Leadership, Family & Basketball

Get to know new WAC Chairman Jason Hamilton

By Darrick Meneken  |  Photos by Caean Couto

Not so long ago, Jason Hamilton helped lead the University of Washington men’s basketball team back to the national spotlight. His playing and coaching days behind him, he now calls the shots on the radio while also leading a major insurance company and raising two teenagers. Meet the WAC’s 2021–2022 Chairman of the Board of Governors.

If you follow college basketball, you already know Jason Hamilton. Chances are he’s been in your home, your car, and maybe even your headset while you’re mowing the lawn. As a longtime radio commentator for the University of Washington men’s team, Jason can be heard twice a week every winter from Seattle to Spokane. When it comes to Husky hoops, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better source.

If your Northwest roots run back a couple of decades, you also know Jason was a 6-foot guard who led the 1996 Huskies to their first postseason appearance in nearly a decade. And if you count yourself among those who remember the 1998 season—when Washington allowed three shots and a tip in the final eight seconds of the Sweet 16—you might also realize that Jason, who in basketball circles goes by “J-Ham,” was an assistant coach on that team.

“That was a tough one,” Jason recalled recently while taking a break at Torchy’s on the 2nd Floor of the WAC. “One of the worst games ever.”

In truth, it was nothing short of a March Madness classic, the kind you can still find on late-night cable replay or with a quick YouTube search. There’s just one catch …

 

 

Present day

Fast forward nearly 25 years. It’s a warm June day in Seattle. Jason has just finished a photoshoot at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, the Husky home court, where he still spends a good deal of time. After leaving the gym, he drives expertly along Lake Washington Ship Canal and south to downtown. It’s a route he knows by heart.

Reaching the WAC in impressive time, Jason parks and walks. The post-pandemic reopening of downtown hasn’t kicked in yet, and only a few people join him on the sidewalk. The lobby to Rainier Tower, home to Marsh insurance brokerage, is empty. Jason swipes a keycard in the elevator and rides to the 19th floor. Standing at the windows of his corner office, he takes in the view. The WAC Clubhouse rises 21 stories just a block away.

“I cannot wait to get back to utilizing the Club how I used to use it and to seeing people,” Jason says.

Jason joined the WAC in 2003 and began volunteering on Club committees in 2012. He has served on the Membership & Marketing, Finance, Athletic, and House committees. He joined the Board of Governors in 2014 and took over as Chairman of the Board this August.

“Jason has a great history of leadership, and he has earned this role,” WAC President & CEO Chuck Nelson says. “He has great passion for the WAC, a strong business and community sense, and we look forward to working with him to create a great year for the membership and the Club.”

The one-year Chairman’s appointment is the Club’s highest member-held position and comes with a full calendar of meetings and events. With any luck, Jason will be toasting the WAC’s 91st anniversary at Jubilee this December, surrounded by hundreds of fellow members.

“That’s what the core of this Club is about—it’s about people and it’s about being together,” he says. “There’s a lot of people for a lot of reasons that have either had to temporarily suspend or re-evaluate their priorities in this pandemic. We all know what a great place the WAC is—the community that is
the WAC.

“I want to immediately re-engage folks that for whatever reason are no longer active, and then help grow the WAC community even larger than it was pre-pandemic. The people are what make the place.”

The pandemic

Each of us has a pandemic story. For some, it includes unexpected free time and new hobbies. Not so, Jason Hamilton. Jason joined Marsh in 2015. He was initially recruited to the company by former WAC Chairwoman Marilyn Boss, whom he met through his involvement on the WAC Board of Governors.

“She asked me if I would ever consider moving into the insurance realm and I said no,” Jason recalls. “Eventually I said yes, and it’s been great.”

Jason took over as Marsh’s regional head in February 2020. A month later, COVID-19 hit. “It’s been an interesting time to take a new role and lead as the world is sort of spinning in the opposite direction,” he says.

Jason moved quickly to close the company’s Seattle, Portland and Honolulu offices and shifted to an entirely remote team just as work spiked like never before. “Everybody in the world that was still operating a business was wondering whether or not their insurance covered any of their pandemic losses,” he says. “It was just nonstop.”

Toss in 26 Husky basketball games and two teenagers, and, well, you get the idea. “I’ve never had a busier year in my life,” Jason says.

Before Marsh, Jason’s career focused on public relations with a brief detour to help launch a wealth-management start-up. “I’ve been pretty fortunate in the places that I’ve been, in the stops that I’ve had, to learn something, to grow emotionally and professionally, and then take it to the next thing,” he says.

While he was still coaching at UW, Jason married high school sweetheart Michelle Boston. Son Jackson, now 17, and daughter Mia-Michelle, now 14, followed a few years later.

The Hamilton family lives just above Lake Washington in the same Eastside neighborhood where Jason was raised and attended Hazen High School. He grew up watching Detlef Schrempf and Paul Fortier lead the Huskies to national prominence but began his own college career at San Diego State.

“Part of the reason I transferred to the University of Washington was to help get it back to its winning ways,” he says. “I put a lot of time and effort and energy into trying to see the program get back to some glory days—and we did.”

Moving closer to Michelle was another reason he cut short his California sojourn. Although they met when Jason was 12 and Michelle was 13, they didn’t start dating until their junior year of high school. “He was too short,” Michelle jokes at the family’s house, which looks west at the lake and Mercer Island.

Michelle comes from a basketball family—sister Shelly and brothers Bryant and Gerry all starred at Garfield High School. After college, Jason passed on a chance to play professionally in Australia and opted to join the Husky coaching staff while Michelle attended law school at Seattle University.

As Jason says, “Life was beginning.”

Club and family

Back when Jason and Michelle were new parents looking for a break, they knew right where to turn. “WeeWACs is the first place we ever left our son,” Jason says. “Ms. Shawn was the first person outside of a family member that we entrusted our son to stay with and that extended to our daughter. Our kids have grown up in this place and that’s what makes it special.”

Not so long ago, Jason and Michelle brought Jackson and Mia-Michelle to Parents Nights Out, where they would run around the basketball court, watch movies, and hang out in their pajamas. “All that good stuff,” Jason says. “And now they’re almost out of the house. You go through that spectrum in your mind about the importance of the WAC and what it’s meant to our family as an anchor over the years and it’s really cool.”

Jason is the second Black Chairman of the Board in WAC history. For him and his family, it’s a point of pride. “It’s not like me becoming Chairman is a reaction to recent events,” Jason says. “It’s been a long lead up to this. But it is interesting that at a time in society when there’s a lot of change and discussion about race that I’m the second African-American Chairman. That means a lot to me and to my family.”

During a recent conversation at the family home, talk turned to Jackson’s college selection, a common topic as he prepares to enter his senior year of high school. Two of his finalists: Washington and Howard.

“He would like the HBCU experience,” Michelle says. Although Jason and Michelle would love Jackson to stay close, they hold their family history and identity in high esteem and smile at the thought of Jackson attending a historically Black college and university.

The importance of the family’s Black identity is evident almost everywhere you look around the house, from paintings to family photos to the books by the fireplace, titles such as “Freedom’s Children” and “Slaves in the Family.” One book in particular holds a special place. Michelle explains how “Buried in the Bitter Waters” includes the story of a Black man lynched for a murder he didn’t commit and his friend who fled before facing the same fate. The friend was Michelle’s great-grandfather.

The thing about ’98

This year marks Jason’s 20th season on the Husky microphone. “I have such an affinity for the University of Washington, and the basketball program specifically,” he says.

Playing on national television in the 1998 Sweet 16, the 11th-seeded Huskies faced second-seeded Connecticut. Jason was part of the coaching crew.

“I don’t even know if I could put a value to it in terms of the importance it had on my life,” he says about competing and coaching at the Division I level.

Down eight at halftime, Washington rallied to take its first lead with 29 seconds to play. They are 29 seconds Husky fans would rather forget.

“All the things that come with sports and competing on any level, but certainly when you’re doing it on a high level in Division I, it had a lasting impact on me,” Jason says. “Understanding work ethic, competitiveness, camaraderie, teamwork, the things that help you in leadership. Having to deal with personalities and common goals.”

With the final ticks of the clock just about gone and a Washington victory seemingly imminent, an impossible falling-down shot by future NBA star Richard Hamilton (no relation) sailed up and in, ending the Husky season in heartbreak.

“We had a good run,” Jason says. “I take the coaches I’ve had, the mentors I’ve had, the lessons learned—whether they were tough defeats or great victories—into what I do now. Leading an organization, mentoring, trying to grow, all of those things.”

Darrick Meneken is Content Director at the Washington Athletic Club. Reach him at dmeneken@wac.net.

As published in the September/October 2021 issue of WAC Magazine

—Posted August 26, 2021

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