Dave Sholler distinctly recalls a conversation he had with his grandfather, Donald Wadley, when he was 15 years old. Wadley, a proud, Polish man from Philadelphia, was a father figure to Sholler, who grew up in what he calls “trying circumstances” in Egg Harbor Township.
“It was a tough time for my family,” Sholler, now 32, recounted in a telephone interview last week. “And my grandfather said, ‘Don’t worry, Dave, put your head down, grind it out, you’re going to make something for yourself.' And, for whatever reason, I looked him in the eye and I said, ‘Grandpop, I know, because one day I’m going to be here in Philadelphia and I’m going to help a team win a world championship.’ That conversation has stuck with me forever.”
Wadley passed away in 2010, but his grandson now has an opportunity to make that prediction come true.
Sholler will leave his position as vice president of public relations, athlete marketing and development for the Ultimate Fighting Championship to take a similar position with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, the team that he interned with as a Stockton University student in 2004. Sholler will oversee all communications on both the sporting and business sides for the Sixers, who are overhauling their franchise after more than three decades without an NBA title.
“I have been so blessed and so fortunate to accomplish what I’ve accomplished in the UFC, but I’m incredibly motivated by challenges,” Sholler said. “The Sixers organization is one that I’m so passionate about, and one that has tremendous leadership. I hope in my journey with the Sixers to be able to deliver on the goal that I told my grandfather about.”
Sholler will exit the UFC following the landmark UFC 205 event Nov. 12 at New York's Madison Square Garden. Sholler has become a regular feature at UFC press conferences, most notably when unsuccessfully trying to separate Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier when they scrapped on stage ahead of UFC 178.
Sholler has lived in Las Vegas, where the UFC is based, for the past eight years. He said the opportunity for he and his wife, Tiffany, to raise their 3-year-old twin daughters Lucy and Lindleigh back home in South Jersey was a key factor in the decision.
Sholler is a 2002 graduate of Egg Harbor Township High School and received his bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in business from Stockton in 2006.
Sholler will work closely with the 76ers, helping to market the Sixers to fans as well as help with the corporate communications process.
The Sixers’ last championship was in 1983, and they’ve been criticized in recent years for “tanking” in order to get higher draft picks. The rebuilding process has also been slowed by injuries. This year’s No. 2 overall pick, Ben Simmons, is out indefinitely with a foot injury sustained on the last day of training camp last month at Stockton.
But Sholler sees a bright future for the Sixers on the not-so-distant horizon. The team just launched its new, state-of-the-art 125,000-square-foot training complex in Camden, the largest in the NBA.
“It’s such an exciting time for the 76ers, and I’m just so impressed with the vision, the mindset and innovation,” Sholler said of the Sixers’ front office. “They’re just very forward-thinking. And if you look at the roster this team has assembled … It’s just a collection of really talented people both on the court and off the court.
“When you put that all together, it was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “I had to be a part of this organization, and I want to be there as the plane starts to take off from the runway again. There’s no reason to believe this team can’t be a serious contender for a championship in the next few years.”