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Bucks business strategist Matt Pazaras lives with multiple sclerosis

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One minute Matt Pazaras was working in the NBA's business side, walking around the arena stands, when a team doctor spotted him looking sick. The next moment he found himself in the hospital, in a wheelchair, admitted for three weeks and hoping not to die.

Multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system, is not who Pazaras is. But it's something he's survived and managed, as a husband, father of three, and with a sometimes stressful, sometimes high-profile career.

And now the director of business development and strategy in his 10th year with the Milwaukee Bucks wants to increase his role as an advocate and ally, to show that people can live and work, raise families and thrive with MS.

“People can have symptoms, but you can’t see them,” Pazaras said. “And sometimes that makes it difficult. It's like, wait, I know X, Y and Z. They look good.

“And on that note, one of the funniest things for me, well, there are things that bother me every day, especially since the last attack I had. I want to apologize to everyone whose name I forget, because it's not on purpose! »

Matt Pazaras landed big contracts for the Bucks

Under Pazaras' leadership, revenue from the Bucks partnership increased 477 percent, according to his longtime friend Barry Baum, who is also the Bucks' director of communications.

It was Pazaras who entered into the naming rights partnership with Fiserv for the new Bucks arena and Pazaras who signed deals with BMO, Johnson Controls, Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, Motorola, Beechwood Sales & Service/Anheuser -Busch and Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. . His team has also partnered with national and global brands, Baum said.

Certainly, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks' 2021 NBA championship also helped Pazaras move the Bucks “from the bottom of the NBA in partnership revenue to the top third of the NBA” according to Baum. But this collaborative effort from the business side changed the image of the Bucks and Milwaukee.

“We wanted to build a world-class organization and, from a partnership perspective, we wanted to be recognized as one of the best organizations to partner with,” Pazaras said. “We have elevated the brand to be worthy of a partnership. We started in Wisconsin, but far beyond the national and international level, we have partners all over the world. »

For a city like Milwaukee, he said, it's unique. People are starting to discover Brew City because it's more than close to Chicago.

“To that, I would say you went to Manchester, England. Right? No? Do you know anything about it? No. But… you've heard about it, right? Why is that? So!”

Neurologists struggled to diagnose Pazaras' MS

But there was a time when Pazaras was really sick and didn't know what was going on. He was working with the Brooklyn Nets in 2006 when he felt extreme pain in one leg, as if his clothes and even the floor were burning. He consulted a doctor, but no one could give him any answers.

“And then this spring of 2007, it came back with a vengeance,” Pazaras said. “Every day I lost some sort of function. My view – the choice is yours. I was losing that. A staircase, I would fall.

Worse still, he and the neurologists couldn't find any answers.

“One of the hardest parts is that in-between period where it’s mysterious and you don’t know what’s going on,” Pazaras said. “It could be Lyme disease – or all these different things. And you have no idea what's happening to your body.

It was the Nets team doctor who spotted Pazaras and, after asking a few questions, immediately sent him to the hospital (Pazaras doesn't remember his name but is still grateful). After numerous tests at Hackensack Medical Hospital, he finally received the diagnosis: multiple sclerosis – a disease in which tThe body's immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve cells in the brain, optic nerve and spinal cord, called the myelin sheath, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Pazaras confided in a very good friend, Peter Feigin, who also worked with the Nets at the time and is now president of the Bucks.

“And Peter said, ‘This is serious. Marc Lasry, he is a member of the board of directors of Mount Sinai Hospital. Let’s talk to him and see how we can help him,” Pazaras said. “And Mark was able to put us in touch with my doctor at Mount Sinai.

“I felt like the weight of the world was no longer on my shoulders. Even though I looked terrible physically, I felt good because someone told me what I had.

With single-minded determination, intensive steroid treatments and support, Pazaras remained on his MS medications to reduce the risk of an episode.

“After about a year and more, I was normal. I didn't know if it would ever happen. And it’s all gone,” he said.

Pazaras has only had a few major episodes in the years since his MS diagnosis. But it took a lot of effort and a bit of luck through connections.

Netss and Bucks helped Pazaras with resources to fight multiple sclerosis

Pazaras started with the Bucks in December 2014, shortly after Feigin and CFO Pat McDonough arrived. The three had worked together at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks. Pazaras and Barry Baum worked together at the Nets when the team was still based in New Jersey. It was a close-knit group that supported Pazaras. But even he was surprised to find even more support here in unexpected places.

The move to Milwaukee was stressful for all the normal reasons, but even more so because Pazaras was leaving his medical team. But on his very first day on the job with the Bucks, he was introduced to the head of a major sponsor, also suffering from MS, who referred him to a team of doctors at Froedtert.

In hopes that anyone with MS can have access to resources, Pazaras began serving on the board of directors for the Wisconsin chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2019.

“It's great to see how Matt is using his influence and experience with illness to help educate others. Life can be beautiful and entirely possible, simply with the right attitude, the right resources and the right network of people. support,” said Rob Multererpresident of the MS Society of Wisconsin.

“I just learned that you get so much more by being open and vulnerable than by hiding things, as I was told,” Pazaras said. “When I first got this, someone said to me, don't tell your employer, because you'll lose your benefits. I was like, 'Well, that didn't work. looks very good.”

“The Nets have been so supportive of us and the Bucks are incredibly supportive. »

People with MS sometimes have to deal with acceptance from employers as well as stress related to the disease.

“In someone with MS or another autoimmune or chronic disease, some symptoms are invisible,” Multerer said. “So you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head or heart until you talk to them.”

The MS Society even has an information pack called “But You’re So Beautiful.”

Multerer gave examples of people he knows with MS who were recently released from their employers after disclosing they had the disease. Others walk away from a job or scenario that is too stressful. Stress is one of the worst triggers for someone with MS. Pazaras believes that one of his most important episodes was the result of grieving for a good friend who died suddenly.

“Yes, people have been discriminated against and, frankly, illegally or unfairly fired from their jobs because of this disease,” Multerer said. “Because people think, 'Oh, they can't handle that.' Oh, they can't continue like this. Then you look at someone like Matt; for me, it's a fairly stressful and rigorous position.

Event at Blu, the Pfizer nightclub, will benefit the MS Society

On Tuesday, Pazaras will serve as a guest bartender at Blu at The Pfister to raise money for the MS Society. This is part of a larger program called BlueTender where the famous hotel invites guests from non-profit organizations to bartend every Tuesday.

Milwaukee's skyline of buildings will also turn orange – the symbolic color of MS – from the Hoan Bridge to Fiserv Forum that night and in honor of MS Awareness Week, March 10-16.

Multerer said nearly a million people live with MS in the United States; there are probably many more. Wisconsin has more than 20,000 residents with MS, one of the highest incident rates in the country. Some people have it and have not received a proper diagnosis.

“We have a board member who goes to small towns and he goes. MS is rampant on farms and rural towns and they don't even know it,” Multerer said. He also said the black community is affected and often has people who go undiagnosed.

“It’s so mysterious. He's so weird. I know people who took three years to get a diagnosis because it confused doctors,” Multerer said.

Multiple Sclerosis Resources

National MS Society: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/

Wisconsin Chapter of the MS Society: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Chapters/WIG

MS Browser: 800-344-4867; contactusnmsws@nmss.org;

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Resources-Support/Find-Support/Ask-an-MS-Navigator

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