Tell us about your first meaningful moment with basketball, did you play growing up?
My first introduction to the NBA was actually watching the 2001 NBA Finals, Lakers vs. Sixers series. I was just old enough to appreciate what was going on, and I fell in love as a fan from there. I wasn’t really into basketball before. I never got picked to play growing up. I was a Karate kid, and that was that. Everyone called me “The Karate Kid.” I was home-schooled and practiced karate all the way up until my senior year of high school. Funny enough though, it was my Karate skills that eventually helped me get my start in the NBA.
Karate helped you start a career in the NBA? How so?
I was in my first year of college (2006) and I was pursuing acting. I got my first opportunity working on a Target commercial doing flips on a trampoline. That commercial led to another for Philly tourism. The slogan was – “Philly is more fun when you sleep over” . I was a martial artist so they wanted me to do kicks and flips in my pajamas. While on set, these two women who were on the 76ers dance team came up to me and said, “Oh my gosh, your stuff is so weird and cool, you would be perfect for the Dunk Squad thing”. I was like, “Dunk Squad? I don’t play basketball.” They then told me the Dunk Squad was mostly made up of gymnasts.
At that point, I was in love with the Sixers. So I figured I would just go to the audition. I showed up, and never looked back. I fell in love with the organization from there. I was just a dunk kid that did Karate. I honestly wasn’t even that good my first year there. I was just happy to be there, come to the office early, stay in the office late, and just work harder than everyone around me.
When was the first time you were used as a voice for the Sixers organization? Did that lead to anything else?
The NBA used to have an initiative called “Read to Achieve'' where the mascot at the time (Hip Hop) would come in and read a book to the kids. When the time came, the mascot couldn’t talk, they needed someone to come with the mascot and to read to the kids. The full-time employee called out, the mascot brought me in – and I killed it. I became the “Read to Achieve'' Guy. It gave me a chance to have trust from the Sixers in that way, as a voice. It soon turned into hosting season ticket-holder events, in-arena announcements, etc. This went on for years and though I wasn’t a full time employee I was trusted to be a face and represent the Sixers in Live Event settings. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. I joined the 76ers Dunk Squad in 2006, and I didn’t become the in-arena host until the 2013-2014 season. I was a part-time employee for six years before I got my first full-time job with the organization.
During the 2012 lockout year, the Sixers game presentation department let-go of everyone except one person which opened the opportunity to help. They were so under water at the time that I was allowed to handle tasks that people in the department would normally handle. The next season, when it came time to hire a new coordinator, they interviewed people from all over the NBA. Since I had essentially been doing the position, they ended up offering it to me. .
At first I was a little scared because I wanted to be an entertainer, and I was self aware enough to know that I lacked so many skills and wasn’t the most “professional.” I lacked so many skills in that area of my life but I understood this is going to help me level-up and do something great.
My workflow was insane now that I think about it. I would wear a suit and headset, run the tunnel, the anthem, video board, etc, then change at the third quarter into my dunk costume and perform. No one realized that this was an actual thing for a whole two years. I would be the guy at the end of each sequence doing all the higher difficulty dunks. Afterward, I’d come back out with a tracksuit, put the head set back on and run the rest of the game. So, I was the captain of the dunk team, but also an event show coordinator.
When did you become the official 76ers host? Did you feel supported when you took on this new role?
Scott O’neil became CEO of the Sixers in 2013. He saw me hosting a summer hoops tour and came up and asked if I was the team host and I told him I was just the event coordinator. He said, “You need to be our host.”It was just like that, no audition, I just got the job.
I was nervous but I thought I was so cool because the Sixers spent money on suit jackets and sneakers (from Aldo) for me. I wasn’t the best when I first started. Like anything in life, it just took me a little bit of time and I got the hang of it.
I’ve been really blessed to have support from the gate. It had nothing to do with my skill set or anything in life. I think people just appreciated my heart. They saw that I really just was trying my best. I made every mistake that I possibly could have made. Literally. I almost got fired a hundred times, I just never made the same mistake twice. I was accountable at a very young age, and I had no problem owning it. I think people believed that I was good enough to not do it again.
By the time I was hosting, I think season ticket-holders already saw that as a success story. They knew me when I was just dunking with Hip Hop and then say, “Whoa look at YOU” – now you’re the face, you’re the voice! I remember when you were just dunking with HIP HOP, and now look – you’re wearing a suit-jacket and talking about T-shirts! That’s pretty cool.” To season ticket-holders and loyal fans who’ve been around for many seasons, that was already a really cool thing to see.
By that time, the social media era had started, and I jumped on that. It really helped my brand grow from there. I was early to the game, when if you went viral on IG and you would actually get a hundred thousand followers. This was also back when YouTube started popping off. I was on the court with players doing videos, snippets and stuff like that. This was pre-Snapchat. I'm aging myself right now! It really helped my brand in the early stages.
As a kid, no one taught me certain things that I’ve learned while working for the NBA. I would book things for the Sixers and saw how much the acts, pyro guys, stage-hands, the balloon businesses were making. These people are stacking bread and they just show up for a couple hours. How do I own my own business? That’s what opened my eyes up to entrepreneurship and thinking bigger. If it wasn’t for my job with the Sixers, I would have never seen that. It wouldn’t have clicked for me. I didn’t have a history of people teaching me, or telling me how certain things work. I always thought to just – Have a job, have a job. I credit the Sixers for opening my mind towards business and bigger ideas in general. It was super helpful to me. I fell in love with entrepreneurship and that’s what kind of grew into my LIVE LIFE NICE brand. It’s just a common theme with me, I get my foot in the door, start at the very bottom and work my way up.
What was the path towards your first NBA All Star Hosting?
The NBA held an event titled “best practices.” It is an event in which every game presentation worker comes together to share how they work with other departments for growth.
In 2013 and 2014, I was given the opportunity to take part. When I got there – I realized that the NBA works with all the people from around the league to work their events such as. NBA Draft, global events, 3x3, etc.
I spoke to everyone there. I don't care what it was, or who I had to talk to, I wanted to get my foot in the door. I made a name for myself that weekend and made sure they wouldn’t forget me.
I got an email 3 weeks later that someone just called out of the stagehand position. Honestly, it was hard work. All I did was run, roll T-shirts and get people’s coffee. I was doing the dirtiest of dirty work during that NBA all-star weekend. I actually have a video of me being a stagehand for Nick Cannon. Then it got to the point that I was a stage-hand for Ally Love the next year. It was like me going to community college, I didn’t care. I gotta do what I gotta do to get me ahead. After a year or two or three, they finally asked me to host Friday night. Once I got one, I’ve been doing NBA stuff ever since. Once I get one there’s no turning back.
The Pandemic was tough on a lot of industries, particularly sports. How did it affect you and shift your career path towards music?
All of a sudden, everything stopped. There was nothing. Not only did everything stop, but there was no guarantee that any of it would ever come back. You just didn’t know. That fear of not knowing what was happening made me come back to the core of me and ask myself, “If life is about to slow down, and the world is about to stop, who are you?”
Working on myself actually led me back to music. I did what I loved. I did social media work, worked out and started working on music. It was therapeutic for me. My first song was called Insecure because I was very insecure and I still am in a lot of ways. I put it out in the world and that was a big deal for me. I would have never done that if the pandemic never happened. I would have cared too much about what people thought.
I did it, and that was one of my biggest steps in embracing who I am. I like to do this, I don’t care if it's stereotypical, I don’t care if it sucks. I’m just doing this for me. I did it, and it felt amazing. Shortly after that I got connected to DJ Jazzy Jeff the rest is history.
If you met me before the pandemic, you wouldn’t even notice me now. Nothing about me is the same. It definitely changed me for the better, and brought me back to my core self.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the sports industry?
If I could give advice to anyone that’s trying to get their foot in the door into the sports industry it would be two things:
- Be a good person
- Do the job that you want. Period.
Too often people are hard to deal with, people cut corners, people are in it for the wrong reason. If you’re not pleasant to be around you’re not going to get it, it’s not going to happen for you. Speaking to my story, a lot of my growth came from the fact that people wanted me to win and they supported me. They wanted to continue to be around me. It’s not because I'm so charming, it’s because I did the work that no one wanted to do and had a smile on my face while doing it.
Do the job you want, stop waiting for someone to hand you something. Don’t wait to get a job to do what you want to do. Just go and do it. The opportunity is in your hands. You can create noise and buzz for yourself now. All you have to do is be good at what you’re doing and you will get recognized. So if you’re 15 minutes is quality work you’ll land somewhere.