Ilana Nunn, NBA power player
LOS ANGELES -- Speechwriter, personal security expert, camp counselor, concierge, bellman, peer mediator, media relations executive, short-order cook and and all-around fly girl are just half the hats Ilana Nunn, senior director of public relations at agency BDA Sports, wears on a daily basis. As the daughter of NBA director of officials Ronnie Nunn, Ilana has an all-star pedigree, but she didn't ride her father's legacy to the pros. Nunn developed her love for the game from behind the scorers' table, watching her father work games at the famous Rucker Park in Harlem. Growing up, her favorite necklace had two charms: a ballet slipper and a New York Knicks logo. This is a girl was destined for the hardwood.
Nunn began her sports career as a Nike campus rep while she was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, she went straight from college to the pros, working for the New York Liberty. Then it was on to the NBA. Nunn had a brief stint working for Russell Simmons's camp, but returned to the hardwood one year later. At age 31, Nunn is truly a power player.
I caught up with Nunn on a busy day of her All-Star weekend. While she crisscrossed the streets of Los Angeles with her client Brandon Jennings, she answered my questions about how she plays her game.
Adena Andrews: How do you navigate the playing field as a woman at this level of the game?
Ilana Nunn: You have to be down to earth, and keep it real with everyone. If a player is not available for the media, then you have to be direct and let them know. You have to be assertive and believe in what you are trying to do. Some women have trouble doing that, and want to be a mom and coddle players. As a woman, you have to be really frank and you cannot enable a player. My players are grown and can make decisions of their own.
AA: What mantra do you live by to get you through crazy days like today?
IN: Actually posted on my Facebook right now is my mantra: "Poor preparation on your part does not constitute and emergency on mine."
AA: Most annoying part of your job?
IN: Having to go to the bathroom and not being able to go. When I'm in work mode, everything else comes second until I get my job done. Today, I woke up at 7 a.m. and didn't eat until 1 p.m. -- that meal was a caramel frappuccino and banana nut loaf. Anybody in my office will tell you I eat the most out of anyone. That's because when I eat, I'm thinking this might be my last substantial meal of the day.
AA: What are the tools of your trade? Things you can't live without at work?
IN: I have a survival kit: deodorant, extra pair of shoes, cell phone charger, scarf. I really don't know how people did this type of job before the cellphone. It is vital to everything.
AA: What would you consider a "slam dunk" in your job?
IN: My most recent slam dunk was getting my other client Rajon Rondo on the cover of Slam Magazine. I showed my fiance and said, "Look! Honey, I did this!" I'm not on the cover but it feels good to see my player shine. I have a sense of pride when the client does really well. In my line of work, you are dedicated to that person's success and you have to be genuine in your effort. It's not easy to get everybody to do everything. The goal of my job is not for me to shine. My job is to help enhance their persona.
AA: How do you gain a player's trust but still maintain a level of professionalism?
IN: I set boundaries for players, like telling them not to call me past midnight unless it's a true emergency. I'm a person and have a life too. They think I'm still young like them and out all the time but I'm not. I once had a player call me because the hot water wasn't working in his shower but it was working in his sink. Instead of calling the maintenance man he called me. I told him to take a shower in his sink.
I also make it a point to befriend their moms and girlfriends to let them know I am here to do my job. I pride myself on being kind of a nerd, and I use that to my advantage with my players.
AA: What player would you compare your work style to?
IN: Definitely a point guard. Not a flashy one, that's for sure. I think I'm like Mike Conley, he just does his work, shoots when he has a shot, and when he doesn't, he improvises. I'm just trying my best to get things done the most effective. I'd probably consider myself a cross with him and Deron Williams too. Just not too flashy.
AA: NBA All-Star weekend is just as much about the celebrities as it is about basketball. Do you ever find yourself star-struck anymore?
IN: No, not really. The last time was the 2004 NBA Finals in Detroit. Stevie Wonder performed the national anthem on a harmonica and I just sat there in the tunnel, stuck on stupid. I'm the biggest Stevie Wonder fan ever.
AA: Do you have any advice for women going into sports business world?
IN: You have to really know your sport. You have to be able to hang with Joe the sports fan, and be able to talk sports with him. You have to know more than the average guy. It almost has to be refreshingly surprising, how much you know. Also just because you are in this male-dominated field, doesn't mean you don't have to look nice and not take care of yourself. Take pride in yourself and what you do.