowing what was wrong—and having been in the best shape of her life prior, still tried to go through a workout upon returning, but proceeded to pass out.
“I had to go through that whole no-longer-being-an-athlete transition a lot earlier than I had anticipated,” Weaver said after not playing through her first year. “By the time I got through that year, I thought I was gonna go back, but I honestly thought the dream was dead. I just moved on to other things to fill my time and felt it was best to just stay out of it.”
Weaver took up other interests and focused on her Business Administration degree before making a predetermined decision, as the meticulous planner she is, to move to Toronto after graduation. It took some serious convincing of her parents, whom she won over with a deal that they would take care of her first month’s living expenses before she took care of herself after that.
Pushed by a friend to apply for the admin assistant role at MLSE—the type of job she thought she didn’t move to Toronto for—Weaver was given the opportunity to learn under David Hopkinson, now executive vice-president and president of team business operations at Madison Square Garden Sports Corp. Though she isn’t a fan of the term ‘mentor,’ Hopkinson played a key role in Weaver’s growth and understanding of the conglomerate and presented her with different opportunities to learn about its different elements.
“It was like a masterclass in sports,” Weaver said. “It was a really awesome opportunity and he allowed me to build relationships with people he was dealing with—all kinds of people around the industry who are CEOs, CMOs, presidents and board members—and I have my own relationships with them because he let me foster that on my own.”
All the while, Weaver’s itch for basketball kept getting stronger. When Tim Leiweke stepped in to execute his vision and transformation of MLSE sports, Weaver came in closer contact with Ujiri, Bobby Webster and Teresa Resch and fostered those relationships. By the 2014-15 season, all Weaver wanted was to transition from the business side of things to basketball and started planning for conversations on how she could make the transition and what she could offer.
“I think what I’m able to do is understand things from a lot of different perspectives and then provide an organization-wide solution for things,” Weaver said. “I think I understand a lot of people’s pain points, frustrations, and things that they need. I’m able to look at that and put it all together to provide assistance and support for everybody.”
Ujiri must’ve identified those qualities in her, because as the Raptors were on the verge of getting swept by the Wizards in Washington, he called Weaver for a meeting offering a position helping start and run the 905 franchise before she ever had a chance to say a word about wanting to be involved with the Raptors. The rest, as they say, is history. Whether it’s helping the team relocate to Tampa, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for players both coming in and going out after the trade deadline, or learning and understanding how NBA Top Shot or NFTs in general can help players, Weaver has it all under control.
On top of all that, she somehow finds the time to run two businesses on the side: Mack House, a sneaker customization shop, and Makeway, Canada’s first standalone women’s sneaker and streetwear boutique. “As a female sneakerhead, I always felt like I was trying to fit into a community that just wasn’t made for me,” Weaver told Complex when Makeway launched last November. “I just got tired of womens’ products and experiences being an afterthought. I think the women’s market deserves so much more.”
When it comes to finding time for both her day job and managing the businesses, Weaver appreciates the way it’s helped her get rid of the clutter in her day. Besides, it’s also important for her to walk the talk.
“You’ve got to practice what you preach,” Weaver said. “I have these ideas and I like business and I like being an entrepreneur, so if I’m not going to put that into action but I’m telling these guys they should, what good is that?
“You’re able to only focus on what’s important because you don’t have time for anything else. Things that maybe used to get me going or take up a lot of mental and emotional energy that shouldn’t have, I’ve been able to just let those go. It’s actually made me a better person; it’s made me a happier person.”