The Hook

Enthusiasm: Take Some and Pass It On

While impatiently waiting for the bus on a cold and rainy New York City afternoon, I couldn’t help but interrupt my brain’s running ticker of thoughts (which included some not so nice choice words for Mother Nature) to take notice of a particularly entertaining gentleman nearby.

At first, his jibber jabber about the Playwright Celtic Pub’s $10 lunch menu was a bunch of white noise muffled by the blare of sirens, honking and chatter. But given that he was delivering his shpiel approximately three feet from the bus stop, I had no choice but to tune in. Dressed in a snazzy wool coat with an equally snazzy scarf and fedora, this gentleman, let’s call him George (which I think is actually his name, but I cannot confirm that), was more than happy to stand outside – in the less than desirable weather no less – informing each and every passerby of the Pub’s meal deals and drink specials. “It’s 5 p.m. somewhere – come in for a beer and stay all day!” he shouted with the excitement of a kid who had just lost his first tooth. “We have Jameson for the fellas, Cosmos for the ladies. Everybody’s happy!” he roused. I was waiting to hear, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” because I’d swear George was plucked straight out of the cast of the Broadway musical Newsies if it weren’t for his, well, seasoned maturity.

Miraculously, George’s strategy was working. I witnessed people of all sorts stopping in their tracks, chuckling at George’s zealous approach, and after a spirited exchange, head inside for a beer and a bite! I gave him the thumbs up for his fruitful efforts, and he shot me an I-can’t-believe-this-is-working-either grin before getting back to business (which literally included tap dancing on the sidewalk). My bus finally arrived, and thanks to George, I climbed on board with an extra skip in my step.

George, a complete stranger, was literally contagious (and I don’t mean with the flu). After just a few minutes in his presence, I caught his enthusiasm and it changed the course of my day. As the week went on, I recognized several more folks who shared his gusto. The taxi driver who tested his knock knock jokes out on me during our brief encounter and roared with laughter each time he delivered the punch line. The cosmetic clerk at Sephora who spoke about mascara like she was laying out my options for brain surgery. Most recently, while on a road trip to the North Fork Long Island wineries (side note: this place is seriously worth a visit), I was blown away by the zeal of the staff at each winery. Whether we were talking reds or restaurants, one was more enthusiastic than the next. The passion of the wine gurus truly made our entire experience (and the vino helped too).

Enthusiasm is everywhere if you pay attention – at the dry cleaners, in the coffee shop, heck, even on the subway. And when you are lucky enough to stumble upon it, soak it up and pay it forward. It’s a wonderful and fulfilling gift to share with strangers and friends alike. And it’s free! Not everybody is George or the taxi driver/aspiring comedian, but we can all kick up our gusto a notch – regardless of what it is we are doing – and find passion in the little things.

And fortunately for all of us, a little enthusiasm can go a long way.

Baby Knows Best

Funny how a waddling toddler in diapers can truly widen your perspective. Helpless, powerless, and for a while there, toothless, I’m convinced these mini-humans are on to something.

Hudson enjoying some much needed "me time"

It dawned on me a couple weeks ago when I was babysitting Hudson, a close friend’s son. With his blissful spirit, carefree curls and contagious giggle, this bundle of joy has brought so much light and laughter into my life since the day he was born about 21 months ago. (FYI: his parents are fully aware that I speak like he is my own child, no big deal). Thankfully we live nearby, so I am having a grand ole time watching him grow up.

That’s what makes this little “revelation” of mine surprising to me. Why did it take me this long to crack the code? Maybe I’m just regurgitating what plenty of mamas and papas already know, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got groundbreaking science to share here, people.

Think about it – Hudson’s got no fear. He lives in the moment. He’ll try anything once. He never gives up. This sounds like a guy who should be making keynote speeches, not splashing his hands in the toilet.

Here comes my point.

With a clean slate and no baggage, tiny tots are blessed with the coveted opportunity to live freely without inhibition and fear. I could name a zillion examples here, but watching Hudson balance one foot on a tricycle and the other on some sort of pirate ship device all in an effort to reach the remote control, well, clearly, toppling over is the least of his concerns. He had his eye on the prize, and is literally not afraid to fall on his face. Now if that’s not a life lesson, I don’t know what is!

Of course all babies are not created equally, and each has his/her own personality, but if every single one of them didn’t have the determination to master the art of walking, there’d eventually be a whole lot of grown men and women crawling around town. Yikes, that’s a disturbing visual. Whether it’s trying to put on their own socks or take their first step, they have a genuine ambition and resolve that we can all learn from.

And then there’s the “I don’t care what anybody thinks about me” mentality. They live out a concept that so many of us are struggling to adopt. Their version may mean shuffling shirtless anywhere and everywhere with blueberry mush dripping off their faces, but it’s the lack of “what will so and so think about me” approach that I find fascinating. It’s clearly liberating, so let’s give it a try (preferably while clothed and practicing acceptable hygiene).

It's my birthday and I'll rub cake all over my face if I want to

Another life lesson that Hudson recently reminded me about is to try anything once. I really have no excuse to wince at anything on a menu after watching this guy throw down octopus. For God’ sake, I’ve seen him take a bite out of a lemon! Why not? If you don’t try it, you’ll never know.

And don’t get me started on the nap. Ah, the nap. If I knew then what I know now, I would have spent a lot more time in my crib and a lot less time cutting the hair off my poor Barbie doll. Just thinking about it makes me want to relocate to Spain simply for the “siesta” (and the sangria certainly sweetens the pot). George Costanza tried to revive the afternoon nap, but he went about it all wrong and ruined it for the rest of us.

There you have it. Maybe it is that simple. Maybe the key to happiness is to follow the lead of the pint-sized rugrats every now and again. These little milkaholics are wiser than we think – they already possess the real baby formula. And they are living it up in Shangri La!

And maybe it’s time I take a cue from Hudson. Well, sans the whole diaper, drooling, crying rigmarole. Oh, and I think I’ll ditch the onesie too.

At least for now.

Tales From Gator Nation

In the spirit of March Madness, I thought I’d share an anecdote that dates back to my college days at the world’s greatest sports school. Obviously I am talking about the University of Florida.

Since everyone has got an opinion/prediction on March hoops and a bracket (or 10) to show for it, I’ve decided to forgo the small talk and focus on the man who essentially jumpstarted my career in the sports industry: Mr. Billy Donovan. Yes, that’s the same Billy D. who coaches the Gators basketball squad. See, it all comes full circle.

So as the endearing Rose Nyland of the 1980s smash hit Golden Girls would say, ‘this reminds of something that happened back in St. Olaf Gainesville.’ Back in my junior year of college, I was the lifestyles editor of the now-defunct “Gator Times” newspaper. Even though I was a total Miami Heat nut – and had the shiny polyester snap button jacket to prove it – I left the sports section editing to my colleague Garin (who now happens to be a PR guy over at the Cleveland Cavs). But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying to finagle a way to write a “lifestyles” story with that sports twist the whole darn time!

Then my moment arrived. I may have been wearing pajamas at the time (literally), but my moment had arrived. I had just gotten back to Gainesville after making the five-hour trek from South Florida. When I arrived “home,” which consisted of 50 girls living in a sorority house with like 3 showers, I was surprised to find Billy Donovan (and a whole bunch of sorority chicks) hosting his weekly radio show live right from the house’s living room (which we called the “great room” for some reason I’ll never understand). Apparently, I did not get the memo that this was the result of my sorority winning some sports competition of which I was unaware.

I came in the house, took one look at what was going down and the good ole light bulb went off. This was my time to shine. I ran upstairs to grab my notebook, and came back to the living room all fired up to write about this hard-hitting news. I could see the gripping headline in my head: “Head Coach Billy Donovan Hosts Radio Show Live From Sorority House.” It was going to be epic! I took notes feverishly and when the show ended and the girls dispersed, it was time to make my move.

‘Excuse me, Coach Donovan…excuse me, coach. Can I just ask you a few…’ This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Was he ignoring me on purpose? Was he freaked out by the pajama-wearing student-reporter? I would soon find out that the answer to both questions was no. He simply didn’t hear me beckoning him. Apologies if I built that up, only to let you down.

I resorted to tapping him like a 5-year-old who is trying to get their Mother off the phone until he caught on. I had his attention and I was not going to mess this up. I told him that I was writing an article for the Gator Times and asked if he could give me five minutes to talk to him about this “event.” He couldn’t have been more amenable.

We chatted about life, love and loss – I mean basketball – and he told me that he was impressed with my basketball knowledge. I knew a thing or two about hoops after watching Heat games on TV in a super obsessive fashion, so it was pretty cool to impress the big man on campus with my random facts. For example, did you know NBA veteran Bimbo Coles’ real name is Vernell? No? Neither did Coach. Stuff like that.

Coach and I got to talking about my future career, and I told him it was my dream to work in the Miami Heat’s front office. He mentioned that he knew a bunch of folks, including Pat Riley, and would be happy to send them a letter of recommendation on my behalf. Was he serious?! This just went from awesome to unreal. After about 30 minutes of chitchat, he said he’d have that letter ready for me to pick up in his office the next day. OMG.

I wasn’t sure if this was for real, so I played it cool, i.e. told every friend, family member and stranger about this interaction. As directed, I headed over to the Sports Information Office and asked for Coach’s executive assistant, Tracy Pfaff. What a gem that Tracy Pfaff is. As soon as she heard the first syllable of recommendation letter – that would be rec – she was on it. She whipped out this full-page letter of rec, Gator letterhead and all, and presented it to me like it was my diploma. Actually I think it would end up being more valuable than a diploma. She also nonchalantly mentioned that Coach had asked her to send it directly to his contacts at the Miami Heat. Wow! This guy is no joke!

I went home super fired up and can specifically recall sitting on a campus sidewalk telling my mom the play-by-play. I was pretty much convinced that the Heat would come calling promptly, and everyone was all like, “Now Talia, this stuff takes time. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Be patient.” If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s putting all my eggs in one basket. Good thing I was right and they were wrong. About one week later, I received the call of a lifetime – the call asking me to come in and interview for an unpaid internship with the team. I would have been equally as excited if they said I had to pay them for this internship (although that would have been odd), but I knew in my gut that this was my big break. I got the internship, which lead to a full-time position post-graduation, which led me to where I am in the sports world today. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Stay with me.

I always have wanted to share this story for a few reasons:

  1. I want Coach to know the impact he had on my career and how much I appreciate the efforts he made on my behalf. He didn’t have to go out on a limb for me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
  2. Billy Donovan is a class act that genuinely cares about the future of UF students. And his own players throughout the years, like Udonis Haslem and Matt Bonner, certainly share in this sentiment. No wonder Billy D. is the longest tenured coach in the SEC, and his basketball coaching skills and consistently winning records probably have something to do with that too.
  3. It still amazes me the impact that one letter/gesture can have on a person’s future. And that wouldn’t have happened without taking advantage of that opportunity in my sorority house and having the gumption to harass Coach until he paid attention to me. Sometimes those random acts of assertiveness truly pay off.

And while I have no recollection if I even ever wrote/published that article, the experience was headlined by an assist I’ll never forget.

Thank you, Coach Donovan! And GO GATORS!

DJ Irie: To Know Him Is To Love Him

DJ Irie…Whatta Man (thank you, Salt ‘N’ Pepa).                   

Practically bursting at the seams with energy, DJ Irie, or as I fondly call him, “Deej,” is one of the greatest guys out there. With his larger-than-life personality, contagious enthusiasm and endearing charm, this guy is no ordinary DJ (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

*Reader’s note: It suddenly dawned on me that I might sound one adjective away from a restraining order. Just so we’re clear, Deej has been a friend of mine for over a decade, and I shall brag about him as much as I please. Additionally, I am not a paid DJ Irie endorser, nor involved in a love affair with him.

Moving on.

As the official DJ of Carnival Cruise Lines and the Miami HEAT (yup, that was him celebrating the 2006 NBA Championship in the locker room popping bottles), Deej has developed into an international brand name that is one hot commodity.  

He’s not a businessman. He’s a business, man! (thank you, Jay-Z). Too much?

In addition to working closely with Jamie Foxx and DJing a ton of high-profile events for celebs like Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Bosh, you can find him on the tables at NBA All-Star Weekend, VH1 Pepsi Super Bowl Fan Jam and the MTV VMAs, just for starters. In-between gigs and firing up the crowd at HEAT home games, Deej is a world traveler, bringing his trademark act to just about every continent under the sun. It’s a matter of time before Antarctica comes a-knockin’.

You’d think that with all these late nights – which obviously come with the job – the man would be utilizing daylight hours for minor things like sleep, maybe laundry, maybe routine doctor’s visits. But no, he’s a mainstay DJ on Miami’s WEDR 99Jamz, and did I mention he’s built a thriving entertainment consulting firm, Artist Related? No wait; did I mention his latest venture is joining Pucci’s Pizza as a partner?  And since he’s got so much free time on his hands, Deej has developed Spin’iversity, an at-sea DJ academy, with Carnival. Google it.

Believe it or not, I haven’t even gotten to the core of why I think this guy is the best thing to come out of Miami since Crockett and Tubbs. His resume and talent speaks for itself, but it’s the person who Deej is that impresses me and those who know him the most. He’s got an inherent magnetic way about him and an incredible ability to make those around him feel good. It’s just who he is.

It was no surprise to me a number of years back when I learned that Deej had added “philanthropist” to his repertoire. For several years now, he has hosted Irie Weekend, a highly anticipated and star-studded weekend of events, which benefited Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami.

More recently, he launched the Irie Foundation, his very own non-profit that works to support the health and social needs of South Florida kids. Even so, he still plans to work with other charitable groups he admires, including The Special Olympics, Udonis Haslem Foundation, Overtown Youth Center, Alonzo Mourning Charities, Wade’s World Foundation, Odessa Chambers Foundation, Ronnie Brown Foundation, The United Way, Jason Taylor Foundation, and numerous groups benefiting Hurricane Katrina victims.

Just a few weeks ago during NBA All-Star Weekend, Deej hosted Jocktails, a special event to benefit his Foundation, which racked up $6Gs. Not too shabby for a few hours in Orlando.

You’d think that after all of the global media attention and flourishing success, some of the cha-ching would have gone to his head. Nope. Deej is the same gracious and happy-go-lucky (not in an annoying, cheesy way) guy he was when I met him many years ago. He still flashes that signature, megawatt smile about a hundred times a day, and makes sure to “take care of his people” whenever possible. The best part? It’s all genuine. Deej is one legit dude.

You know those people you are particularly happy and proud to see do well in the world? Well, Deej is one of those people for me.

And something tells me I’m not the only one.

(This is probably a good time to reread the above reader’s note).

The Thing We Love To Hate (Myself Included!)

Networking, sigh.

It’s like going to the dentist- you know you’ve got to do it, but nobody actually enjoys it. By nobody, I mean about 82.6 percent of people would rather watch Kathy Griffin’s new talk show (spoiler alert: it’s really happening).

But, like it or not, networking is an essential component of growing any business, and, more importantly, developing your own personal brand. For some, it means getting outside of your comfort zone. For others, well, selling yourself to strangers is your wheelhouse. Regardless, it must be done.

I am of the belief that positive working relationships are the foundation of all successful business practices, especially for entrepreneurs. And networking allows you to expand your reach and meet people that actually leave you thinking, “Hmmm…not only do I not want him/her to [insert something very bad], I may even want to have frozen yogurt with him/her.” See, that’s the spirit! Why not give it a shot? Imagine a world where you work with people you actually like? It’s a beautiful thing.

For small business owners, and often for those in the corporate world, there are many important reasons for doing the deed, including:

  • Increasing your chances for referrals: the more folks that know you and your business exist, the more likely you are to receive referrals from people other than your parents.
  • Picking up “how to” tips: while you may be awesome at what you do and how you do it, someone else is probably doing it better, faster and at a lower cost. The cool thing is that those people love to brag about such topics. Those are the brains you want to pick…and take notes.
  • Giving yourself a new perspective: it never hurts to see what’s new in your industry and learn about emerging trends. You can fight the trend kicking and screaming (this is me, the proverbial pot, calling the kettle black), but eventually you will have to adapt or your biz will face extinction.
  • Building strategic alliances: the yin and yang approach is a powerful tool. You’ve mastered the sales pitch; your new networking cohort prefers the deskwork. A match made in heaven.
  • Finding new products or services that can better your business: for example, when I attended the New York XPO For Business this past fall, I learned a ton about all of the companies out there working to bolster your social media practices. It’s good information to keep in your back pocket.
  • Practicing grassroots, word of mouth methods: according to author Malcolm Gladwell, Hush Puppies saw an unexpected resurgence in the 90s as a result of word-of-mouth marketing. Apparently Starbucks’ success story is similar (except we’re talking coffee, not business-casual, suede footwear). It’s amazing what can happen when people spread information – positive or negative – throughout their network. It’s time consuming, but worth the effort.
  • Making friends with people who share your interests: if you are at a particular networking event, chances are that there’s another person in attendance who shares your interests, etc. Whether that means finding a new BFF or your soul mate, it can happen. Maybe.
  • Landing a new gig: as far as I’m concerned, this is key. You never know when you will be seeking a new job opportunity – the time can come sooner than you think. Networking leads you to people who can offer job leads, advice/info about a particular company or industry, and connect you to others.

If none of the above reasons appeal to you, networking is always a good excuse to get out of the house and out of washing the dishes.

And you are almost always guaranteed a decent skewer or two of chicken satay.

The Real Deal About NBA Players

One question I continue to receive since embarking on the NBA PR world more than a decade ago is…what are NBA players really like? And, undoubtedly (well at least 8 times of out of 10), that question is followed up with more loaded questions, like, they must be stupid and/or they’ve got to be divas, or some variation of the two. I suppose the latter are more statements than questions, but I feel the need to “answer” nonetheless.

I find myself sharing the same anecdotes about players done good and rattling off the names of guys who are simultaneously running businesses, completing college courses and shelling out their own cash for community service projects. The stigma that all NBA players are morons and live beyond their means has become personal to me. Sure, there are plenty of stories about players who lose their millions and find themselves in hot water. It’s very real and a serious problem, and there’s no denying that. But why should the proverbial bad apples (too harsh?) ruin it for the rest?

This rant may sound naïve – most likely absurd – to some, especially to reporters whose player experiences can be less than pleasant. This particularly happens when attempting a post-game interview with a half-naked player who just lost in a buzzer beater and is about to board a plane to Sacramento. I’d be giving ‘tude too. In the media’s defense, this is their job, and Lord knows I’ve been on the mic-in-player’s-face side of things many times.

What was the question again? Oh yes, what are NBA players really like?

From my own experiences, which include working with current and retired players in a number of facets, my answer is quite simply that they are “normal” (for the most part).

Many are proud Dads who pride themselves on “family first.” D-Wade shows off iPhone pics of his two boys whenever he gets a chance (I don’t blame him, those kids are damn cute), and Melo made sure to personally take his little girl trick-or-treating amid the madness of New York City’s Upper West Side, even if it meant bringing along a bodyguard and trying to go incognito in dark sunglasses and a black ski hat. Jerry Stackhouse speaks about his wife of 11 years Ramirra and their kids as highly as any family man can, and Raja Bell often brings his parents along for NBA-related events. Far more interesting than that is how much Raja and his Mom look alike. It’s uncanny, really, and a very close second to Ray Allen and his equally famous mother, Flo.

A good majority (read: majority) of players are just nice dudes. Of course, like in any situation, some are more personable than others. Guys like Baron Davis, Tyson Chandler and James Jones make a concerted effort to remember folks’ names and are big on pleasantries. I’m not giving a medal to these guys for saying please and thank you, they are just a few that stick out as particularly respectful. And there are the ones who always ask how others are doing – Keyon Dooling inquires about my Mom every time I see him, and I’m pretty sure they’ve never met.

I have had some of my more interesting conversations with NBA players. Yes, it’s true. Talk to Samuel Dalembert about his upbringing in Haiti and the work he has done post-earthquake – I’m talking Brangelina style – and I dare you not to be fascinated. Luc Mbah a Moute also has an incredible story about growing up in West Africa’s Cameroon and his journey to the U.S. and eventually the NBA. On a lighter note, Matt Bonner can talk a blue streak about the best roast beef in New Hampshire. The Bonner part really has nothing to do with anything, but it’s a fun little tidbit, now isn’t it? P.S.: That’s a rhetorical question.

There are hundreds (a rough estimate based on no scientific facts) of players actively involved with their own non-profit organizations and/or supportive of others. Paul Pierce, through his Foundation’s Truth on Health campaign, has quite an operation in place that is working to combat childhood obesity. And Dwight Howard’s Foundation has more events and programming than the Kardashian’s. These are just two examples of many. And education is certainly up there on the priority list too. This past summer, nearly 50 players took college courses around the country. Royal Ivey and Maurice Evans even graduated! Check this out:

I could easily get into the negative (and often more popular) stories about players going broke or accruing baby mamas. Maybe that would get me more Twitter followers or, better yet, a book deal! But for what? It’s about time to shed light on the “good guys” – the players dedicating their time and money to charity, the players serving as positive role models to young people and, especially, the players who are just normal, nice, family guys.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t see halos on any NBA players, and I am not attempting to paint that picture. The point is that for years the unfortunate behaviors of some have tainted the image of the greater sum. And I’m here to share the “glass half-full” approach, which isn’t what usually makes the headlines.

Does that answer your question?