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The revolutionary path of Atlanta Hawks CMO Melissa Proctor

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In 1996, When Melissa Proctor was 15, she started writing letters to the Miami Heat organization, asking for a job.

Any job.

Then, she began calling the main operator’s room, asking to be connected to a manager. Every morning, she’d call. Every morning, she would be turned down.

After months of trying, one day they connected her to Jay Sabol, the equipment manager at the time. “Stop calling,” she recalls him saying. “Your enthusiasm is great, but you need to stop.” She kept calling. A few weeks later, defeated, she remembers Sabol saying, “I don’t know what job to give you. The ball attendants are usually boys, but that’s the best thing we can do for you.”

“But, it doesn’t pay,” he added.

“I’ll take it,” Proctor said.

She could not have dreamed that that meager offer would result in a trail-blazing career in the NBA.

When she walked into Miami Arena a few weeks later as the Heat’s first female ball attendant, it was also the first time she had ever seen a pro basketball game in person.

Proctor had known nothing about the sport until earlier that year, when her cousin had flipped to a Heat game on TV. She instantly loved the rhythm of the game, the intensity of it. She also quickly pointed out to the cousin, “Why aren’t there any women on the TV screen?”

Later that day, when her mom asked her to get a job in a field she wanted to eventually work in, she said, “Mom, I want to be an NBA coach, so I’m going to get a job with the Miami Heat.”

And then here she was. In this brightly lit arena, with a mop in her hand, cleaning sweat from the floor, rebounding balls, and all the while, paying close attention to some of the best athletes and coaches in the world.

During games, Heat coach Pat Riley drew plays on a piece of paper, and at the end of the game, he would crumple them up and throw them in a corner. Proctor picked up the papers, leveled them out and saved them in her journal. Then, she went home and studied them, learning all she could about the game of basketball.

The only money she earned was in tips, which varied from $20 on a good day to $40 on a great day. But she was just thrilled to be there.

Today, Proctor, 40, is the chief marketing officer of the Atlanta Hawks, in charge of everything from game-day production to fighting for racial equity, within her company and in the broader society. Now a master of many trades, she is an artist, a mother, an author and a speaker. She didn’t become a head coach, but in some ways, her journey to one of the top leadership roles in the NBA was better than she could have hoped.


As a kid, Proctor doodled everywhere. When her mother, Olivia, took her for a test to enter a gifted school program in Miami, she drew all over the chalkboard. The teacher who tested her recommended that she join an art program. Her mother enrolled her in a program at the University of Miami.

In high school, her artistic nature grew with her. Proctor drew from her experiences spending time in Jamaica, where her father, Hugh, had been born. African themes and motifs also began to prominently make their way into her art.

As a young ball attendant, Proctor, then 17, was obsessed with Dennis Rodman. She read his memoir, “Bad as I Wanna Be,” cover to cover. Rodman loved Pearl Jam, so she became a huge fan of the band. When the Bulls were slated to play the Heat in Miami, Proctor made up her mind. She was going to make him a piece of art. She spent days and nights, first drawing a portrait of Rodman, then adding elements he loved like a cassette of Pearl Jam and a Buddha statue (because, she laughed, “he was always talking about Nirvana.”)

The night after the game, when Rodman was sitting on the bench, with his sparkly purple backpack and long painted nails, she walked up to him, told him she was a huge fan and showed him the art. Rodman was stunned.

“Oh, man, this is amazing. I’m gonna put it up in my house in Chicago,” she recalls him telling her.

Then, she watched him as he placed her art, carefully, in his purple backpack.

After that, NBA players, coaches and others began requesting her artwork. She hired an attorney, who helped her with pricing.

“I had no idea how much to charge. I was a kid,” she said.

She took a break from her gig as ball girl when she entered Wake Forest University in 1998 and started her art degree. As an undergrad, Wake Forest’s Office of Multicultural Affairs purchased her artwork — a portrait of two students of color graduating, with the word “akili” meaning “knowledge” in Swahili painted above them — for thousands of dollars for a special graduation ceremony for students of color.

“That’s when I started to realize this is big,” she said.

But one thing became clear to her: She didn’t want to be a struggling artist. She had seen her mother, who emigrated from Belize, work incredibly hard to put food on the table, and she wanted a job that could help pay the bills. Art was something she would do in addition to a steady job.

She heard of an internship opportunity at Turner Broadcasting System, did some research on the companies Turner owned — Cartoon Network, TNT, CNN, etc. — and decided she was going to set herself apart: She was going to make a TV Guide-type magazine of her life, selling herself, her creativity and her art.

Proctor wrote a mock press release and an article that highlighted her creativity, used a photo of herself dressed as Cleopatra in the ads section, featured her artwork throughout, and finally, clipped a small piece of paper to it that said, “If I get this job, please send this slip back to me at,” and included her mailing address.

That was her resume.

Jennifer Dorian, now the CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta, still remembers the magazine Proctor created.

“[Through the magazine, she] made a promise that this person was going to be daring and courageous to show up as herself, and Melissa has never broken that promise,” Dorian said.

Proctor was offered the job and moved to Atlanta, all the while volunteering for the Atlanta Hawks as a ball attendant. She spent a year at Turner as an intern before heading to London to get her master’s degree in design studies and branding at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design at The London Institute. She returned to the U.S. afterward to take care of her ailing mother, gaining experience in TV graphics production before eventually returning to Turner as the director of brand strategy.

Then, in 2014, she got a life-changing phone call. It was the Atlanta Hawks. They wanted to name her their vice president of brand strategy.


Now, a year into the coronavirus pandemic, Proctor is the Taylor Swift of the branding world, working on everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to writing a memoir, “From Ball Girl to CMO.” In 2016, she was promoted to executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Hawks and State Farm Arena.

Under her leadership, the Hawks became the first team in the NBA to open up their buildings for early voting. That meant working with groups like I am a Voter to ensure that as many Atlanta residents who could vote were able to exercise their right. They also worked to ensure those who hadn’t registered to vote had all the information they needed.

The Hawks organization is currently partnering with the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to get local entrepreneurs — particularly people of color — access and opportunities. “We want to do something that’s sustainable change, not just come out, not just say, ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the court, because it’s not about the marketing. It’s really about the work,” she said.

It’s been a whirlwind ride, with a major highlight: Last fall, after she helped launch the MLK NIKE City Edition uniforms honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the upcoming season, the Hawks got a request from the Vatican that the Pope wanted a jersey. They sent one, then received a text with photos and videos of the Pope opening up and then blessing the jersey. “What a surreal moment,” she said.

In 2019, the Caribbean American Arts Foundation awarded Proctor with a Captains of Industry award. During the awards ceremony, her mentor, Dorian, watched Proctor give a speech in front of honorees like Civil Rights leader Andrew Young.

“Twenty years ago, she was shy and introverted. But on that day, I was in awe of her. She was charismatic, a wonderful orator and a natural leader,” Dorian said. “I did not see that coming 20 years ago.”

“She’s my mentor now,” Dorian added.

Proctor is one of the most prominent leaders in the NBA, yet is surprisingly open-minded about her goals going forward.

“Right now sitting here, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m just living this journey,” she said. “I could be a professor at Emory, work at a nonprofit, I could start up a school, I could do many things. But I’m completely open to whatever is necessary for my life at that time.”

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USA Basketball sets plan for Olympic camps in Las Vegas

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For USA Basketball, the last stop before the Tokyo Olympics will be Las Vegas.

The men’s and women’s national teams will hold training camps in Las Vegas in July, they announced Thursday, and they’ll be playing seven exhibitions there against other Olympics-bound national teams as well.

USA Basketball will open its men’s training camp, led by coach Gregg Popovich, in Las Vegas on July 6. The Olympic men’s teams from Australia, Nigeria, Argentina and reigning Basketball World Cup champion Spain will also be spending some time in Las Vegas; Argentina will start its training camp there this month.

The U.S. women’s training camp under coach Dawn Staley will likely open around July 12; the WNBA break for the Olympics starts after the games of July 11. The Olympic women’s teams joining the U.S. in Las Vegas are Australia and Nigeria.

It’ll all take place at the MGM Resorts, which was announced as USA Basketball’s training camp home and resorts partner with the sides having now agreed to a multi-year sponsorship deal.

“USA Basketball is proud to expand its partnership with MGM Resorts,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We’re excited to bring our national teams to their properties as we prepare for the challenging competition that lies ahead this summer.”

The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women their seventh in a row. Both will enter the Olympics ranked No. 1 by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body — though it remains unknown who the Americans will have on their rosters for the rescheduled Tokyo Games.

Those rosters could be set by the end of June. Some top NBA players such as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers have expressed some interest in being part of the Olympic team; others, such as LeBron James and Anthony DavisLos Angeles Lakers teammates who were dealing with injuries when their season ended last week — are not planning to join the team.

All teams in Las Vegas will be taking part in what USA Basketball described as “comprehensive health and safety protocols … including mandatory and regular COVID-19 PCR testing, administered to athletes, coaches, officials and staff in accordance with FIBA and USA Basketball recommendations and CDC guidelines.”

Those concerns are why the international teams opted to spend time in Las Vegas. Argentina’s men’s team is conducting the entirety of its three-week camp there before flying to Tokyo, simply because it believes a controlled environment and less traveling between different countries will minimize virus-related risks before the Olympics.

“We were lucky and, at the same time, we deserved it to get an organization like USA Basketball to extend this invitation to us,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “In such a complicated context it doesn’t get better than this.”

The games are set up as part of five doubleheaders, and fans will be able to attend the matchups at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena. Tickets go on sale next week.

GAME SCHEDULE

July 10 — U.S. men vs. Nigeria, Argentina vs. Australia

July 12 — Argentina vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 13 — U.S. men vs. Argentina, Australia vs. Nigeria

July 16 — U.S. women vs. Australia, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 18 — U.S. women vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Spain

PREQUELS

The Nigeria-U.S. women’s game will be a prequel to the teams’ Olympic meeting on July 27 in Tokyo, the first game there for both of those teams. Nigeria and the U.S. are both in Group B at the Olympics, along with Japan and France.

The Australia-Nigeria men’s game is also the warmup for an Olympics-opening matchup. They’ll play in a Group B game on July 25.

The men’s teams from Spain and Argentina — the teams that played in the World Cup final at Beijing in 2019 — are both in Group C for the Olympics. They’ll both spend some time in Las Vegas but are not scheduled to face off there before flying to Japan.

FIBA RANKINGS

Las Vegas will see the top four men’s teams in the FIBA rankings there for the exhibitions: The U.S. is No. 1, Spain No. 2, Australia No. 3 and Argentina No. 4. Nigeria is ranked No. 22.

The U.S. women also hold the No. 1 FIBA ranking, and their July 16 opponent Australia is ranked No. 2 in the world. Nigeria’s women are ranked No. 17.

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Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul ‘makes it look normal’ after notching 15 assists, zero turnovers in win vs. Denver Nuggets

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It had been seven years since a player had a game in the postseason with 15 assists and no turnovers, but Chris Paul accomplished the feat on Wednesday as the Phoenix Suns routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.

The last player to post a 15-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in a playoff game? Paul, in 2014, with the LA Clippers.

“Guys are open. I got the easy part. All I got to do is find them,” said Paul, who had 17 points. “They got to make the shots. It’s a credit to our coaching staff to tell you the truth. Things we’ve drilled all season long, it’s nice to see it come into play in game form, especially in the playoffs.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Paul had the 10th playoff game with 15 assists and zero turnovers since assists were tracked in 1977-78. And Paul has accounted for three of those games himself.

“Obviously 15 assists, zero turnovers is unheard of,” Devin Booker said, “but for Chris Paul, it’s a thing that he does, and makes it look normal.”

In the two games in the series, Paul has 26 assists to just one turnover. Going back to his last three playoff games, that ratio gets even more ridiculous, sitting at 38-2. He’s the first player with 10 or more assists and one or fewer assists in three straight playoff games since Maurice Cheeks in 1989.

The Suns showcased their impressive balance with six players in double-figures, including all five starters. But even with 123 points, no player scored more than 18 (Booker). It was a clinic in distribution, particularly in a raucous second half, as Paul carved the Nuggets, finding efficient possessions nearly every trip down the floor. In Game 2, the Suns shot 15-of-24 off Paul passes. Of the 15 makes, 11 were uncontested looks.

“I’m telling you man, I’ve never been on a team quite like this where everybody can shoot it the way that they do,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy.”

Like in Game 1, Paul found his spots to assert himself offensively, too, hitting a flurry of shots early in the fourth quarter as the Suns put the game away. It’s one of Paul’s many rare talents, an ability to sense moments and pick his spots to attack the game himself, or get teammates involved.

When Paul joined the surging young Suns in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about his role as a mentor, as a leader, as a culture cultivator. At age 36 and plenty of tread on his tires, Paul’s cerebral presence was thought to be something that could boost the Suns just as much as his play. But as he’s shown this postseason, there’s still plenty left in the tank.

“I would never doubt Chris,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “His ability to manage the team, his track record, has success all over it and everywhere he’s been he’s been successful. He works his tail off and yeah, he’s 36 years old but he’s doing a lot of stuff off the floor so he can be effective on the floor.”

The series now turns to Denver, where the Nuggets are desperate for a response. Paul has been using his experience as a motivator, recounting the 2007-08 second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs where the New Orleans Pelicans took a 2-0 series lead, winning the opening two games by a combined 37 points.

“We’re cool. We’re cool. We’ve got a great locker room, guys that understand the moment. A guy like Jae Crowder, who’s been to the Finals,” Paul said. “I’ve played a lot too. I’m always talking about 2007-08, we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans and we won the first two games, beat the brakes off of ’em. I remember looking over there at Tim [Duncan] and all them and they weren’t fazed. It was just one game. That’s what we talk about as a team too. It’s just one game.”

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NBA playoffs 2021 – Chris Paul couldn’t have drawn up a better scenario for the Phoenix Suns

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Chris Paul plans.

He planned when he forced a trade out of New Orleans a decade ago. He planned when he creatively leveraged a contract option to get himself to Houston. He planned when he helped change an arcane age rule in the collective bargaining agreement that enabled him the chance to earn tens of millions in extra salary.

Even in the moments after Paul’s Phoenix Suns finished a 125-98 thrashing of the Denver Nuggets to take a 2-0 series lead, Paul was planning. In the locker room, knowing the Nuggets twice came back last season from 3-1 deficits, he was getting his teammates to think about Game 3 on Friday night in Denver. Paul told stories of going up 2-0 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2008 while with New Orleans, only to eventually lose in seven games.

But even on his most rosy drawing board, he probably couldn’t have seen the situation that is unfolding.

The Suns have won five straight playoff games and, with each victory, appear to be getting stronger. His long-time adversaries are falling off the board. Stephen Curry is home. LeBron James is home. Injuries are mounting across the league and this time the one Paul had in the playoffs, his shoulder stinger that almost wrecked this run before it started, seems to be healed.

The Suns are healthy and playing brilliantly as a group. In both games of the second round, five players have scored in double figures.

People around the league are starting to talk about how this might be Paul’s best shot ever at a Finals. It might be premature to say that considering his Houston Rockets team was up 3-2 on the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals before a hamstring pull sidelined him three years ago.

But after the routine disappointments with the LA Clippers and the letdowns and near misses in Houston, this rising Suns streak feels like the most unexpected playoff situation of Paul’s career.

“I’m telling you,” Paul said after scoring 17 points with 15 assists and no turnovers in Game 2. “I really haven’t been on a team quite like this one.”

Working with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul had several hopes when picking a trade destination last offseason. He wanted to be close to his family in Los Angeles, be in good weather and have a shot at playing next to a star; he would have that in Devin Booker. Represented by the same agency, Booker was desperate to get some help. “I’m done with not making the playoffs,” Booker said three years ago after a 21-61 season. “I’m serious.”

After going a perfect 8-0 in Orlando to narrowly miss the playoffs in 2020, the Suns were upwardly mobile — but they were not seen as real contenders. Different people in their fanbase and organization may have jumped to that conclusion as this special season unfolded, but now that it’s actually happening, Paul is basking in the position he’s found himself in.

Booker has been the star he believed in, his 47-point closeout game to knock out the champion Lakers being the gem so far. Paul can’t believe how effective his teammates are at shooting, with Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric, Cam Johnson and Cameron Payne lighting up the opposition from outside.

Paul, who was the centerpiece of Lob City with the Clippers and on an offensive juggernaut in Houston, says he’s never seen anything like it.

“Everybody shoots,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy. Everybody [on our team] are knock down shooters.”

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Chris Paul connects with Deandre Ayton for a roaring two-handed slam.

During the five-game winning streak Paul has 53 assists and four turnovers. That’s 53-4. With his shoulder better — he couldn’t even attempt long shots for several games in the last round — he’s made 14-of-24 shots and 4-of-5 3-pointers in this series. His two 3s Wednesday were fourth-quarter daggers.

“He manages games better than anybody I’ve ever been around,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s not something I take for granted, it’s not something our team takes for granted.”

It is dangerous to think this fairy tale will continue, Paul’s playoff career is one long string of unexpected setbacks. But it’s also human nature to watch him, at age 36, and wonder whether there is some bit of karma heading his direction.

Outwardly Paul will not allow it, he has literally done dozens of commercials about insurance covering unexpected disasters. But inwardly he probably can see the road ahead and start to feel some warmth.

“We’re cool,” Paul said. “We have guys who understand the moment.”

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