Hoop Story #026 - Jabari Saunders, Director of Marketing for Purpose and Athletes

Hoop Story #026 - Jabari Saunders, Director of Marketing for Purpose and Athletes
Feature #026 | December 1, 2020


Talk about your child years growing up in Joliet, falling in love with the game and the competition out there.

I fell in love with the game of basketball after my parents put the ball in my crib. 

My father played pro ball overseas, and my mom was a huge basketball fan. I learned consistency in the work ethic from my parents as it related to sports. And the dedication I needed to have with playing the game. My grandmother sent me out the door every morning and said, “You play, I pray!” which stuck with me my entire career playing basketball.

I also had a great support system around me who loved the game just as much and continues to do so. I played with and against guys like Big Ten Player of The Year Alando Tucker at Wisconsin - who is now a Wisconsin assistant coach - and Roger Powell, an assistant coach with Gonzaga, from Illinois’ Championship run in the early 2000’s.

There was a lot of talent that came out of this area that just wanted to keep perfecting our craft. The game became more of an addiction of just working yourself until exhaustion, and then getting back up and playing another game of full court 32.

(We play 32 here vs everyone else playing 21.  Hence the reason when its time for a game winner, and guys like Dywane Wade, Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter, Jabari Parker,  Kendrick Nunn, Derrick Rose, finish by attacking the rim.  It's because we start from birth going for a game point at the rim regardless of getting fouled or not.  I really see the correlation in those 2 games being a deciding factor at how people end games. But that's a different story.)

You traveled the world playing basketball in Luxembourg, Belgium and Morocco. What were some of the highlights from those experiences?

Some of the best experiences I had was just living life there. Realizing that I had made it to a level that would pay me to do something I loved, I tried to just embrace it.

I hit my career highs in points and rebounds, I traveled to Paris frequently which became like my second home. I spent my 25th birthday on the Mediterranean Sea while in Morocco. I never would have imagined the culture in Morocco. I was able to experience the Old Medina in Fez, Morocco.

Realizing that I had leveraged the game of basketball as a tool that took me around the world was very eye opening for me. I began to apply the same work ethic I had with the game toward planning ahead for what I would do after basketball was done. I haven’t given up on basketball, I've just transitioned to a different side of the game.

Talk about your experience at ESPN and covering the Bulls when Derrick rose was in his prime. What was that like?

This was an incredible time during Chicago sports. And I was very much a rookie in the industry, so I embraced every bit of it. It was great just being on the sidelines, or out in the trucks seeing how the ins and outs of game day worked. I would work with some incredible people during my time, and had the perks of watching Derrick, Joakim, Boozer, and Nate Robinson bring the energy.

I’ll never forget being up close in the tunnel watching Lebron and Nazr Muhammad get into it during a playoff game. Or even the Celtics and Bulls rivalry grow more and more with the Big 3.

The Bulls brought the city together, and I loved playing a role behind the scenes, helping to enhance the energy the city was feeling. It felt something like the 90’s again.


You left ESPN to work at Jordan Brand, covering North America and now Nike Basketball in Chicago. How have things come full circle for you? 

Talk about a full circle experience.

I grew up playing the game competing against some of Chicago basketball’s greats. Be it in a pro am, a rec league, or playing in the PJ’s, I went wherever I could go to get better and cement my own legacy in the culture. Which truly was a blessing to see it come full circle to not only come from Chicago, but work with the GOAT’s brand to begin a new chapter post basketball career, and then continue to get promoted to help continue the traditions, and legacy through marketing Nike Basketball at home. 

I felt it was a special moment in my career. Being from the Chicago area I understood, from a passion standpoint, the needs of both the basketball community and the city. I've been blessed to really continue the growth of the game here and not only cement a legacy on the court, but off the court as well.


Talk about the organization League of Gentlemen. How has that been going and what are your ultimate goals there?

League of Gentlemen (@LOGchicago) is an organization that I started a long time ago. I have always been one that wants to help the next generation grow and discover the opportunities that sports can lead to. I wanted to do that with like minded individuals, so that's exactly what we have aimed to do. 

The organization is built to motivate the next generation, and point them toward a path to success through mentoring, community outreach, and the shared goal of seeding success together.

The League of Gentlemen fosters relationships between our mentors and the next generation that allows young people the vision to seek new opportunities. We provide the resources for these kids to explore and learn more about different industries.

What excites you most about basketball in the future, when things get back to normal? 

As cliche as it sounds, the future of the game of basketball is in great hands. The future talent of boys and girls is incredible.

I do feel the “great migration” out west is on the tail end of it’s run. I think a lot of talent felt a certain type of way about that and instead are now putting on for their home cities. Chicago, Detroit, NYC, ATL, Dallas, and a few others have all seen some really great talent. The spotlight will start to focus back on those incredible Chicago vs New York battles we used to have. 

When history brings that back around again, balance in the game will show how meaningful this game will be both on the court, and influence everything else off court in the community.  

And I can't wait to do that in my new role, recently being promoted to Director of Marketing for Purpose and Athletes.


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