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We briefly chat while getting ready for the interview. She seems more excited about the avenue that she is creating for young women and men that will follow her rather than for herself. You can hear basketballs bouncing and the screeching from the gym shoes on the floor. Prepared and ready for all questions, she is just as prepared for her journey to greatness.
RJ White is the owner of two American Basketball Association (ABA) teams, the Libertyville Vipers and Connecticut Copperheads. Originally from Michigan, she is one of four siblings which are all girls. White, who stands a little over 6’0″ fell in love with basketball at a young age but never actually tried out to play. “I never played in high school because I didn’t like the competitive nature,” says White. Athleticism runs in White’s family, her father was a former track star. “My dad said to me, why don’t you run track, so that’s what I did and I was great at it. But basketball is my passion and I still cross people up from time to time.”
Her father is someone she respects and look up to. A former Veteran that served in Vietnam, he followed his father who served in Pearl Harbor. “I really didn’t have that pleasure of expressing myself or my opinion and they looked at me saying whatever you do, you’re going to be successful at it.” White’s mom was from the south and was more soft spoken but she was also strict on her as well. “I was blessed to have dominant figures in my life because if I ever got down on myself, they would look at me like what are you doing, we’re not going to let you sit there down on yourself.”
Another figure that she has much respect for and is an inspiration to her is Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban. Cuban’s story of how he was homeless and lived out of a car but now one of the most successful men in the country has left a positive mark on White. “I respect the fact that he’s not un-vocal, he will express his opinion. And it shows that he is human.”
“But basketball is my passion and I still cross people up from time to time.”
White is very charismatic and very innovative. She understands the nature of the business and how most owners are viewed whether in the NBA, WNBA or ABA. She prides herself in that she can be who she is wherever she goes and still be respected instead of being someone she’s not just to fit in. “I feel as humans, we shadow behind some other person and we can’t say what we want to say because of our image but when you’re somewhere and you’re being yourself, it’s the best feeling in the world.” White can usually be seen wearing or styling the latest fashion and remain classy and just as business oriented as the next person.
The Vipers’ owner may be one of the most colorful owners in all of sports but her mindset is just as business-like as any other in her profession. What separates her from others is her willingness to involve the community, not just for the sake of looking good on her resume. “My largest attribute is using the passion that I have for this sport to benefit and help other people,” says White. One of White’s biggest examples of that would be “Donuts with Dad”.
This was a project that White came up with not only to honor fathers but to encourage relationships between fathers and their children. The event took place June 18, 2016, the day before Fathers Day at 12:00 a.m. local time. There were more than 16 cities that participated in the event. “We wanted to break the World Book Of Guinness Records with over 100,000 participants.” Over 16,000 joined in across the world, even some dads overseas participated but it was all worth it for White. “Although we didn’t break the record, the best part was hearing stories of fathers and sons reuniting mending relationships because of this.”
“My largest attribute is using the passion that I have for this sport to benefit and help other people”
It hasn’t always been great for White entering this business. White went through a troubling time where she really had nowhere to turn. “We all have been there before where we struggled and had issues, even homeless. At one point of time, I was on the brink of that and I have children,” states White. White went through a divorce and it left her at a bad place. “I said I was going to go off faith and actually gained more from that.” White’s background from her family helped her get through and she of course was able to bounce back.
White knows what almost broke her only made her stronger and smarter. When she decided to own an ABA team, she knew that following everyone else’s plan and footsteps wouldn’t get her to where she wanted to be. She became aware that in order for the bigger picture to come to light, she had to go outside of her comfort zone.
Her approach has been different in how she runs the team. She makes sure that her guys are taken care of whether its their practicing, rehab and even getaways. “You have to make sure your guys are in the correct mindset and taken care of,” says White. She has plan a trip to Utah to give her players altitude training. Knowing that the ABA is still in a rebuilding status from the 1970’s, White is running her teams as if the organization is at it’s highest peak. “I have multiple sponsors and run charity events for the children. You have to involve the community because that’s where it starts, without the community, you have nothing.”
White has been able to partner up by networking and making relationships with sponsors and companies outside the country. “Every country is not like the United States, you have to have the level of catering,” says White. She understood that limiting her services and brand to just America was selling herself short. Having a plan to extend globally has enhanced her outlook of her goals. She’s been received with open arms by being genuine, being able to communicate and negotiating with a level of respect. “A part of being a leader is understanding the views of everyone involved. No matter how or what the situation is, you have to see and respect everyone views of how and what they bring into the table.”
The next goal on her list is the NBA Development League (NBA D-League which is about to become the G-League for gatorade). White sees herself being a part of upper management or even the owner of an NBA D-League. She wants the challenge of making a team almost more popular than an NBA team. Not for the fortune but she wants to build a platform to once again connect with the community. “Through the D-League, I’ll have a community outreach budget so now we’re in the schools, we’re getting people off the streets, were bringing them in community programs” exclaims White. “That’s the goal, to go back where you came from and rebuild.”
You have to involve the community because that’s where it starts, without the community, you have nothing.”
White realizes how important it is becoming an owner for a professional team, especially basketball. “There are a few woman leaders in basketball from commentary to owners like Stephanie Ready, Becky Hammon, Cheryl Miller and Gail Miller which is great,” says White, “It’s time for our generation to have a female owner, operations manager or Vice President for an NBA Team or D-League team.” White is willing to prove that she has what it takes to become the first owner in the D-League. Her ability to build relationships and comradery within an organization from upper management all the way to the players puts her in a league with the current NBA and D-League owners. “I know that it will not only be an accomplishment but a challenge due to the fact that I will be the first woman to do so and all eyes will be on me,” says White. “I can show you better than tell you, I just need the chance.”
In possessing a NBA D-League team, White believes she can bring differentia, large corporations, international relationships, youth programs, and community programs. “I’ll be dominating social media presence and social media accolades, I can create a national audience and will bring in local city talent and bring in high level international talents.” White is awaiting for that opportunity but realizes that while she’s waiting, there is more work to be done for her team, her friends, family and most of all, the communities that are in dire need for support.
Some of White’s accolades include: Donuts with Dads, President of the National Black Latino Council