Feature No. 8 | April 23rd, 2020
To be honest, I don’t know where my love of basketball is truly rooted, it could be in MJ, Pippen and the 90s Bulls and watching them on WGN with my grandma as a kid, growing up in the Chicago suburbs, or it could be rooted in when I first started playing organized basketball in 4th grade. All I know is, by middle school, I was obsessed. My life was basketball, SportsCenter, the Wisconsin Badgers (my family moved to Wisconsin) and everything in between. Then one year, me and a couple of girlfriends were like, why isn’t there more women’s basketball to watch? So we invested ourselves in the Tennessee-Uconn rivalry that season and we each just picked a team, cheered fervently and continued to carry out that tradition for years to follow. I took Tennessee, obviously, and that’s where I came to be a huge admirer of Pat Summitt and everything she stood for as a coach and a person. Today, while I’m not directly involved in the game, I still hoop, a lot. I stay involved playing recreationally and building relationships through basketball, coaching my nieces when I’m home and also being involved in projects here and there, but mostly, I’m kind of just connected to the basketball world through lots of friends involved in the NBA, WNBA, media and all across the board, so I’m at games, events, All-Star, etc staying in the loop. My sports bug has been itching bad lately though so definitely hoping there is more sports oriented work in my future.
I guess that all leads to the answer to this question, where much of that indirectly or directly led to me attending the University of Tennessee, working for Coach Summitt for four years as a student manager and being part of a team that won two National Championships in ’07 and ’08. As I said, while I was in high school, my admiration for Coach Summitt became well known. Our high school boys coach gave me her book Reach for the Summitt, on her Definite Dozen system, and then later an AAU teammate from a town nearby invited me to join their team for team camp at none other than the University of Tennessee. While there, I met a member of the athletic department, who was from that same town, and she encouraged me to consider attending UT to work for the program following graduation. Rather than further pursuing my sports’ career, I ended up choosing this route, trying out (to be a manager! who knew!?) with about 20 or so other people and was selected for the job. It was not all rainbows and butterflies. As you can imagine, Coach Summitt demanded excellence, but inevitably I was able to learn for four years, first hand, from a legend who really walked the walk and talked the talk. I was blessed to be able to experience some of the fruits of her labor. They certainly don’t make them like her anymore. The experience was undoubtedly one of the greatest of my life, and to this day I credit my experience at Tennessee for molding so much of my journey that has followed since, and for affording me more opportunities than I could’ve ever imagined as a young 18-year-old, when I made that decision. Coach Summitt set a standard of family and loyalty within her program and therefore so many of those friendships and relationships still exist. Just the other day I was on a group Facetime with about 10-15 former Lady Vols. Candace Parker, who has played for the Los Angeles Sparks since 2008, lives 10 minutes away from me and is still my best friend to this day. And Rocky Top is still home sweet home to me. Don’t get me wrong, Pat was tough, TOUGH. Even as a manager, she had put us on the line for sprints before, suspended us, taken us off trips, but she also taught us to cook, had us to her house for dinner, and when it was all said and done, told me she would make whatever call she needed to make for me. Her presence and wisdom is incredibly missed in this crazy world we’re living in now. Overall the highlights of the two national championships were just the memories, cutting down nets, championship celebrations, the trips to those cities, the team dinners, the lack of attention the coaches paid to all of us after a championship season...haha just kidding about that part, kind of. Of course my dream was always to play for Pat one day, and while I never quite got good enough for the scholarship offer, I did get to step on the court from time to time, which made for some notable highlights. One in particular from the ‘07 Final Four always gets a good laugh. We were in Cleveland, gearing up to play Rutgers for the National Championship and we were walking through sets. I was out on the floor as a practice dummy and Pat had directed us to launch a three every time we touched the ball, so I obliged. (Rutgers was a great three point shooting team.) Then, after a few sets, she huddled us up and said “okay, this time I want you to run the shot clock down to 20 before shooting, we’re going to switch our defense.” DIRECTLY after her telling us that, we went back out, I got the ball, LAUNCHED IT. Pat blows the whistle, stops the whole walk through, that has media attendance in abundance, as it was the last practice before the national championship, and she yells, “BROWN!!!! You’re on the scout team NOT trying out! Now follow the damn directions.” Traumatizing to say the least, but so so funny now. (I think it was also pretty funny to most then.)
As for exciting freelance projects I have worked on with NBA players, I can’t even think off hand of specific examples, but I’ve definitely had a glimpse into and had a small hand in some pretty cool stuff. Something that comes to mind right away is getting to be in the studio on a handful of occasions with Damian Lillard, or I should say ‘Dame Dolla,’ while he’s worked his albums. Dame is such a humble dude and getting front row seats to see him work on his ‘other’ craft and to watch his process making music is super dope. Man, that dude takes it seriously, like he’s not just in there messing around. (And for all the critics…every daily session is accompanied by at least one, if not a couple, gym sessions. These guys can do both, believe it or not, kind of like how you can go to work and watch Netflix after.) Anyway, I don’t know if this is considered producing, but on Dame’s first album, The Letter O, I helped him secure a feature from Jamie Foxx, who is a good friend and client of mine, for his track ‘Plans.’ It was cool to be able to make that happen. Aside from that, I’m obviously also invested in the WNBA and women’s and girls’ basketball and where that game is growing. It deserves SO much more respect. One of the coolest things I got to do this past year, thanks to my good friend, and one of the best basketball trainers on the planet, Alex Bazzell, is I got to go down to Newport Beach and spend a day in the gym with Kobe and the Mambacitas. As if it wasn’t before, that is obviously a memory that is beyond irreplaceable now. I still love being in the gym, so when Candace is putting in work or Alex needs an extra rebounder for a client, I’m always like “I’M DOWN!” It’s something about the squeaks of the sneakers, the sound of the ball bouncing and the smell of the gym in the summertime, man, it never gets old.
So, Show Me Your Friends was an idea that was a loooong time coming, and has actually currently been on a way too long hiatus, that I think is going to end with this quarantine. But the idea was created because I wanted a way to get back to my broadcasting and journalism background while also spreading a positive message. When I first moved to LA, I was doing Fox Sports Radio, writing as an NFL featured columnist, covering USC football, and all the things in between, before I fell into a social media gig with the Clippers, that kind of took me in a different direction. Eventually, I started missing that world and this was my outlet. Show Me Your Friends comes directly from the saying, “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future” and this is something I truly believe. I value my friends and my people so deeply, they’re my literal lifeline. The goal of the podcast is to emphasize how important the company you keep is for your own happiness and success. So, we kinda dive into our friendships and some of the intimate moments, as well my guests’ stories and how they’ve gotten to where they are, who the people are they’ve built with and how that support has helped sustain them. It’s conversational, funny, relatable and oftentimes inspirational. The feedback of the first 10 episodes actually blew my mind. It was overwhelmingly positive and touched people I didn’t know it would reach, which is for sure the bottom line. So that’s the long story, long. (I’m short-winded, can you tell?)
Man, as I kind of already said, I think the women’s game is headed UP! I think there are more eyes on it than ever before and the respect is following. The most frustrating thing to me are the trolls, the “get back in the kitchen” commenters, who are probably like 16-year-old boys who just think they’re funny, but at the same time, I don’t understand the unwarranted hate. Like, what are you so mad about? I also don’t understand why some of these major sports outlets don’t moderate their social media a little or like, simply block the word kitchen, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s hilarious to me that these rec league superstars, who would get worked by every single WNBA player, can’t respect the game, when NBA players, the best players in the world, love it. They watch it, they attend games, they study film, but at the end of the day, it’s important to look at it as a different product and it’s own wonderful, crazy competitive, entertaining game. With Candace playing for the Sparks, I’ve been going to their games for over 10 years now and I’ve taken so many friends to their first WNBA game...I promise when I say, every single person has wanted to come back. They’ve all thoroughly enjoyed their experience and gained an appreciation for the women and their tenacity. The biggest advice I would instill in the next generation of hoopers is first and foremost, put in the work, like really get in the gym, not on your phone, in the gym. Sabrina Ionescu is a great example. She’s a gym rat, and also happens to be the best player in college basketball. Candace was the same. We became such good friends because all she wanted to do in college was be in the gym and I would rebound for her. No coincidence, she was the best player on the planet. I do feel like the focus isn’t what it used to be, so that focus will set those players apart. And the second thing I would say, but DEFINITELY not priority over the first, because your game will speak for you, is be cognizant of your “brand.” As female athletes, WNBA players, etc., there unfortunately is not always a lot of good marketing, or sometimes any, so if you have goals in the marketing category, consider that part of your job.