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Alma Angeles Reflects on Path, Hispanic Heritage in New Role with Hornets

by Sam Perley

It’s often said that the best things in life aren’t always planned and even sometimes, happen completely by accident. Once an aspiring sports medicine professional while playing collegiate soccer at Cal State Northridge, Alma Angeles’ career in sports is a perfect embodiment of this particular saying. 

“I really wanted to know more about being behind the scenes of playing sports,” recalls Angeles, who majored in Exercise Physiology. “My parents tried their hardest to give us as much as they could, but med school just wasn’t in the cards. That’s when I tried an internship with a sports marketing company. I thought to myself, ‘It’s still sports. It can’t be that bad,’ and it’s one of the best steps I ever took.” 

That particular internship was with PRIMETIME Sports & Entertainment – a marketing agency in Los Angeles – and also the first stop in a crisscrossing continental journey that ultimately landed Angeles her current role with the Charlotte Hornets. Today, she is the organization’s Vice President of Partnerships and as a first-generation Mexican-American, believed to be the only Latina Vice President in a partnerships department at an NBA team.

“I was into sports from Day 1,” says Angeles. “My dad and grandpa were huge baseball fans. I’m a big Los Angeles Dodgers fan through and through. I was drawn to sports throughout my whole growing up. I’m from Carpinteria, CA, which is maybe an hour and twenty minutes from Los Angeles. It’s an agricultural town with lots of nurseries and avocado orchards. My graduating class was 125 students and we had only three streetlights. I was a small-town athlete. At first, I never played soccer – basketball was my thing. I got to high school, tried out for soccer and ended up falling in love with it.”

Once her playing career wound down, Angeles’ first internship eventually led to higher-up positions in Marketing, Corporate Partnerships and Consulting with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, Major League Soccer (MLS), a London-based sports media company called COPA90 and then back to the MLS before coming to Charlotte. Naturally inquisitive, Angeles says she reached this point in her career by simply searching for insight by any means necessary.  

“A lot of folks with a similar background as mine face the same challenges. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school. I didn’t have parents to pave the way for me [in the sports industry]. I’ve been savvy enough to be curious, raise my hand and be unapologetically naïve. I have mentors who are beasts in this industry who provided me an environment where I can ask questions.” 

She added, “I remember walking into my first big meeting in the corporate world. I was at the bottom of the totem pole as the youngest employee and the first one there because I was bringing coffee for everybody. I get there and I’m like, ‘Where do I sit? Do I sit at the table? Do I sit against the wall? I know I don’t sit at the ends of the table.’ I pretended to go to the bathroom, but really ran to my mentor’s office and was like, ‘Where do I sit?’ It takes backbone to be able to ask questions like that because some people might chuckle at you or not be as supportive as you’d hope they’d be.”

One does not become the Vice President at an NBA franchise without putting in countless years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, with Angeles certainly being no exception.  She has led global teams, her work has broken two Guinness World Records, won a Telly Award, negotiated countless groundbreaking deals with Fortune 100 brands, secured one of the largest WNBA jersey sponsorships at the time and had the high honor of servicing as a liaison for the Mexican National Soccer Team within the U.S. commercial space. 

But only recently it seems has she finally stopped to take a breath, looked around and realized she’s in relatively uncharted territory for a Latina woman. “It’s surreal,” Angeles admitted. “Honestly, I never think about it and when I do, it’s a mild freak-out. ‘Am I ready for this?’ There are only 30 of these types of jobs and I have one of them [within the NBA].”

Angeles also speaks glowingly about how the Hornets organization has navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and how eager she is to be a part of a community that’s ready to watch the local NBA team begin one of its most anticipated seasons in recent memory.  

“I think there’s a re-energizing of the city. There are a lot of transplants, new businesses and energy coming into the space. This was one of the organizations that didn’t let go of anybody [when the pandemic started]. They repurposed people’s roles and transitioned them into different areas of service that were needed. That tells me so much about this organization in terms of what it means to this community, to Charlotte and to North Carolina holistically. Seeing that, I immediately said to myself, ‘Sign me up. Let’s do this.’ We have a lot of new staff, they are sharp and ready to take on big challenges. On the court, we have all this new blood that is eager to just kill it. I’m excited to be part of all this change.”

The NBA has continued to garner more exposure in Latin America, which includes playing regular season games in Mexico and establishing a G League franchise, the Capitanes de Ciudad de México, in Mexico City for the start of the 2021-22 season. Angeles sees the Hispanic market as one overflowing with potential – it’s just about finding a way to bridge that gap. 

“My parents were immigrants. My first language was Spanish. From a Mexican-American perspective, how do I sit here and help create roots over there? I’m in a fortunate position to make an impact. For good or bad, there are stereotypes of certain things like the idea that Hispanics only like baseball or soccer, but in reality, people are hungry for something else, something different. There is a responsibility to make sure that I roll out the welcome carpet and encourage everybody to be enthusiastic about it as well.”

Taking on an enhanced role with a different organization in an unfamiliar city is a substantial undertaking in itself for Angeles, let alone while also navigating her elevated status as one of the more prominent Latina women on the NBA’s business side. The title of role model can be dauting sometimes she says, and balancing that with learning all the ins and outs of a new position can take some time.

“I like to work and just go, but I need to make sure I highlight these types of opportunities to others along the way. I have to take a step back and recall, ‘You wish somebody would have told you this way back when. Now you have to be that person for somebody else.’ It was a grind to get here, but I need to do more than just be here. There’s work to be done.”

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