It was love at first sight when 9-year-old Thomas Carelli stepped inside his own kind of magic kingdom—Madison Square Garden—in 1970 and got his first taste of pro basketball, and the Cincinnati Royals. “I was mesmerized,” Carelli recalls. “I really loved basketball, loved the NBA.”
Several decades and countless games later, Carelli is living the dream with a front-row seat for the league he fell hard for as a kid. He’s celebrating his 25th year working for the NBA broadcasting team, including the last seven as senior VP of broadcasting.
“To say that I lucked out is an understatement,” Carelli says. “The first two years here, I met this spectacular woman and we’ve been married for 22½ years and have three fantastic kids. And, as I explain to my kids, ‘Daddy’s got to go to work now, I’m going downstairs to watch the game on TV, that’s what Daddy does.’ It’s a little more than that, but yeah, I’m pretty damn lucky.”
Carelli also is pretty damn busy these days gearing up for the NBA’s marquee midseason production, All-Star Weekend, airing Feb. 13-15 from New York. Carelli met his wife, Toni Amendolia, at the 1991 All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, N.C., when she was promotions director for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Each All-Star extravaganza presents challenges, Carelli says, and this year’s twist is it will be held at two NBA venues, Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. TNT will broadcast events from both arenas, including the All-Star Game at the Garden Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET). ESPN will carry the Celebrity Game from the Garden on Friday night (see related story). NBA TV will offer live programming through the weekend.
The NBA and its partner networks already know the basic game plan, having done a two-site All-Star production in Dallas in 2010. “You divide your assets between two venues, which is challenging, but it also presents opportunities for people to expand their roles,” Carelli says. “Our team and the people we work with at Turner and ESPN are very experienced, and we’ve worked together a long time. It’s a great team effort, three companies working together. It’s sort of amazing that it goes so smoothly.”
Carelli’s path to the NBA began as a sophomore history major at Boston College; he was planning to go to law school when he discovered BC radio station WZBC. He called BC football and basketball play-by-play for two years, then after graduation in 1984 landed a job at WRKO-AM in Boston, producing Celtics games. He left for New York when the NBA came calling in 1990, ascending to his current post in 2008. Carelli is the NBA’s primary contact for the league’s national broadcast partners (TNT, ESPN and ABC) and all 30 teams’ local broadcasters and regional sports nets on matters including scheduling, production, promotion, content, sales and marketing.
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has known Carelli since Carlisle was a rookie player with the Celtics in 1984. Carlisle, head of the NBA Coaches Association, has worked with Carelli on issues such as getting broadcasters access to coaches during games. “The thing that’s great about Tom is he’s a transparent guy, he’s good-hearted and he wants the best for the coaches and he wants the best for the NBA,” Carlisle says. “We’re always able to work through things and get things right.”
Away from work, Carelli coaches his twin 10-year-old boys’ basketball team. Carelli and his wife also have a 12-yearold daughter with autism, which, he says, is “happily, a full-time job.” They have received support from the NBA on autism by, among other things, encouraging broadcasters to wear the Autism Speaks lapel pin to promote World Autism Awareness Day, April 2. Carelli is grateful to the past NBA commissioner David Stern and current leader Adam Silver for embracing the cause. “They’ve been extraordinary,” Carelli says. “The support they’ve shown myself and my family has been remarkable.”