Sports Illustrated And Empower Onyx focusing on the diverse journeys of black women in sport – from veteran athletes to up-and-coming stars, coaches, officials and series – to, Elle-Avette: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
Shetalia Riley Irving is never afraid of her voice. His prior roles in the entertainment and media industries surrounded him with distinctive role models who helped him shine; However, listening to her, it is clear that she was born with a magnetic personality. It is clear that his stepson, basketball superstar Kyrie Irving, sees him as a businessman. And when Riley Irving—currently the only black woman representing an active NBA player—accepted the offer to be his agent, they both “won championships,” she says. Riley Irving has taken on her new role with poise and prominence (and most importantly, she puts Kyrie’s best interests on center court).
“I think the only or biggest load on my shoulders was that many other people were watching to see how well I did it,” says Riley Irving. “Because if I do that, well, it opens the door for a lot of other black women. And we get to have more than one seat at the table.”
His previous position played a major role in the development of his business acumen. She sees the distinctive relationship between being the vice president of advertising sales at Black Entertainment Television (BET) and being an agent for one of the most famous NBA players in the league.
“BET really gave me a compass to understand the art of conversation and to be really proud of,” says Riley Irving, who spent 13 years at the entertainment group. “We learned to be a voice even for those who don’t have a voice.”
“As the years went by, I began to understand better what it meant when coworkers would say, We are the voice of those who can’t speak for themselves,” she says. She was often referring to being able to make room for and advocate for black consumers, who “are often disrespected in their purchasing power compared to the way they spend And so it was important for Riley Irving and her colleagues at BET to be able to stand up for them.
She says that despite what was happening, her colleagues seeing the command of the room forced her to learn on her own.
“I never felt like being a woman, being a black woman, being a member of Kyrie’s family was an issue for me, because I would just go in and say, listen, this is what i don’t know,” she says.
Her confidence began to take shape when she learned she wanted to work for a radio station—and she wouldn’t take it for granted. She secured a position as a salesperson at 1010 WINS at 100% commission, and from there she became part of the team that launched the contemporary New York City radio station Power 105.1. Eventually her former boss and mentor at the station, Stu Fenston, advises her to spread her wings.
“It was between BET and Hot 97,” she says. “Stu said to me, ‘Try to bet. TV is where I think the next path is for your career.’ I ended up going to BET, and the rest is history.”
Over the years, the news has been flooded with stories of athletes being taken advantage of when it comes to contracts and deals. But Riley Irving’s advocacy and conversational expertise made for a smooth transition from the entertainment industry to sports. Because in many negative instances, she says, it’s more about a transaction and less about how it affects you as an athlete. She tries to focus more on a deal that is the right move for an athlete and their family, asking: Does that contract really matter to you? Yes, the numbers are huge, and the numbers make sense, but are you and Opportunity happy?
Kyrie, whom Riley Irving affectionately refers to as his bonus son, approached him about two years ago to chat about athletes and the sports industry. he said, Listen, I really need your business acumen. I recognize that when I am an artist and magician on the court, it is extremely important to make sure that I have someone behind me who really understands the full scope of the business. That way I can just focus on being a basketball player,
But a line exists for Riley Irving when it comes to representing the people she loves, where she can be overly protective or too hands-off, says Riley Irving, who has known Kiri since the age of 8. Knows.
“It’s really about being super honest and super transparent with each other. … We had that conversation and I said Listen, we have to look at this with clear glasses and make sure you understand that I’m not always going to cheer you up,Riley Irving says.
Riley Irving and Kyrie’s father, Dredrich, are no longer married. Yet he wholeheartedly supports the business partnership of the two. ,,you’ve got me for a lifetime, What did Dredrich tell me? That is the commitment we made to each other,” says Riley Irving. “We learned to communicate and cooperate, but we’ve just started with that foundation, that we have each other for life.”
Riley Irving asks Kyrie to think about their conversation for 48 hours—her time rules for all major decisions. He took a little longer. “I didn’t bother him, and he didn’t bother me,” she says. But he called again and said he was in, so he started helping and giving her until finally he asked her, Have you ever considered being an agent?
“It was really the furthest thing from my mind,” she says.
Kyrie’s instincts about Riley Irving were right. Every step she takes is an opportunity to not only mentor Kyrie, but to teach her as well.
“It’s not about me moving him or he transferring me. It’s really about us moving into this partnership together and learning from each other,” she says. Working in allows optimum groundwork to align Kyrie with the best business opportunities.
“We’ve built trust and consistency,” says Riley Irving. “I don’t want Kyrie to come back two years from now saying ‘I signed this really bad deal and it didn’t make sense,’ because he didn’t understand it, or that it was just about grabbing money. It’s something that we’re really conscious of, especially in things we want to align with ourselves.”
Riley Irving is creating space for the next generation of black female agents and women who dream of being in the same position.
“I think there’s enough feast at the table for hundreds and thousands and millions of black women to sit down and represent the athletes in a way that we know best.” She says she was initially rejected in the radio world and was told that “Madison Avenue is not ready for a person of color.” But she nonetheless succeeded because of a combination of resources and networks, which she is still emphasizing in her work today: “How do we get along? Hey, I know this athlete, I’m friends with him. Can you and I work out a deal together? Let’s get more creative about how you can enter the space.”
It’s about husting and being prepared, she says, so the opportunity will come to you. Often people tell Riley that she was “lucky enough” to end up in her role, but it’s not about her, she explains. Kyrie could choose anyone, but she was looking for the business skills she needs to lead and direct.
So when she talks with potential leaders, she asks them to think about questions like: What are your plans? How will you be in those right places? How do you cope with different sports agencies, different coaches and different coaches? How do you start a conversation that puts you in an environment where you can potentially sign a player? She says these are the steps that can lead to personal success and a dream come true just like she did.
Brianna Jean-Marie is a contributor to Empower OnyxA diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the transformative power of stories and sport for black women and girls.