Chris Cunanan helped throw a party Thursday evening at his new home in Cleveland. As it turned out, it was pretty successful. Of course, when you have 6,000 people show up it’s a pretty good barometer that success is a given.
Before anyone thinks Cunanan has some issues on the party scene, understand that he was helping host that party as part of his job. The 2000 Bridgeport High School graduate was one of several individuals responsible for a National Basketball Association Draft party for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We had a lot of people here and it was a fun time for sure. Our fans were able to shoot free throws on the court, we raffled off prizes and had food for everyone and showed the draft on the big screen,” said Cunanan of the event held at Quicken Loans Arena. “My responsibility during the whole process is to be in charge of the floor. It’s important to keep things organized.”
As the NBA draft concluded, Cunanan was able to talk about his latest gig involving his climb into what he hopes one day is an executive position in the National Basketball Association. Already, he’s off to a good start as the Cavaliers’ Manager of Game Presentation. But before learning more about where he is, it’s also important to know where he’s been. As one can imagine, Cunanan was like every other kid his age and one day dreamed of being a professional athlete. And as most find out, it’s not in the cards.
“When I got into college I realized that playing professional is a long shot and I wasn’t going to get there,” said Cunanan. “I decided to go in a different direction after my sophomore year. When I graduated from WVU, I really wanted to continue doing sports. I eventually figured out that there was no better way to be involved with sports than to work in sports.”
That first educational pit stop after graduating from BHS was at Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi where he played baseball. It was here where Cunanan determined that things weren’t going to work out with the professional sports career conclusion he wanted and the first detour to his current destination took place.
From 2002 to 2005, Cunanan found himself leaving Barbour County to become a student at West Virginia University in Morgantown. While there, he graduated with a degree in multi-disciplinary studies. His work at WVU got him into the world of professional sports. However, he eventually found himself earning a Master’s Degree in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown in 2009 in order to get ahead in the world of sports.
In between the two degrees, Cunanan was busy climbing the professional sports ladder. And he started in the most basic area.
“My first job was in sales with the Phoenix Suns. Sales jobs are the easiest way to get in,” said Cunanan.
The entry level position was basic in that he made phone calls to sell season tickets. After a while there, he interviewed for a full-time job with Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks where he got involved with the game entertainment portion of professional sports. From there, he bounced around to the Washington Capitals, an initial stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, then to Los Angeles to work for the Los Angeles Sparks and on to his most recent and current stay in Cleveland.
“All of those jobs have been very similar with a little more responsibility added each time,” Cunanan said.
It was during his time in Washington with the Capitals of the National Hockey League that Cunanan decided to further his education and earn his Master’s Degree. The task was less than an easy one.
“My days were pretty much from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. They were full from start to finish between my job and school,” he said. “It was hard, but if I want to get to where I hope to be, then I’ll need that degree.”
Where he wants to end up is in an executive position. He hopes to find himself first as a team’s vice president and then the ultimate goal is to be the president of a professional sports team.
“Right now, this is where I want to be at, but at the same time you want to keep growing,” Cunanan said. “I feel that I’m on the right track and hope to keep progressing into better positions.”
For most, the idea of working for a professional basketball team like the Cavaliers may seem like the ultimate for reasons beyond the career progression Cunanan is seeking. For many, the possibility about being around professional athletes and the celebrities that follow the sport and often take part would be the ultimate. While Cunanan admits it’s not a bad thing, he also doesn’t think about much anymore.
“Honestly, the novelty of that has worn off,” he said. “I’d also be lying if I told you that I don’t get a little bit like a fan whenever I see Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal). Other than that, I’m okay, which is good because we have a lot of entertainers and athletes that come through. You have to be immune to it and be a professional yourself.”
Cunanan said his favorite encounter with an athlete involved O’Neal during his first stint with the Cavaliers in a seasonal position. At that time, the Cavs’ roster included O’Neal and LeBron James, among others. Cunanan said he was in a hallway near the floor waiting to bring out two individuals dressed up in the inflatable sumo wrestling outfits out to the floor when he heard a very familiar bombastic voice.
“I just heard this voice and I knew it was Shaq. It was just the four of us in the hallway and he asks me if we all work for the team,” Cunanan said. “When I told him that we did, he immediately grabbed the guys in the outfits and threw them down and started wrestling with them. It was an unbelievable sight and you could see he was as much fun away from the cameras as he was in front of it.”
When the friendly encounter ended, Cunanan had to put back on his professional hat. With O’Neal rehabbing from thumb surgery, Cunanan stepped in once the shenanigans were over.
“He noticed that it was impossible to get up in one of those suits and said he wanted to help the guys up. Since he was rehabbing his thumb, the last thing I needed was to read that Shaq was reinjured helping up guys in a sumo outfit in a hallway,” the 30-year-old joked. “Honestly, that was the coolest most memorable interaction I’ve had with anybody.”
All of it, he said, would not be possible without the support of his parents. Bridgeport’s Dr. Roberto and Zeny Cunanan have provided unconditional love and support, their son said.
“I so truly am thankful for my family and their support,” said Cunanan, who lives in Cleveland with his Pug dog Tank. “My parents are just so fantastic. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without my parents.”
Editor's Note: Cover and inside photo shows Chris Cunanan getting ready to help Jack Black head to the floor to sing the National Anthem at a Los Angeles Sparks game. Also pictured is Chris with his parents Zeny and Dr. Roberto Cunanan.