KJ Wright, Memphis Grizzlies Team Reporter and Podcast Host | Hoop Story #071

KJ Wright, Memphis Grizzlies Team Reporter and Podcast Host | Hoop Story #071

You have a rich understanding of the game that can be seen in your interviews. Can you fill us in on how that came to be?  

I grew up in a big basketball family and in fact my dad is still currently on the board of directors of Canada Basketball. But growing up,my mom was a college referee. She was the first female ref to actually referee a men's college game in Canada. My older brother also played college basketball. 

I grew up not really liking basketball because I was dragged to my brother's basketball games all the time when I was little. Eventually, I just wanted to be like my brother, so I ended up playing. Basketball has been a part of literally my whole life. I've just been raised in a basketball gym. It's been interesting because I feel like I have the perspective of the referee side, the business side and the playing side. I feel like I have a really good, round knowledge or perspective on the game and plus I was a player obviously in college but now I’m on the media side which is crazy too. I really have like every perspective you could possibly want or need, maybe even too much.

You spoke about your time playing collegiate ball. Where did you play and what was your playing style?  

I did four years at Ryerson University which got renamed this year because of a scandal which I’m sure can be researched. I think it's called Metropolitan Toronto now. I played four years there, and then I did my fifth year at Western University in London.. I actually still hold the record for most threes in a four-year career at Ryerson - my one little claim to fame. Shout out to me! I was a shooter;  I stood in the corner, had really good teammates and they made me look good. But looking back, I was spicy. I got a lot of techs in my last year, not something I’m overly proud of but I’ve grown since then. My spiciness is controlled now!  I was a good defender and a good shooter so basically; I was at three and D player. 

Being as though you were a player before working on the media side, how did you make that transition? 

Funny enough, I went to college for journalism. The school that I wanted to go to, my dad was the assistant basketball coach at that time. I had moved away to a prep school, and I just wanted to be home. I was such a little homesick baby, so I wanted to go to where my dad was coaching. I applied to just one program, one school and if I didn't get in, I didn't have a Plan B. That’s really been my whole life - I’ve never had back-ups plans for my dreams … The journalism program was just really good at Ryerson and at the time I actually wanted to be a foreign correspondent. Nothing to do with sports. I wanted to be a writer for a newspaper and so all throughout my undergraduate I took writing classes. I had nothing to do with sports on the media side and then as I got closer to retirement from playing, I figured that I didn’t want to just leave basketball behind. It's been such a big part of my life. So, I took a master's degree at a different school. In Canada you can play five years if you graduate and do a masters, so I played my fifth year, I did a masters and that's where I started doing sports journalism. At that time, I had gotten a scholarship to go to Russia to the World University Games and cover it as a journalist. It was so sick; it was like my first dip into sports journalism and from there I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to just hang up my shoes for playing and never see sports again. So not until my fifth-year university did I  think I was going to do sports which is kind of crazy to think about. 

Give us a look at your first ever game reporting. How have you grown as a professional since then?

My first ever NBA game was a Raptors game. I could not tell you who they were playing, but I was working for Yahoo Sports Canada at the time. I think it was pretty surreal for me. Growing up my family had Raptors season tickets since the team started and so I had gone to I don't know how many games but always as a fan. I always thought, “Wow this is big time! I am really here!”

My first game I remember stepping on the court, it was warmups and I walked on the floor, and I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m covering this professionally; I'm being paid to be here right now on the court while warming up.” I think it might have been Jonas Valanciunas and his ball got loose, it came to me, and I passed it back. I remember saying, “Oh my God this is real. This is a childhood dream right now.” Which is pretty cool because Jonas came to Memphis when I came to Memphis too and so we talked about it a lot. He's with the Pelicans now but that’s cool. I will say, I grow every single interview. The players always talk about watching film and stuff of their games, and I watch every single one of my interviews 5 million times to pick apart things that I like and don't like. People make fun of me for always watching my own interviews all the time but if you go back and look at my first podcast three years ago, I cringe listening to it now. Everyone's always growing and evolving. Even interviewing skills, I look at people like Taylor Rooks. We've had conversations about how to grow, and she actually helped me get my podcast to be video this year. I always look at how she asks questions and responds to people. An interviewer I aspire to be like, for sure.

I will say it is easier to grow being with one team as the team reporter because you start to build relationships with the people, they start to be a little more open with you. Everyone’s a little more comfortable with each other. I haven't thought about my first game in Toronto in so long it’s crazy to think about. 


You speak on building relationships and how it helps better on-court chemistry. What’s one way in which you build those relationships? 

I host the Grizzlies team podcast, and I will say that having the opportunity to sit down and genuinely talk about stuff other than basketball is a huge help. It’s not like the postgame interviews where I'm in the locker room asking, “why did you miss rebounds?” We're talking about family, hopes and dreams, all things that have helped me in my job a lot. Also yes, that's a lot of preparation as well but talking to them and getting to know our players beyond basketball has helped with the basketball preparation as well like I feel like that's probably my biggest blessing so far. 

What people would you say helped you on your journey and over your time in the NBA space what has helped make your experience the most enjoyable? 

I would say there's been countless people who have been so kind to me. If I leave someone out I'll feel like sh*t,  but number one is Leo Rautins, he was a color analyst for the Raptors for the longest time. He was a Team Canada coach and I went with his team to Italy, Germany and France when I was in 9th grade or so. From that point on, when I decided that I wanted to get into sports journalism he was amazing. He would let me shadow him, get me some stuff with the Canadian Bio-Steel, he let me come to games with him and more. He's great in terms of mentorship. In the same breath actually Kayla Grey who works with the Raptors, she's been amazing at helping me as well. I actually shadowed her for a period too. Also, Allie Clifton who works for the Los Angeles Lakers now or Spectrum. She helped me get my first job and I'll forever forever forever be grateful for her. Like I said, there's so many people. The sideline reporter for the Boston Celtics, Amanda Pflugrad, she watched my demo tapes because I harassed her at an NBA event that one time and she was so kind about helping me. I was still trying to get into the league and now we're colleagues and friends which shows it's such a small crazy world. I said before but Taylor Rooks has been so helpful with my podcast and interview skills. I love the women in sports that I get to work with. I’m so thankful for a lot of them. I know I'm missing like 500 people who probably did some really nice things to me but those are the ones that stick out in my mind. 

I will say the biggest thing from my perspective is that there is such a genuine and strong sisterhood between the women particularly in my position. The media women around the league that I have met I've gone on vacations with these women, spent Christmas with these women and I think that's something that not only surprised me but I'm so thankful for because  there’s probably less than 30-ish women in this position throughout the digital and TV space. These girls have your back and they're the only ones in the whole world that know what you go through in terms of traveling and covering the NBA and just owning the space. It’s such a great feeling, it's an improvement of my life which I get like these 30 best friends. 

Previous post Next post