For Immediate Release
June 10, 2024
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Michael Duke

(BPRW) NBA welcomes 2024 HBCU Fellowship class

Seventy fellows from 22 HBCUs will work across the NBA and its teams as part of the third cohort of HBCU Fellows.

(Black PR Wire) On May 23, the NBA officially ushered in the third cohort of the HBCU Fellowship Program — a 10-week paid internship that aims to provide career development opportunities in the business of basketball for undergraduate and graduate students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The NBA Foundation created the NBA HBCU Fellowship in 2022 with a clear goal: economically empower Black youth.

“When the league wanted to do more for the HBCU community, we developed this program to ensure that HBCU students had an opportunity to learn about the business of basketball and break into the sports industry,” said Lauren Sills, NBA Foundation Head of Operations.

Playing a leading role in the NBA’s push to establish a strong economic pipeline for Black students was important for Sills, a Spelman College alum.

“Creating career and talent opportunities for students is directly aligned with the mission of the NBA Foundation. Helping develop career pipeline initiatives for students with similar experiences to me is an incredibly unique opportunity that I do not take for granted” Sills said.

The orientation at the NBA offices in Secaucus, NJ served as the tip-off of a two-day professional development experience for the 2024 fellowship class, allowing them to learn from executives at the league office and former HBCU fellows through panel discussions and workshops on how to best set themselves up for success this summer.

The festivities began with an HBCU All-Stars Panel that featured HBCU Fellowship alumni — Jonathan Jackson (North Carolina A&T University graduate), Raven Roberts (Morgan State senior), Olivia Fenwick (Hampton University graduate) and Tatiana Barnes (Florida A&M graduate). They spoke about their experiences in the program and how it impacted their professional development.

Jackson and Barnes are success stories for interns who hope to move into full-time sports roles following the fellowship. Jackson transitioned into a full-time role in the 76ers’ corporate development department — the same department he worked in as an HBCU fellow — and Barnes used her NBA network to help land a full-time position with the NFL.

Just before the panel began, Executive VP & Chief People Officer Sabrina Ellis addressed the fellows and emphasized the importance of using the fellowship as a launchpad for their careers and leveraging the NBA’s ecosystem into future employment opportunities.

“You may decide that you want to have a long career at the NBA or with the team you’ll be working with, but keep in mind that you have this much bigger universe of organizations and you can transfer your experience as an intern into those organizations,” Ellis said.

The All-Stars panel was followed by a business of basketball luncheon, which saw the fellows network with league employees from various departments.

“Our program has revolutionized what it means to be an intern because they have access to a diverse pool of departments and roles, so this is an opportunity for students to learn about the depth of careers you can find at the NBA,” said Fredrick Salyers, Early Career Programs Senior Manager.

Salyers, a Morehouse alum, has managed the NBA HBCU Fellowship Program since 2022. Like Sills, Salyers emphasizes the significance of providing early career opportunities, specifically to Black youth.

“Generation Z is one of the most diverse generations ever and I think there’s an absolute necessity and desire to ensure our offices reflect that same diversity as we coach these leaders forward,” Salyers said.

League employees were treated to a preview of the upcoming NBA Draft in June. One by one, giddy fellows walked up and grabbed the hats of the teams they’ll work for this summer to sounds of applause and their own personal theme songs, before posing with the draft administrators — Lesley Staton Brown (NBA Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer) and Malik Rose (Head of Basketball Operations – G League).

The draft was a familiar experience for LeMoyne-Owen College student Darry’l White — one of four returning fellows from the classes of 2022 and 2023. White interned with the Phoenix Suns last summer and spoke on how that experience helped prepare her for her upcoming stint in the Memphis Grizzlies’ marketing department.

“I learned so many skills and tools that I took with me,” said White — LeMoyne-Owen College’s first representative in the program. “I felt like last year I was trying to soak up all the gems and this year I’m moving with confidence and passion, and working on developing those soft skills so I can elevate my personal brand and the Grizzlies’.”

Following her completion of the fellowship, White hopes to pursue a career in marketing and give back to her community.

“Long term,” White said, “I’m looking forward to empowering my hometown of Memphis and my college and becoming a marketing director. That’s my dream job.”

The 2024 NBA HBCU Fellowship class features:

  • 70 fellows who will work across 29 NBA teams and the league
  • The first official WNBA-assigned HBCU fellow (Phoenix Mercury) 
  • Representation of 22 Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Three new HBCUs represented: Bethune Cookman University, Edward Waters University and Philander Smith University

Amidst all the orientation festivities, incoming Washington Wizards marketing intern Amanda Louissaint reflected on what it means to be the first fellow to represent Bethune Cookman in the program.

“It feels very special. I feel very blessed,” Louissaint said. “I’m looking forward to making connections and learning a lot so I can go back to my school and try and get my peers to sign up for this program too.”

Louissaint said she hopes to eventually work for the NBA in a full-time capacity. Fortunately for her, the fellowship has had success in helping interns achieve that goal. Since 2022, 30 HBCU fellows have been converted to full-time or seasonal roles.

Continuing to increase the fellowship program’s conversion rate is one of many long-term goals for Sills and Salyers.

“One of the main things I’d like to see for the fellowship is creating a more sophisticated and intentional pipeline for students of color,” Salyers said.

Salyers highlighted the different early career opportunities the league offers in addition to the HBCU Fellowship, such as the Summer Internship Program, Business & Basketball Training Program and internship opportunities at NBA All-Star events.

“We’re always thinking of ways we continue to engage this talent as early as freshman and sophomore years to then evolve to them becoming fellows and beyond,” Salyers said.

Sills’ long-term objectives include continuing to strengthen and unite the program’s alumni base and increasing its HBCU representation.

“We plan to nurture the Fellowship community that will grow to 200+ alumni and increase connectivity to our organization,” Sills said. “After going through this experience, our Fellows become advocates of the NBA as a great employer, and we would want to continue to share their experiences, so others see themselves here at the NBA.” 

With orientation week in the rearview, the 2024 HBCU Fellowship class will travel across the country and spend the summer working for their assigned teams. As they get set to embark on their journeys, Salyers offered some parting advice to the fellows and talented youth who hope to one day be in their shoes:

“Don’t limit yourself. If you have the passion, talent, skill, and interest, you can find an opportunity here at the league or with our teams.”

* * *

The NBA x HBCU program is administered by the NBA Foundation, the league’s first-ever charitable foundation. The orientation was organized in conjunction with the Children’s Defense Fund and Fearless Dialogues, both nonprofit partners in the endeavor.

Founded in the Summer of 2020, the NBA Foundation, a joint collaboration between the NBA, NBPA and NBA Governors, has pledged over $300 million over 10 years to create economic empowerment in Black communities.

Source: NBA