In 1989, Mark Steinberg was getting dunked on by future NBA stars Kendall Gill and Nick Anderson, yelled at by Coach Lou Henson, and enjoyed every minute of it.
In 2021, Mark Steinberg received the Varsity I Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a member of the Varsity I Family for postgraduate achievement.
Looking back at his time as a member of the Flyin’ Illini Final Four-bound Fighting Illini Basketball team, he didn’t have time to celebrate the experience. He was too busy doing it. As he accepted his Varsity I Award on Thursday, he took some time to take it all in.
Because that’s what he is: All In.
Steinberg grew up in Peoria, Illinois, in the shadow of Bradley University.
It was at Bradley basketball games that his love of sports grew. “My dad started taking me to Bradley basketball games when I was probably four or five years old,” Stenberg said. “I probably didn’t miss more than a handful of games until I left for college.”
He recalls shooting baskets outside in a snow-shoveled driveway in the middle of December, listening to Bradley basketball road games on the radio, and waking up on Sunday mornings to watch the NFL. It was a sports family through and through.
Injuries hurt his high school basketball career, but he was, in his words, “crazy lucky” to be a walk-on player during the 1988-89 Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball team. He chose the University of Illinois because it was a place that was just far enough away from his hometown and where history and tradition meant something.
Although he calls his contribution to the basketball team “minuscule,” Steinberg remembers that time in his life with incredible fondness.
“When you reflect on it, the Final Four is one of the biggest deals in athletics,” said Steinberg. “I wish I would have appreciated it more then as I do now.”
Being a walk-on with a roster of future NBA stars on it was eye-opening, but he earned the respect of the starters.
Steinberg said, “We would look out on the court, and it was like a Final Four game with these five on five going after each other. It was pretty special. The scholarship athletes were very respectful. They knew what the walk-on role was, and we, as walk-ons, knew what our role was. Sometimes we played scout team. Sometimes, we were just out there to get dunked on. Sometimes we were out there just to play mannequin defense. They respected the amount of time, effort, and energy that we had to put into the team, and I respect the hell out of that for how they viewed us.”
“… people, family, and respect.”
Following graduation from the University of Illinois law school in 1992, Steinberg began working at IMG, a global sports, events, and talent management company, as a sports agent. Over the years, he worked with many of the world’s top golfers, including Tiger Woods, former Illini Steve Stricker, Annika Sorenstam, Matt Kuchar, and Vince Carter. Today, he is a co-founder and partner at Excel Sports Management, where he heads the professional golf division.
According to Steinberg, there’s something about Midwestern values that helped shape his career.
Steinberg said, ” I’m really appreciative that I decided to go to a school that helped mold me as to what I was at the time, and what I then was in college, law school, and continue to be right now, which is about people, family, and respect.”
“Giving back is important to my family.”
Thirty-plus years since graduating from the University of Illinois, Steinberg still bleeds orange and blue.
“So, whether we win or lose, in basketball, baseball, football, golf, tennis, gymnastics, wrestling… it doesn’t matter. I will always support the athletic program,” said Steinberg. “Giving back is important to my family. My wife, Tara, believes in it and we try to instill that with all three of our kids. No matter if we win or lose, giving back to something or someone you believe in is important.”
Giving back means the world to the Steinberg family. Interacting with the head coaches and Josh Whitman has been key.
“Josh has been a breath of fresh air over the last several years,” said Steinberg. “Josh is somebody I connected with, and I believed in his vision and development. I think that the closer the personal interaction you have with anybody, any university, it allows you to feel good about giving back.”
Steinberg was honored during Varsity I Weekend with the Varsity I Achievement Award. It’s an honor he does not quite have his mind wrapped around yet.
“I’m flattered,” said Steinberg. “Humbled. I think it probably hit me more emotionally than I expected.”
Varsity I weekend was a family reunion of sorts for the Steinberg family. Two of his children, Jessica and Brant, attend the University of Illinois. C.J., still in high school, might not have much of a choice, according to Stenberg.
There’s little doubt with the Varsity I Award and two of three kids attending school, Steinberg has been reminiscing on the university’s role in shaping his career and keeping a close eye on Illinois athletics.
Steinberg said, “I’m excited about all the sports programs. I really am. I’m all in. You can probably hear it in my voice. I’m all in.”