Dan Rube '88: Bringing the Liberal Arts to Bear in Law
Issue   |   Fri, 10/20/2017 - 02:28
Photo courtesy of Dan Rube '88
After entering college with an affinity for math, Rube shifted his focus to the humanities, especially political science and English.

Dan Rube ’88 arrived at Amherst as a tennis player interested in math. Some thirty-odd years later, he is now the executive vice president and deputy general counsel at the National Basketball Association. Although he’s had quite a few stops along the way, the manner of thinking and engaging with the world that he absorbed at Amherst has never stopped guiding his choices.

Math and Tennis Early On

Growing up, Rube was truly a child of the 1970s. His dad owned a small business in the community, he went to local public schools and he loved playing sports. Indeed, the most distinct part of his childhood was probably his affinity for tennis and baseball. Such was life in New Rochelle, a few miles north of New York City.

Though his career led Rube through some of America’s most elite legal circles, Rube had never really thought of law as a genuine career path before Amherst. In high school, he had not cared very much for the humanities.

“I didn’t much enjoy reading in high school — it wasn’t my thing,” Rube recalled. Instead, as with most high school students, he focused on math — his primary academic interest — and sports.

In fact, his love for the tennis courts was a major motivation for his decision to attend Amherst, a school where he could continue to develop his passion for the game. Certainly, Amherst’s academic reputation aided him in making the decision, but Rube did not have the specific motivations that many of his future classmates had. He simply wanted to go to a good school and play tennis, and Amherst seemed the perfect fit.

Academics at Amherst

However, once on campus, Rube’s academic focus quickly shifted. He had arrived at Amherst intending to pursue math, but his multivariable calculus class proved a rude awakening.

“It took me about five minutes to look around and see what real math kids looked like,” Rube said. “While I was working my butt off to learn the material, they were intuiting it, as if taking the class for a second time after having already mastered the content.”

With math seemingly off the board, Rube turned his focus to one of his other first-year courses, an introductory political science seminar that would completely redefine his time at Amherst. Taught by the esteemed Professor Austin Sarat, a “young star” in 1984, the course offered a “kind of intellectual stimulation and focus on reading and writing that was really new.”

As was — and is still — the case in most of Sarat’s classes, no one could hide. Each student was expected to be ready and willing participants in the weekly sparring sessions with Sarat. Rube was always up for these battles, and his enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed.

“As a student, Dan had a lightening quick intelligence and a lively wit,” Sarat said. “He seemed to really enjoy learning and to value his college experiences.”

The class provided a springboard for Rube into a consummate liberal arts education. He took more political science classes, made full use of the remarkable stable of brilliant thinkers in Amherst’s English department and even dipped his toe into the murky waters of philosophy. Looking back, Rube credits a host of professors with further stimulating his passion for the humanities, but he heaps extra praise on the English department.

“I couldn’t get enough of that stuff,” Rube said. “The teaching was outstanding and the reading lists were all excellent.” Although he ended up majoring in political science, professors like William Pritchard and Allen Guttman spurred the development of Rube’s critical thinking.

Outside the Classroom

Rube’s time of intellectual discovery at Amherst was inextricably linked to his deep love of sports. “It’s really hard to separate what my experience at the school was like on the team and what it would have been like without it,” Rube said.

Above all else, the mentorship of long-time tennis head coach Ed Serues was something that still carries significance to Rube. After a disappointing first season plagued by injuries, Rube returned to New Rochelle somewhat dejected. Waiting for him, however, was a letter from Serues promising how important Rube was to the team’s plans. The letter motivated Rube to keep improving his game and he quickly became a member of the team’s starting lineup, eventually being named captain by his senior year.

Serues also introduced Rube to his other major commitment on campus, the men’s squash team. Like most public school students, Rube had no prior experience with the sport — he did not even own a racquet. Serues’s prompting paid off, as Rube attended tryouts even though he had no idea the school even had squash courts. It took a couple years to grow accustomed to the sport, but by Rube’s junior year, he was a letter-winner in both tennis and squash.

All this is not to say that Rube existed solely inside the athletic bubble that’s common on campus today. Rather, many of his closest friends came from his first-year floormates on the fourth floor of Stearns, especially his roommate Jeff Guiel. Today, three decades after first meeting, his friendship with Rube still holds a special place in Guiel’s heart. “Danny was the first person who really talked to me at Amherst that first day freshman year,” Guiel recounted. “Danny made me — and everyone he meets — feel welcome in such a deep way, right away.”

A Passion for Law

Of Rube’s experiences at Amherst, perhaps none impacted his life more so than the decision to apply to law school his senior year. “I didn’t come in with any master plan to be a lawyer,” he said. “I was feeling my way a little bit.”

Ultimately, the one driving force behind any professional decision was a desire for some level of independence. Growing up the son of a small business owner, the importance of agency in one’s career was impressed upon Rube from an early age. With the development of interest in the humanities at Amherst, Rube began to look for a path that could combine these two motivations and gradually gravitated toward the field of law. He was accepted to the law school at Harvard.

“Law seemed interesting to me, and it gave me that opportunity to pursue something professionally challenging with that degree of independence,” Rube said.

The opportunities afforded by a Harvard law degree alone were good enough reason for Rube to enroll, but he was also drawn by other factors. Boston was very attractive to the Northeast native and the university’s large size was somewhat of a novelty. Though he had applied to other schools, the decision was already made when Rube received his acceptance letter from Harvard.

Harvard and Early Career

Once in Cambridge, Rube went through the same routines as most of his classmates, one of whom hailed from Hawaii and would eventually become the 44th president of the United States. He held a post on the Harvard Environmental Law Review, spent too many hours studying and made friends over basketball at the gym. He even met his wife, Patti, at Harvard. Busy with all this, Rube thought nothing of a potential career in the sports world, ignoring the traditional law school path of those who end up working in the NBA.

“Most students who are looking to maybe make a career in the sports world would take sports law or labor law or antitrust law,” Rube said. “Actually, I really wanted to take antitrust law there, but it ended up conflicting with a course I needed to take for the clerkship I ended up applying for.”

That clerkship ended up shaping Rube’s view of law — and he was hooked. For him, observing judges at work equated to watching a great master paint. The ability to combine the more theoretical aspects of legal theory with each case’s practical considerations was the legal profession at its finest. “I often tell law students who are thinking about it that if you clerk and you’re not interested by that, you probably weren’t meant to be a lawyer in the first place,” Rube said.

Rube loved his experience so much that he even considered following many of his Harvard classmates into a career in the public sector. Though he ended up returning to private practice, he still took to heart many lessons from the clerkship.

Moving Up in the NBA

After leaving New Jersey, Rube moved to Philadelphia to work at Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, content with making a career in such a private firm, especially since he was working side by side with his wife.

The opportunity to work for the NBA caught him completely off guard, as Rube had no real thoughts about leaving his position in Philadelphia. However, when a friend from law school — who had just started working at the NBA — e-mailed Rube and a group of other Harvard graduates informing them of another open position, Rube had no doubts.

“I stayed up until three in the morning and prepared a resume from scratch and submitted it,” Rube remembered, laughing. “It was just a great opportunity and it kind of came out of nowhere.”

Rube landed the position, which was largely focused on the NBA’s byzantine salary cap system. Initially tasked with making sure teams understand and adhere to the cap, Rube’s responsibilities broadened as the years went by. He eventually assumed greater responsibility for collective bargaining discussions with the National Basketball Players Association, began to help formulate the league’s revenue sharing policies and took on other jobs that were not adequately filled. Now, Rube is the NBA’s executive vice president and deputy general counsel.

The league has changed enormously in the two decades since Rube joined, but Rube still retains much of his intial enthusiasm.

“As the game has grown and the business has grown, the need for legal services generally and even legal attention in the space within which I operate has grown,” Rube said. “The variety of work is what makes it so interesting.”

Coming up on his 30th reunion, Rube looks back fondly on his time at Amherst, crediting the college with developing many traits that are still important to him today.

“No matter what you’re doing, you’re doing the kind of things that a liberal arts education teaches you to do,” Rube said. “You’re analyzing and drawing connections between things, you’re problem solving, you’re communicating — and so in so many ways, the value speaks for itself.”