Give us a look into your upbringing and how it’s influenced your career choices and view on the game of basketball. Did you ever see yourself doing what you do now?
For a bit of background, I was born in Connecticut, but I moved around a lot as a kid. I spent time in New York, but Texas is where I call home. During my sophomore year of high school, I moved to Orlando. My time in Orlando really helped shape me as a professional and who I am today. I went to college in Florida at Rollins College where I played basketball for five years. Rollins College is a predominately white institution, so I found myself participating in a lot of clubs to find a sense of community. I became an RA which is where I met a lot of my friends and made a lot of connections. I also did five internships over the course of my college career that were in the fields of communications to social media. I had the chance to shadow my mentor at ESPN who was the Social Coordinator for “First Take” at the time and got a taste of what it was like to work in sports. But in the back of my mind, I still never saw myself working in sports, I always had a passion for storytelling and wanted to become a Producer.
During my Junior season, I broke my leg in half during a game - it was a real Paul George situation. After the injury, I began questioning if I wanted to play basketball again and stay for my fifth year. I ultimately decided that I wanted to stay because I wasn't raised to be a quitter. I believe the decision that I made put me in the position I am in now, because I found my passions during that fifth year. During my last year in college, I added a minor called Critical Media and Cultural Studies. Through this minor, I came to learn about design, media theory, and how to create a compelling story. These teachings made me passionate about storytelling.
After I graduated in 2020, the pandemic threw some curves and wrecked a lot of plans. Therefore, I decided that I wanted to further invest in my education and went to get my Master’s in Media Studies at Lynn University in Miami. During my master’s program, I interned for a production company to learn more about TV storytelling because at the time I wanted to become a TV producer.
Looking back at my story and seeing how I got here; I am still in awe that this is my life. My friends that are in the sports world have always had these “sport dreams” and their goals have always been to make it in professional sports. I didn’t want to be a sports girlie at first. I didn't have any of the fancy sports fellowships and internships that other people had in college. How I got my start in sports was literally by accident. I always tell people I accidentally became a sports girl. One day my mom forced me to go to a Juneteenth event that the Magic were partnered in, through that event I met Shelly Wilkes who at the time was the VP of Marketing and Social Responsibility for the Magic. We had met before because she talked to me and my team when I played at Rollins College. At the event Shelly told me about the Magic Graduate Associate Program (GA), and asked for me to apply for the Social Media GA position, and the rest was history. My boss at the Magic, Owen LITERALLY took a chance on me, and through this program, I truly found my passion and realized that I wanted to have a career in professional sports specifically in the NBA.
During my time with the Magic, I truly valued what I learned from the team. I got to be a part of rebranding of the social voice and learned how to create content for mid-market team that was entertaining and spoke to the culture of the Magic and the league. After the GA program with the Magic, I then landed a job with the Detroit Pistons and currently serve as one of their Social Media Coordinators. It’s really cool to think about because I never imagined myself to be apart of this world. I didn’t even know they had social teams for each individual team. I just knew I liked to tell stories about sports.
Social media for business carries a different level of intensity than personal use. What are some of the differences between the two? Do you carry any of those practices into your own space?
I think with a company, I just remember it’s bigger than me. With looking at the Detroit Pistons, we’re representing a brand with history, integrity, and intentionality. There's a certain caliber we conduct ourselves with due to our rich history and past success. I love what our VP of Brand and Marketing Strategy, Tyrel Kirkham, is doing now. He pushes us to be culturally relevant and create content that is true to Detroit and the team.
Personally, I would like to grow my own brand digitally and professionally. The integrity and poise that is ingrained in the Pistons’ brand is something that I want to portray for myself and my brand as well.
What goes into coordinating and curating a social media persona for an NBA team? Are you just on phones all day?
LOL we are glued to our phones, all day! My days are WILD but fun! There’re new things happening every day. I am the Social Coordinator that takes control of influencer marketing, retail merchandise, DE&I, CSR, and Pistons.com assets. Since I work with a lot of different departments there is loads of collaboration that takes place. With looking at a typical day, I could be organizing a plan for a retail collection social launch, scheduling out content via Sprout Social, helping to create influencer proposal plans, creating social plans for a CSR campaign, creating a hype video for our PistonsGT team, and the list goes on and on. We also do market research, and use Crowd Tangle to see how our content compares to other teams and see what they are posting as well. One of my favorite parts of the job is randomly sending creative ideas in our work group chats. This is where we can bounce ideas without judgment.
Any favorite projects?
One of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on was the retail launch for our Martin 30th Anniversary Collection. We brought the collection back after the success of the previous year's drop and to highlight the show’s 30th anniversary. I worked closely with our Retail Manager, to create the look book for the photoshoot concept. Creative direction has always been an interest for me, so having our Retail Manager allow me to do this was really cool. One of the most rewarding parts about this project was seeing all the creative assets come to life and see the campaign be successful. In addition to the photoshoot planning, I edited the promo reel as well, and Martin Lawarence collaborated with the post on Instagram. Having my work be presented and pushed in this way was AMAZING. This type of project and the workload associated with it was completely out of my comfort zone. Ultimately, I came here to do social, so pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone and complete a project of this caliber was inspiring for me. One thing that my VP always says is to learn as much as you can because it will set you up for success, and in my mind set me apart.
My favorite memory had to be me covering Big Sean’s Don Weekend for the Pistons. Big Sean is the Director of Creative Innovation at the Pistons, so it was important for us to get social coverage of the event. Don Weekend is a community event that celebrates the city of Detroit, Detroit Families, and other community entities. Covering this event for social was so fun and fulfilling because I got to learn a little bit more about Detroit and Big Sean’s story.
Just being in that space filled with so many different creators and members of Sean’s team was inspiring. I also practiced some of my photography at the event and snagged a couple cool pictures of Big Sean, which was super sweet. One thing I learned through experiences like this one is to always capitalize on an opportunity and build your brand/ portfolio and nurture connections in the process. This is one of the keys to make it in this industry.
What social media trends do you enjoy most?
I really like how storytelling is being used on Instagram reels. Nike always creates cool storylines for merch. It’s not just, “here goes some clothes.”, there's a story behind it and it’s a growing method that allows people to feel something. People don’t want to just see a graphic all the time. The trend of storytelling is becoming more popular in the sports world, and I want to create compelling stories that go beyond the box score that make people feel.
What advice do you have for people looking to work in your field?
Connections are the key. I wouldn’t be here without the connections I’ve made. Cultivating good relationships is also very important. Here at the Pistons, we value nurturing relationships. From working with the players to working with influencers, we understand that building substantial relationships will help us get the best content out of anyone. Relationship building was one of the values I learned as an RA in college, so this is something I am passionate about here with the Pistons.
Also, be yourself. Don’t try something you’re not, because people will find out eventually. There's going to be a lot of no’s with job searching as well. There were times I got flat out no’s, but those no’s built Tianna-Marie. They made me who I am today and shaped me to the professional I am now. You have to be mindful that even if things don’t work out, they will eventually. Things happen for a reason. I’m a spiritual person so I believe God always has a plan.
Lastly, be dedicated to your craft. There's a lot of people who want to be this and that, but only the ones dedicated and willing to bust their butts will make it to the top. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I always keep the mentality to be the first one in and the last one out. If you have that dog mentality you will make it. Also, you have to be aware that you’re working with a team, so everything isn’t about you, so adapt a team mindset as well. The sports world can be toxic so make sure you stay humble and surround yourself with people you trust so you don’t get lost in the environment.
The NBA work atmosphere is competitive. Who in the field can you make healthy comparisons to that also inspires you?
Within my Graduate Associateship with the Magic, I certainly felt that competitiveness. Being a black woman in the industry is hard. There's a lot of code switching and conducting yourself in a way so that you don't get viewed negatively. I’m so thankful that I don't have to do a lot of that with the Pistons because all the VP’s I work with directly are people of color. Having people who look like me in higher roles makes me feel more comfortable and I feel like I am truly heard and valued. I can truly be myself, which allows me to be better, work better, and operate in a true family environment.
Who I look up to is not necessarily in sports but still within the field. I look up to Jamie Crawford, who is the Digital Strategy Lead for “We The Best” music group. Seeing what she does with the social strategy for DJ Khaled is great. I see myself doing something like that one day. I don’t want to compare myself too much to others because that can cause self-doubt and self-consciousness. Everyone has their own road to success. I want to focus on myself, but I do have people who inspire me.
Any areas of focus that you would like to shed light on within the world of basketball that can also be taken in stride within the real world?
Something that is very important to me is mental health. With being a basketball player to now working in the NBA I have always felt pressure. I suffer from anxiety and depression and was diagnosed three years ago. In order to help with these emotions, I always have the mindset that I am never alone. This job can be very very stressful because of the workload since social media is 24/7. One piece of advice I would give is to always be aware of how your body‘s feeling and how you’re taking care of yourself mentally and physically. Once you do that, you’re going to be able to do the best job you can do.
Anyone you would like to thank/shout out?
It really took a village to be honest. First and foremost, I would like to thank my family who have invested in every aspect of my life. I really want to thank Shelly Wilkes (SVP Orlando Magic) for obviously getting my foot in the door in the sports world. I definitely owe a shout out to Owen Sanborn and Tony Nguyen; they are the ones who keep inspiring me and made me the professional I am today. Even though they were my bosses during my time at the Magic, we created this bond that I will never forget. Finally, I want to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT TO MY PISTONS FAMILY. You have no idea how much I love my job, my VPs, and my Co Workers. We are seriously a family and I feel comfortable where I am at. They are shaping me to the professional I am meant to be :)