Humbled Cho reflects on dream-like journey

PORTLAND — Rich Cho searched for one word and then he found it.

Cho was humbled. Completely and overwhelmingly humbled.

All the years of hard work, perseverance and self belief had paid off. And the softspoken 44-year-old known more for his intelligence and business acumen than his flashy star power was now the general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers.

But after the cameras zoomed in and the questions poured out Monday afternoon during an introductory press conference at the Rose Garden, Cho took a quiet, personal moment to look back and reflect.

“I come from a humble background,” Cho said. “I always keep it in mind.”

Then Cho ran through his past — one that in many ways resembles the very fabric of the American Dream.

When Cho was 3, his family immigrated in 1968 to the United States from Burma.

But the search for a new opportunity was initially not easy an easy road.

The Chos moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., where the family was sponsored and supported by a local church.

“We didn’t have anything,” Cho said. “We were on welfare for a while.”

Highlighting the struggle was Cho’s father, who worked the graveyard shift at a 7-11 convenience store for about 20 years.

Then Cho followed his father’s rise, picking up a variety of odd jobs as he made his way through the world.

Cho was a busboy and dishwasher at International House of Pancakes. He was a waiter. He picked berries in Washington. And he pulled shifts as a phone solicitor, selling memberships to an athletic club.

“That was a horrible job,” Cho said laughing.

Even when he began to crack the ceiling — earning an internship with the Seattle SuperSonics while studying law at Pepperdine — Cho still had to rough it. Since Cho was not making livable money with the Sonics, he was forced to sleep on the floor of his brother’s apartment at the University of Washington.

Cho remembered the space as being as big as a pallet. And Cho’s tiny home was located right next to a noisy kitchen.

“As I move up the ladder, my brother reminds me: ‘You slept on my floor, man.’ ” Cho said, showing off a wide smile.

Then, as Cho worked his way through law school, he had to deal with the death of his father.

But Cho’s mother is alive and well, currently residing in Federal Way.

Now, her hard-working son has returned to the Pacific Northwest.

And while Cho guides the Blazers into a new era, his well-traveled family can journey down Interstate 5 to watch history unfold.

“I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunity,” Cho said. “And I’m going to work as hard as I can.”

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