the early ’90s. While Mills continued to oversee and nurture relationships the NBA had with different basketball entities around the world, he also managed all the programs that the NBA sponsored to help transition players from college or high school into the NBA. In this position, he would be integral in the creation of not only the WNBA, but also the first “Dream Team,” where hoops legends Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley won the gold for the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics.
During the late ’90s, Mills again sought new frontiers. “I really loved everything that I did there, but in my heart, I always knew that at some point I wanted to see what it was like to work for a team,” says Mills, pointing out that while working for the league, there is no vested interest in the outcome of any particular game. “There’s something exciting about the whole prospect of developing a team, getting them ready to compete and being part of that process.”
As luck would have it, Dave Checketts, who at the time was president and CEO of Madison Square Garden, called Mills. Management was restructuring operations for the Knicks to one where there would be two executives of equal level within the organization — one running team operations (such as player payroll and personnel) and one overseeing the business side (identifying new revenue streams, setting financial goals). Mills knew that he was interested in one of those positions. Scott Layden was going to run the basketball side, with Mills handling the business side as executive vice president of franchise operations and reporting directly to Checketts. Mills jumped at the opportunity.
When Checketts stepped down in 2001, Mills stepped up. He was approached by James L. Dolan, president and CEO of Cablevision (the publicly traded cable giant that owns Madison Square Garden and its teams), regarding the creation of a new management structure. They would create a group called the Office of the Chairman, in which Mills would handle the sports side of the business, and Seth Abraham, president of Madison Square Garden/ Radio City Entertainment, would handle the entertainment and television side. Both report to Dolan. Cablevision does not provide financial information or projections for its Madison Square Garden operations.
Dolan praises Mills for his executive skills and business acumen. “In the two years since he assumed his current role, Steve has transformed the business operations of the Knicks, Rangers, and Liberty, focusing on improving the quality of experience for the Garden’s customers and business partners, while enhancing the value of these preeminent sports brands,” Dolan says. “Through good times and bad, Steve remains a great executive, a leader, and a trusted friend who deserves the success he’s had. [He] can look forward to an even brighter future.”
Mills, just like any other corporate executive, has to contend with the current business climate and devise a strategy for getting through the hard times. Therefore, he focuses on quality of product and top-notch customer relations.