Feature No. 17 | July 17th, 2020
I started playing basketball when I was nine years old at the infamous “Biddy Gym” in Teaneck NJ. If you were a hooper in NY/NJ you knew about Teaneck We had a dope two gym facility that had one of the best christmas tournament’s around, and our teams were full of killers.
The funny thing about growing up playing in Teaneck is we had a ton of really good D1 level hoopers that played for Teaneck up until high school. All the best players got poached and recruited by catholic schools. I always say, ‘if everyone from Teaneck stayed together and went to school at home Teaneck HS would of been a powerhouse program.’
While playing for Teaneck All Stars in 5th Grade I was even scouted along with a few of my teammates to join the Riverside Hawks AAU team and come play in NYC. Riverside was appealing because they were Nike sponsored and played in travel tournaments. My time at Riverside only lasted about one year before the program somewhat started to fall apart and so I left to look for another NYC team to join because I felt like playing there was helping my game improve.
Then one day my father gets a call from Dwayne Mitchell, who at the time was the 7th grade AAU coach at the New York Gauchos Program and had invited me to come to a practice and “try out” for the team. I remember the ride to that practice so vividly, I walked in the gym with my Riverside drawstring bag and the slander started immediately because I didn't know how much the two teams actually hated each other!
You could do a Hoop Story on that rivalry alone; Gauchos vs. Riverside. Would be dope!
Nonetheless I came to practice with a chip on my shoulder and made the team. I ended up playing for Gauchos from seventh grade through to my sophomore year of high school. At the Choz Imet a group of guys that really became family and because of our family dynamic we would tear teams up and win almost every tournament we played in. We must have won New York AAU State regionals at Island Garden every year for like 4 years straight. City Wide Tournament at Crack is Wack park in Harlem about 3 times in a row.
We would travel to Florida, Virginia, Memphis, almost every year and wreak havoc on out of town teams with our full court press and NYC style run and gun game play, we hated to lose!
Whenever we lost, our Coach Dwayne would tell us, for every point our opponent scored over 40 we had to run a suicide, and he always kept his word. Our practices were no joke! My best years at Gauchos and I feel the peak of my basketball career was in eighth grade. That summer we placed 4th in the country at AAU Nationals and then later that summer won a BCI National Championship down in Dallas Texas. The story of how we won BCI would take me another 20 minutes, but let me just say it was epic and shout out to Chris Fouch: one of the best shooters in NYC EVER.
I believe the Gauchos is the greatest NY AAU Program of all time, and their home gym is still up and running in the south Bronx to this day. It’s like a historical landmark in the mecca of basketball. Do your homework on all of the greats that came through that program.
After my eighth grade year I ended up attending high school at Paramus Catholic to play ball and then transferring to Paterson Catholic. After some unfortunate situations, I gave up playing basketball following my junior year and decided to start working and making money instead. However even though I wasn't playing basketball I’ve stayed connected to the game through coaching and training kids at the same rec center I grew up playing in Teaneck NJ with the Playtime Panthers. I made a promise to myself that I would continue to be around the game of basketball because it truly was my passion and that passion ultimately led me to all the professional opportunities I have today.
I remember vividly when my affinity for Nike hit because of some gear we received at the Gauchos gym before traveling to Boo Williams for their annual tournament. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I realized what it meant to be sponsored.
Our team was sitting on the bench in the Gauchos gym and our coach came over with a bunch of boxes and started handing us gear peace by peace, it was like christmas! In our previous years we would receive sneakers and a hoodie every now and then, but once we got to the 15u age group is when the Nike sponsorship really kicked in. Socks, practice jerseys, headbands - you name it! The feeling was overwhelming. It made me feel like Nike really wanted us to represent the brand.
I also remember thinking at that moment, “‘I wonder whose job it is to pick the stuff we receive’ and i wanted that job! Haha Ii truly feel that's where my affinity for the brand kicked off; after that it was written.
I started working for Nike March 26, 2013; Air Max Day. At first as a seasonal employee my senior year of college. Nike was my second job at the time and I really only started working there part time to pay rent and for a discount on sneakers!
After about a year when I was kept on permanently and I realized some of the dope career opportunities within the brand, but I had no idea how I would get there. Until one year my store manager offered me the opportunity to travel to Chicago to work the Chicago marathon expo, which is where I found out what an EKIN was and networked my ass off trying to get to know all of them and find out who was the person hiring them.
When I came back from Chicago I was on a mission to somehow become an EKIN and also to go back to the marathon the next year so I could network again. Fast forward a year later, I'm back in Chicago again for the marathon and doing it all over again. Except this time I got to meet “Mama Wright,” Nike’s EKIN Director for North America at the time and she was able to give me some real feedback on what it would take to become an EKIN from the retail level.
One of the things she told me was that I needed to be in a major market and it just so happened that a month after the marathon I was able to transfer from my store to NikeTown NYC: brand’s global flagship store on 5th Ave. After working there for about two years and becoming a manager on the basketball/Jordan floor it finally happened, I got the opportunity to become a Brand EKIN for the state of New Jersey.
When it happened I couldn't believe it. Not only did I get to do my dream job at the time, but I got to stay home in my own state! Previously I had been applying to EKIN jobs all over the country so it was a major relief to be able to stay local.
As an EKIN I had the opportunity to be sort of an evangelist for Nike going from Foot Locker to Champs to independent sneaker boutiques all over New Jersey educating store associates about Nike Innovations and product stories. One of my highlights of being an EKIN was working on the NBA x Nike Uniform Launch. Myself and two other NYC Ekins, Arinze and Wade, put together this crazy plan to educate store associates on the Nike x NBA Products and partnership by putting them through a day in the life of an NBA Player. We put together a NBA Draft, Tunnel Walk Moment, and even gave everyone the chance to play at Barclays Center, home of the Nets, it was epic!
I still see people posting pictures from the event. When we did events like this we called them EKIN Universities and this was one for the history books!
After being an EKIN for about two years I had the opportunity to join the Nike Basketball Brand Marketing team in NYC. On the basketball brand team we did countless events in NYC and sponsored the best summer basketball leagues in every borough, but the activation that everyone knows my team for is New York vs New York and the Kyrie Invitational. I think NYvsNY speaks for itself and it really is one of the best basketball events ever, and to think it's still evolving and growing is pretty crazy.
One of my favorite NYvsNY moments was the launch of NYvsNY for Her. We brought five WNBA athletes to the opening day and created a buzz for the girls league like no other. It's a shame the second year of the girls division has been postponed because of COVID-19.
NY vs NY in my opinion the most impactful brand initiative to ever be integrated with the communities of NYC. it literally unifies the city around basketball and amplifies the voices of the adult leaders and young players in the basketball communities of every borough. At Lincoln Park two years ago one of the locals came up to me and told me “Only Nike could bring together every hood in Queens like this”.
In the summer of 2018 our Nike Basketball team renovated six different basketball courts including the famed Rucker Park. Each court renovation gave the playgrounds a face lift and made the parks feel safer for kids to come hoop at because of the beautiful designs and colors painted on the courts.
The community service I’m most proud of is the work at the Dunlevy Milbank Community Center in Harlem that same summer of 2018. My Nike Basketball team created a partnership with Children’s Aid Society and renovated the indoor and outdoor basketball facility that impacts thousands of inner city children every year. The before and after images of the facility would blow your mind and the best part of the partnership is that it allowed us to have a sustain plan with children’s aid and launch Kobe’s Mamba League in NYC for the first time a few months later. Having Kobe come to Milbank was a full circle moment for me and made all the work and effort to pull off the Milbank renovation worth it.
Milbank continues to benefit from the renovation and everytime I see something happening there it makes me smile. Most recently Zion even stopped by to launch the Air Jordan 34 at an activation last summer.
Living in Portland has been interesting to say the least, the style of living is much more laid back and easy-going; a complete contrast from living in the NY/NJ area. But it's been a nice change of pace that i'm enjoying so far.
Working at Nike World Headquarters is pretty crazy, especially working on the Jordan Brand side of the business.
I remember my first time going there to visit and being in awe of how much it felt like a really big Nike college haha If i could describe working on campus in one word i would say its just ‘inspiring’. Being there every day in the Michael Jordan building and knowing that some of the best products in the world and some of my favorite sneakers of all time were created in the little meeting rooms and desks I walk by every day is pretty crazy. I'm motivated to leave behind a legacy on campus that will continue to inspire the next generation of kids that comes after me.
I'll end this interview by saying I credit most of my success in the industry to staying true to my passion for basketball. In every professional role I've had I leveraged my basketball passion in some way to be successful. I hope that younger kids, and even my peers, realize that the game of basketball doesn't stop impacting you after you're done playing.
I’m one example of it but I know so many other people who feel the same and have had successful corporate careers from following their passion whether its basketball or not. So for any young guys reading this, stay true to your passion, use the game for what you want to get out of it and keep pushing for your dreams. When I started working at the Nike factory I had no idea I would end up working for Jordan brand one day but the truth is I had an unwavering faith and belief in myself that something would work out. See it, Believe it, Achieve it!