Justin Roper already knew what it was like to be a fan in the stands at the Thomas & Mack Center and then a member of the Runnin’ Rebels program on the bench when he returned home to work for UNLV Athletics last fall. A former employee of teams such as the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the LA Galaxy Soccer Club, the 2008 graduate of the university (BS Management & Marketing) is in the middle of his first hoops season serving as senior manager, marketing & game production. While his job entails much more than running the Runnin’ Rebels’ in-game production, he is easy to spot doing just that while wearing his headset in the arena tunnel each home game.
Basketball, of course.
You grew up in the LA area, so what is your favorite NBA team?
The Clippers — it’s been a hard road!
Talk about your sports background.
I played sports my whole life. When I transferred here as a student, I wanted to get into basketball scouting. First I interned with the NBA Summer League and then spent a season as a student manager with one of Lon Kruger’s teams.
Why return to UNLV to work now?
It’s my alma mater and very close to my heart. I had always been on the lookout for an opportunity here. I think it’s always more fun when you get to work for a team that you are invested in and care about — wearing letters that mean a lot to me. Every win and loss means more than other places I’ve been.
What are your thoughts on the Runnin’ Rebels?
(Head coach) Marvin Menzies is going to get this thing going. He makes my job easier because he is a lot of fun and lets us do some things others may not. I think he’s a great coach and recruiter and he’s going to get the Runnin’ Rebels turned around and winning again sooner rather than later.
What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked?
The school spirit makes a difference. Other places, people just tend to go to work and do their work. In a university setting, there is school pride and everyone is working as a team.
Who is your hero?
My dad, Leroy Roper. He was a career UPS driver.
Married or single?
Married. My wife, Carrie, is in television production in town. She’s from Las Vegas and is also a UNLV grad. We met here on campus.
Tell us about working for the NBA Summer League, which has become a big event at the Thomas & Mack and Cox Pavilion.
I started in what was its third year, I think. Back then there was a group of 20 of us working. Now we have up to 70 interns a year and the attendance has skyrocketed the last few years. I think being held in Las Vegas has a lot to do with that. They eventually got the more popular teams to come and take part and they’ve done a great job of making it an event throughout the day, not just a basketball game.
What is the biggest challenge in your profession?
Trying to be innovative. It seems like everything has been done before, so it’s not easy coming up with new ways to entertain fans in the stands.
Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.
Well, because I have been with the NBA Summer League for so long, they let me try new things. I went out on a limb to run a baby race for a promotion. People were skeptical but all the babies survived and it was hilarious.
Describe a perfect game for your job?
The crowd is engaged and having fun and can’t tell if there is a hiccup. If they don’t know we exist, then things are going smoothly. When I tell people what I do, I have to explain what it entails. When you hear the music and anthem and see the lights and videos and performers, that all goes into what I do. People just assume it just happens on its own.
What was the biggest hiccup in your career that everyone witnessed?
When I was working in Washington, D.C., we held a contest with two fans wearing the big Sumo suits and our Wizards mascot knocked them over and one guy hit his head on the court pretty hard. He was okay but we barely made it through without him suing the team.
Tell us about an object in your office that has a significance for you and why it is significant.
My Magic Johnson bobblehead. When I was 13 years old and attending a UCLA basketball camp, Magic was working out on the court. All of the other kids were approaching him for autographs but I just sat back and watched. When he was leaving the court he stopped by to shake my hand, which I thought was really cool and made me a big fan.