Marty Blake, 86: NBA talent scout knew people and the game

Marty Blake was as much a public relations executive and life coach as he was a legendary talent scout for the National Basketball Association. And far beyond his career as a basketball scout, he was a husband, father, lover of music and a voracious reader.

“I think people will remember him for his work in basketball, but there was so much more to it than just basketball,” said Eliot Blake, one of his two sons. “He loved telling jokes, stories and talking to people. He was a true people person.”

Ryan Blake, who is also a scout and worked with his father, said the elder Blake spent a great deal of time cultivating relationships with the athletes he met.

“He had a way of putting people at ease and knowing the personal interests of so many players,” Ryan Blake said. “If he knew this player liked to read, he might bring him a copy of a book he thought the player would enjoy. I remember he sent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar something like 100 jazz CDs to help replace his collection after his house burned. That’s what he really loved to do, connect with people.”

Martin Eliot Blake, of Atlanta, died Sunday from complications of dementia. He was 86. A funeral is planned for 11 a.m. on Sunday at Northside Chapel Funeral Directors, Roswell, which is also in charge of arrangements. Burial will follow at Green Lawn Cemetery.

Blake came to Atlanta in 1968 with the Hawks, an organization he’d worked for in Milwaukee and St. Louis. He worked his way up from a promoter and event planner to general manager of the NBA team. He eventually went on to become the director of scouting for the NBA, a position he held for more than three decades. He helped put together the first NBA predraft camp in 1982 and helped find and bring future NBA players such as Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Tim Hardaway and Dennis Rodman to the Portsmouth Invitational, a showcase event.

Prior to joining the Hawks, Blake worked as a promoter for teams and athletes in a number of sports. The Paterson, N.J., native was an only child and majored in journalism at what is now Wilkes University. After college he worked as a newspaper stringer and covered sporting events.

“Things weren’t as clearly defined then, like they are now,” said Sarah Blake, his daughter. “So he did a little bit of everything, promoting athletes and events and writing.”

Throughout his career, between events, ballgames and meeting athletes, Blake read and listened to music. He even found a way to work his love for music into his sports career, his daughter said, booking popular musical acts to play after the games or during halftime to help sell tickets.

“That sort of combination just made sense to him,” she said. “And it got people in the seats, which wasn’t always easy in the early days.”

Blake, who retired a couple of years ago, never really stopped scouting, his family said. The night before he died, Syracuse and Michigan were playing in the NCAA Final Four, battling for a spot in the championship basketball game. Naturally he was watching.

“He gestured toward the TV a few times,” his daughter said. “I thought, ‘Look, he sees something. He’s still scouting.’”

In addition to his three children, Blake is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Marcia Blake of Atlanta, and five grandchildren.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.