Lewis leads NBA All-Star entourage to Japan; Truckee man receives official league sanction for foreign hoop game
It’s not worth asking Truckee resident Gary Lewis whether his work within the sports and entertainment industry in any way resembles Tom Cruise’s sports agent character in the film “Jerry Maguire” – for the past several months, Lewis has been so involved with his own sports-related business, he hasn’t had time to view the movie.
Lewis’ recent hard work, however, will come to fruition Aug. 12-13 in the Tokyo Dome in Japan as his company, United Global Artists Inc. hosts the basketball “Super Games,” a two-game series featuring several prominent NBA All-Stars including Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Shaquille O’Neal. The Super Games are the first-ever All-Star basketball games outside of the United States featuring active NBA players to be officially sanctioned by the NBA.
“It was tough to get permission, but it was also an honor to get the games sanctioned by the NBA,” said Lewis, who recognized an opportunity for a game in Japan this year when the NBA chose not to schedule any exhibition or regular season games in Japan during the 1997-98 season. “I knew the NBA needed something in Japan in 1997, so I approached the NBA and asked if they would let my company put on two exhibition games in Japan. The games were initially sanctioned on May 23 and advertising for the games began July 6 in Japan.”
Lewis said the Japanese are extremely interested in NBA basketball and that the 38,500 seat Tokyo Dome should sell out for both games.
“The Japanese love American celebrities, both motion picture stars and athletes,” said Lewis, who works out of an office in his home. “The NBA is currently bigger than baseball in Japan. There is an untapped potential for sports events in Japan.”
The Super Games aren’t Lewis’ first venture into Japan; last year Lewis organized the first Japanese television interview with Chicago Bulls’ star Michael Jordan.
“The interview with Jordan was the highest rated TV show in Japan,” Lewis said. “We did the interview right in South Lake Tahoe last summer during the celebrity golf tournament.”
While organizing games and producing videos are encompassed within his job, Lewis said he wouldn’t label himself as either a “promoter” or “producer.”
“No one word describes my job,” Lewis said. “If a person asks for a one-word description for my job, I usually say ‘consultant.’ But my job also includes marketing and promotion in addition to consulting, so ‘consultant’ doesn’t exactly describe it either.”
“What I do is put together commercial endorsements, mostly in Japan and mostly with professional athletes,” Lewis said. “We also are consultants to the NBA and NFL in their dealings with Japan.”
Lewis’ official title is vice president of United Global Artists Inc. The president, and only other person in the company, is Roy Green, the former All-Pro wide receiver with the St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles. Green, who was the last player before Dallas’ Deion Sanders to play both offense and defense in the NFL, finished his career with 560 receptions good for more than 9,000 yards.
“My responsibility is the operational duties of the company; coming up with proposals and carrying out negotiations,” Lewis said. “Roy approves any proposals; he’s the ‘front guy’ who’s very visible.”
Lewis’ association with Green dates back to a meeting the two had in a restaurant in Arizona in 1994, when Lewis discussed an idea for marketing a film with Green.
“At the time, I had rights to do the life story of Muhammad Ali,” Lewis said. “I had a marketing idea to have prominent black athletes tie themselves into a promotional piece for the film. I kept hearing, as I talked to athletes like Charles Berkeley and Ken Griffey Jr., responses like ‘I love the idea, but what does Roy Green think.'”
“I found that top athletes respect Roy and know he won’t mince his words,” Lewis said. “He’s smart, no nonsense and has both feet on the ground.”
The two finally met at a restaurant in Arizona.
“Roy thought the idea was ingenious, but in the end the whole thing with the movie fell through,” Lewis said. “But that’s how we got involved; Roy later said we needed to form our own company.”
Today, the two have a friendship which extends beyond the world of business.
“I’m closer to him than any brother,” Lewis said. “What we have is far beyond a business relationship; my wife and kids love him.”
(It’s also likely that most of the football players in Truckee love Green. It is because of his contacts in the football world that players like Marcus Allen, Steve Young and Seth Joyner have appeared at the annual Truckee Football Camp.)
Although Lewis worked in law enforcement following his graduation from Brigham Young University, he remained interested in the entertainment industry. After eight years on the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, he quit that career to become involved in outdoor musical theater for Sacramento’s Music Circus, producing plays and touring with the group around the country. He also began producing videos, including a children’s musical video, and worked on special effects in various films.
After Lewis’ encounter with Green in 1994, the two incorporated UGA Inc., focusing on developing commercial endorsements for high-profile stars like Barkley and Young.
“I’ve always had an entertainment/athletic connection,” Lewis said. “Several athletes I knew from high school in Sacramento went on to play pro ball, and I’ve met other guys through them.”
Even though Lewis didn’t move permanently to Truckee until 1992, he feels strong ties to the area.
“I lived in Sacramento but my family would come up nearly every weekend to our cabin in Cisco Grove,” Lewis said. “I can remember Truckee when it was a ‘one horse’ town.”
Lewis said Truckee makes a perfect backdrop for his business.
“To me, living in Truckee makes business easier. My business has three needs – a telephone, a fax and an airport – and in Truckee all three of my needs are fulfilled.” Lewis said. “I love the area and I love the people; here, in a small town, I can remain anonymous yet still see everybody I know. I like the fact that I can walk into the bank wearing my cut-off shorts.”
Lewis, who lives with his wife Sheryl and four of his six children (one daughter is married and one son is on a mission with the Mormon Church) in a spacious Prosser Lake Acreage home, is also a big fan of the Tahoe-Truckee High School football program. (His son, Ty, will be on the Wolverine varsity this year.) One of Lewis’ favorite things to do is wake-up early and weightlift with the Wolverine team.
“Events like the basketball games in Japan sound like fun, but it’s really work for me – I’m sure I’ll be putting in 18 to 19 hour days while I’m in Japan,” Lewis said. “My real pleasure comes when I’m back in Truckee working out with the football team or camping with my family. It’s fun to get to ‘hang out’ with celebrities, but given the choice, I’d rather spend time with my children.”
Because of their familiarity with their father’s sports associates, Lewis said that his children have had the opportunity to view celebrities like Berkeley and Young as friends rather than sports idols.
“In one of my son’s classes at school, the teacher asked ‘What did you do over the weekend?'” Lewis recalled. “Cameron matter-of-factly replied ‘Steve Young came to our house and had dinner.'”
“The teacher, who was a big 49er fan, asked ‘Did you get his autograph.?'”
“Cameron said ‘Why would I want his autograph – he’s my friend.”
“That’s the way things are when someone comes over to our house,” Lewis said. “I want my children to know them on a personal basis and as a friend, not an idol.”
With only a few weeks remaining before he escorts the NBAAll-Stars to Japan to play before packed arenas in Tokyo, one would think Lewis would be growing nervous, but he says that’s not the case. He’s confident the games will be a success because of his preparation and experience.
“My business philosophy has always been to surround myself with people smarter than me – that’s why I’ve been successful,” Lewis said. “I’m confident and excited about the basketball games because we have good sponsors – and great athletes.”
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