When John L. Ezekowitz ’13 received a call from an area code he’d never seen during the middle of his econometrics class sophomore year, he felt it might be important, so he stepped out to take the call.
The decision was worth the missed class time: The voice on the phone identified himself as Lance Blanks, General Manager of the Phoenix Suns. He was looking for someone to help the professional basketball team out with its analytics. Was Ezekowitz interested in interviewing for the job?
Now over two years into his position as a consultant for the Suns, Ezekowitz, an economics concentrator in Cabot House and originally from Princeton, N.J., has started his professional career well before graduation. Next year, while continuing to consult for the Suns, he’ll also start a new job at Bain Capital.
In a slim brown jacket and framed glasses, the mild-mannered Ezekowitz doesn’t look or act like the kind of guy you’d expect to have attracted widespread media coverage and a job offer from the NBA. He’ll tell you he didn’t expect it, either.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is Ezekowitz’s love of sports. When he was young, his parents didn’t let him or his brother watch any TV other than sports games—probably a big influence on Ezekowitz’s later interest in athletics, he says. When Ezekowitz arrived at Harvard, he explains, “the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective sounded right up my alley.” And, despite a “love-hate” relationship with math in high school, taking Stat 104 during his freshman year convinced Ezekowitz that he wanted to pursue quantitative options.
Ezekowitz spent the following summer working on a basketball analytics project that analyzed whether teams leading by three points at the end of the game were likely to intentionally foul, a project he published on the Sports Analytics Collective’s blog. The post attracted attention: His report was picked up by Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal, and, at 19, Ezekowitz landed a job with the Suns—something he describes simply as a “very lucky set of circumstances.”
Ezekowitz now works on “everything that relates to player analytics,” he says, maximizing efficiency, determining which players are under- or overvalued, and predicting future performance. He has also spent the past two years as co-president of the Sports Analytics Collective.
Ezekowitz plays down the time his work demands (“It’s not like it’s 50 or 60 hours a week, so it’s manageable,” he insists), but there are times—like before the NBA lockout last winter—when he has been on conference calls with the Suns every day.
Still, Ezekowitz (or just “Zeke,” to his friends) points to the everyday experiences he’s had here at Harvard as a student: He’s ended up playing lots of Super Smash Bros. with his eight blockmates, he says. “[My job] has given me an appreciation for the time I get to spend with friends, just hanging out—the down time. I’ve had less of it, maybe,” he says like it’s nothing, with a smile and a shrug.