In the series, Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx shine a spotlight on the diverse journeys of black women in sports – from veteran athletes to rising stars, coaches, executives and more. Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sport.
If you were to ask Denise Jones to describe herself she would say that she is a sneakerhead and a fan of all sports in Los Angeles. She says her ability to talk and chat with anyone about anything is a secret weapon that she uses in her myriad professional roles.
Jones prides herself on being well versed in many different roles in the sports media industry: on-air TV host, athlete, producer, writer, business developer and consultant are all roles she has filled. Her resume includes high profile clients such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Shoe Palace and many more. The young professional owes her success above all to her malleability and diligence.
“I’ve discovered the joy of what I do,” says Jones. “I thrive on deadlines. I thrive on those really cramping, stomach-churning moments… moments of excitement, moments of nervousness, moments of defeat. I find myself feeling the most alive.”
But to understand Jones’ feelings, you have to go back to her beginnings.
Growing up in Compton, California, some of her favorite moments were the kid-friendly watch parties her family threw to watch iconic Los Angeles sports moments like the 2010 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Celtics, Kobe Bryant’s 81 points game and the Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup title in 2012.
“Those were such important moments for the city … You saw the whole city literally bleed purple and gold,” says Jones. “You actually saw them hug and you saw them get dirty together.”
Jones was raised in a close-knit family focused on sports and community. Her father was one of her first coaches while her mother attended most of their games. The Jones family was connected through sports.
Basketball was Jones’ sport of choice, and the skills and mindset she gained through the sport were immeasurable. “You have to understand what it’s like to juggle winning and losing, understand what it’s like to be able to rely on someone, understand what it’s like to work with a team,” she reflects. “There are so many lessons in it that you can obviously apply it to any field. If you’ve ever played sports, you have things that can’t necessarily be taught, but rather experienced… It obviously makes you a different person.”
Another benefit of her upbringing was listening to the various shows on POWER 106. Jones attended Huntington Park High School and her commute was filled with the daily discourse of Liz Hernandez and Big Boy and DJ Kool Aid spinning the latest hits. The effects of this commute became clear years later when her mother suggested she take up radio.
“I love to talk,” says Jones. “I can talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything…I listen to almost every show for days and I’m like, ‘They’re talking about anything. That would be amazing, let me try.”
After applying to almost every Southern California radio station, Jones began an internship at independent gospel station KJLH, owned by Stevie Wonder.
“If you know radio, it’s so much work,” says Jones. “I tried to be the first and last to do everything from events to programming to errands. I learned so much in the time I was there.”
In addition to her radio internship, Jones also worked at a bank and went to school; Those years laid the foundation for her love of the grind. Jones landed an internship at POWER 106 after her time at KJLH and worked at POWER for about five years. Eventually she became the youngest producer for her night show.
After her time in radio, Jones focused on creating for herself and sharing her projects on social media. She made connections with All Def Digital, The Fumble Sports, The Young Turks; Jones broke through by hosting one of her first Nike events. “It was really cool because one of my first interviews was with Devin Booker,” says Jones. “It was so much fun… it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever done because you really got to see an athlete [persona].”
After getting through those first few events, the doors opened: she began to develop relationships with companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Puma, Adidas and Wilson.
Now Jones has a hosting position at the sports media agency Lakers nation and works on the fan engagement side with Los Angeles Football Club.
“[Lakers Nation] is just a group of fans of the game,” says Jones. “Coming on board as a fan first was exhilarating and exhilarating… this is my home team, what a full circle moment.”
During the NBA offseason, she works behind the scenes in business development at a number of organizations including Jordan Brand and Cashmere.
Jones acknowledges that in her career to date, being professionally mobile and being open to partnering with different types of companies has been essential. “I’ve been able to really move and be flexible and twist wherever it is [needed].”
Alongside Jones’ starring roles, she works hand-in-hand with shoe retailer Shoe Palace to give back to the community through local girls’ clubs in Los Angeles with their collaborative podcast called your recording.
“Community has always been very important to me,” she says. “I come from a family of six, including my grandmother. It’s always been a group wherever we go… I want to make sure there’s still a collective for everyone.”
This year, Jones aims to empower and connect women in sport through her WITS initiative. The moniker, which stands for #WomenInspiredThroughSports, derives from Jones’ experience of the natural wit and intelligence of women involved in athletics. Founded in 2018, Jones’ goal is to create a space to connect women — and male allies — with experience in esports and build a community to advocate for them.
“I’m constantly surrounded by women who have overcome adversity,” says Jones. “Women who are resilient and disciplined; women who are leaders. They know the power that sport brings to their character, and whether they continue to play sport as adults or not, the lessons they learn from competing will always stay with them.”
So what drives Jones to keep going when she’s already accomplished so much? She says she wants others to benefit from her own adventures. She finds her motivation in hoping that in the future she will have enough memorable moments to share with others.
“I have a very close relationship with my grandmother and I love listening to her recount things from the past and share those important moments with me,” she says. “I want to make sure I have enough moments to share at this age… I always want to have a cool story to tell.”
Pendergrass Flame is a contributor to Strengthen Onyxa diverse, multi-channel platform that celebrates the stories and transformative power of sport for black women and girls.