Have you ever wondered what it might be like to go behind the scenes of an NBA franchise during the pre-draft process? If so, you’re much like me in that I’ve always wondered what it would be like to experience this multi-step, multi-component decision-making process.
As a fan, you watch the NBA Draft and as names are called, you see the realization of a dream becoming a reality. Years of hard work, determination, passion and skill development finally pay off the moment a player hears his name called. These players now have the opportunity to do what they love on the biggest stage and at the highest level. But before that beautiful moment where tears are flowing, families are hugging, and crowds are clapping, you might be surprised to learn how busy teams and players are before that special night in June. Well, at least I was.
When the NBA Foundation announced it would be hosting an NBA x HBCU Fellowship, it felt like the perfect opportunity to make my dreams a reality. Since high school, I knew I wanted to work in the NBA. I absolutely love the league, I mean, really love it. My dad introduced me to the game and we’d spend lots of time together watching LeBron James (his favorite player) battle Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the NBA Finals. Before I knew it, I, too, was yelling at the TV cheering on my favorite player, Kevin Durant.
Basketball had become a larger part of my conversations, and I especially loved the NBA Playoffs and Finals. As the summer rolled on, basketball would slowly be on its way out, but not before the NBA Draft. Knowing that the Fellowship would allow me to gain on-site experience with an NBA team as it prepared for the Draft was something I knew I had to go for. So, I did and after 2,700 applications were reviewed, 60 Fellows were chosen to be a part of the inaugural class.
When I received the news in March, I also got to experience that beautiful moment where tears of joy were flowing and though my family was back home in Chicago, they shared sentiments of love and congratulations via group facetime. I had made my dreams a reality, for I now had the opportunity to intern in Basketball Operations and Analytics with the Charlotte Hornets. It felt like this was my draft day.
The thought of working with the Hornets honestly felt like a full-circle moment for a multitude of reasons. I am a Chicago native where Michael Jordan, the owner of the team, transformed the game of basketball. What MJ did for the Chicago Bulls franchise hasn’t been duplicated and the pride he gave Bulls fans and Chicago natives is everlasting. Beyond what Michael did on the court, he also made it a priority to inspire others. My father actually attended Michael Jordan’s basketball camp as a kid, so as a Chicagoan, interning for the Hornets simply felt like destiny. I couldn’t help feeling, “What better way to mark the halfway point of my studies at Howard University than being one of the 60 Inaugural NBA HBCU Fellows at the only NBA team with a Black majority owner?”
After receiving the news, I began speaking with my manager, Alexander Powell, who warned me that I would be starting during one of the busiest times of the year. I arrived in Charlotte on June 3, and when Alex welcomed me, he offered me the opportunity to get started right away as there was a pre-draft workout happening the following morning. I happily said “yes,” and the next day, I saw a glimpse of what my first few weeks would look like. When we arrived at Spectrum Center, I was still in awe that I was beginning to live out my NBA career dream. We entered the executive offices where I found my new desk, decorated and laced with Hornets gear.
As we headed down to the practice facility, I was budding with excitement. I walked into the gym and received my first pre-draft workout packet that contained the players we would be watching and some of their stats. Over the next two-and-a-half hours, the six players got their measurements taken, did various drills and finished with three-on-three scrimmaging. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think how exhausting the process must be. Flying from city to city, staying in hotels, and rigorously working out in hopes of hearing Adam Silver or Mark Tatum call your name had to be tough not only physically, but mentally, as well. Yet, I noticed the players maintained their competitive edge, had a desire to show their best self and still went above and beyond during the workout. So, I decided that day that I would embody those same qualities over the course of the Fellowship.
As I worked on various projects to assist my manager ahead of draft night, I realized just how much goes into this extensive process. Scout intel, analytics, and pre-draft workouts are just a few of the components that factor into General Manager Mitch Kupchak making his ultimate decision.
Though I expected to just observe the process that week, my manager and Vice President of Player Personnel, Larry Jordan made it a point to allow me to ask questions and be involved rather than simply exist as an onlooker. When Draft night came, we all watched players be taken off the board in real time, and as our picks approached, angst and relief were both present – angst whenever he had to choose someone (hopefully the right one) and relief because that night was the culmination of everyone’s hard work throughout both the season and off-season.
That night the Hornets drafted Mark Williams of Duke and Bryce McGowens of Nebraska. It was a drastically different feeling hearing “The Charlotte Hornets select…” at Spectrum Center than it had previously been in my living room. I was behind the scenes on what I think is the NBA’s most special night. It’s a night that only the best of the best get to experience. It's a night where preparation meets opportunity and where dreams become reality. Though every NBA Draft Night is special, the 2022 NBA Draft has a little extra sparkle and gleam because it was a true glimpse into what I pictured my life looking like once I began my career in the NBA.
Though draft night was my favorite experience of the fellowship, the number of great experiences were not few and far between. I got to meet and work with amazing people in Basketball Operations, watch LaMelo Ball and the roster players scrimmage and learn more about roles outside of my department through meetings with different executives throughout the organization. Working with the Hornets this summer has proven to be eye-opening and a great foundation for the career I plan to have. Had it not been for the NBA Foundation creating this Fellowship, I’m not sure I would have gotten the opportunity to plant the seeds of my dream while still in college. I have been able to learn analytic skills that were tailored to basketball, but are also transferable. I have also built relationships with NBA personnel that I truly believe want to help me achieve my current and future aspirations.
As I venture back to Howard, I will not only carry with me the skills I learned, the unforgettable experiences I’ve had, and the relationships I’ve built, but also the three values I practiced: always maintain a competitive edge, a desire to show your best self, and a will to go above and beyond.