Kayla Grey, Executive Producer/Host The Shift, TSN + Toronto Raptors Courtside Reporter | Hoop Story #070

Kayla Grey, Executive Producer/Host The Shift, TSN + Toronto Raptors Courtside Reporter | Hoop Story #070

Take us through the development of your career? How did you get to where you are today?

It's funny, my first intro to sports was baseball. After school, my grandmother and grandfather would have games on television. My grandma would mute the games while my grandfather would have the games on his radio blasting at the same time. I was truly getting an old-school experience: watching the game on TV while hearing the broadcasters create pictures with their words via radio. It was fascinating. I can remember telling myself: I want to be a part of that. I didn’t know how or in which way I needed to go to get into the sports space, but I remember the joy of watching games with my grandparents. That ritual was cool. It was ours. 

I played a bunch of sports growing up – baseball, soccer, basketball and football and I found interest in debating people on the topic of basketball specifically. While I grew up with a career in sports in mind, I also had to deal with life itself. I got kicked out of high school because I skipped so much. I was trying to make ends meet at the time and I was a couch surfer. My path to where I'm at now was super nontraditional. I eventually graduated from an adult Learning Center and found my way back to sports. 

I attended the College of Sports Media. I had been accepted into a couple of universities at the time, but I knew myself and a four-year program was not going to be beneficial for my learning style. I felt I would rather do two years and then get right into the field. So that's what I did. 

I first got an internship with the Candaian Football League (CFL) while I was in school. I was starting to get experience within the industry and things just sort of progressed from there. I moved to different cities to cover news and weather, and eventually moved back to Toronto and began to work with The Sports Network (TSN) as a radio producer. I hustled my way to an on-air role, and it took a while. 

At that time that, when TSN would send a reporter down to the Toronto Raptors games, they would mainly focus on the team, and hardly talk about the opponents coming in. So I took notice, and eventually pitched an idea to our digital team to build reports on the teams Toronto was facing each night. 

I said, ‘you guys aren't talking about the opponents and I'm a big believer that if you're a fan of the Raptors you got to be a fan of the league. So let me talk about the opponents coming in and what storylines we should be watching.’ 

Although it was unpaid, it was a great way for me to get in front of a camera and get my reps in. Ever since then things have grown. In 2018, I made my debut on SportsCentre and I became the first black woman to ever host a sports highlight show in Canada. I would go on to pitch, create, host and executive produce my own show, while still covering the Raptors. So that's how my career came to be. 

What is your “Why?” What gets you going each day? 

Community, for sure. I am a product of it. I went to the West Scarborough Boys and Girls Club when I was five, a year before I should have been enrolled in that programming. It gave me so many life lessons and also lifelong friendships. My best friend and I have been friends since I was five years old and I'm now 30, so 25 years of friendship. Community is such a beautiful thing. In the span of a lifetime, you realize with humanity in general that we need each other. Like we actually need each other. 

I read somewhere that when you are in front of someone and you're sad and cry, the teardrops that fall out of your eyes are bigger giving the other person a cue to provide help. I think it's just a fascinating thing that even though I'm an introvert, I have a need to be around others. There's so much that you can build with each other. 

Tie that to storytelling, and I find myself so lucky that I get to be an instrument to help someone share theirs. You never know who within your community can empower, help and even spark something within us to go upon writing our story or creating our blueprint.

You’ve been seen in many arenas across the league. Can you speak on the differences between Canadian and American basketball cultures?

The vibes are similar. The passion is very similar and the knowledge around the game is as well. I think the biggest difference looking at the Raptors, is there is more of a national impact. There's only one team in the NBA that is placed in Canada. It’s not like back then when you had the Grizzlies and the Raptors. It’s just one team. So there's a level of buy-in from a national landscape that's so different from going to the states where you have a lot of teams to pick from. 

I think what's great too is that there’s a little bit of grit. I think Philly has this as well, where you know nobody really checks for you in a sense, but like you know you got the sauce. That's how I view Toronto. You know for a while in the league nobody would check for the Raptors. I mean, rightfully so, there were some losing years there. There were some times when they weren't really relevant. 

However, when you think back to the Brooklyn series where Masai Ujiri says “F*** Brooklyn” and the “We the North” slogan kind of takes off, I think that really built us as a collective fanbase and gave us a new identity. 

Our vibe is like, ‘OK! We get you're not checking for us, but we've arrived, we're here, we think that we're the sh** and so we're going to ride with our own.’

What moments have meant the most to you? 

The biggest thing for me are moments where I can take what I do and make it more accessible for all communities. So, for example with give-back projects, I was recently able to, with the help of Footlocker, gift a bunch of kids from West Scarborough Boys and Girls Club items for Christmas. Moments like those are my proud moments. When I'm able to use my platform for good in that realm. 

My show “The Shift” is a big one for me. I got a Legacy Award, the Jahmil French award for rising star. It was put on by “The Legacy Awards” which is a black collective. Anytime I'm recognized by my community I think are among my proudest moments. That's basically who I do it for, the people that look like me. 

On Instagram you are seen at a lot of red carpet and networking events. What have been some enjoyable experiences outside of the NBA Space? 

I've been fortunate to have an opportunity to do more entertainment television. I was on the show called, “The Social”, filling in for a bit. I don't know my favorite red carpet, but it's kind of funny, because while I look like I'm in it, I feel like such a fraud. I'm happy to be there, but I'm also happy to be in my bonnet in bed. I'm so introverted. I’ve enjoyed every event I’ve been to. 

Surprised the event in which you were interviewed by Drake didn’t come up. Can you speak about that experience? 

Drake had a night where he celebrated and honored women within Toronto that are entrepreneurs starting up their businesses. He invited me to be a part of a fireside chat to which he interviewed me, and I could say that the boy is coming for everyone's jobs if you’re media. It's in the follow up questions. I remember saying , “oh these follow-up questions, you are in this, in this!” It was a great night. 

With so much accomplished, what future goals do you have set for yourself? 

My goals for the future from a personal standpoint are to not limit myself or having a cap that really has no business being there. My biggest goal is to dream big and not talk myself out of my ambition. I also want to eliminate second guessing or questioning why I get the things that I deserve to get. That's a big thing I feel for black women. Sometimes we get rewarded or land a job and there's a split second where we ask ourselves depending on the climate or timing ‘is it because I'm black?’ No more of that. The answer is: you’re getting this because you freaking deserve it. You worked hard.You earned it. I think settling into that mindset is more than from a place of abundance and not lack. 

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