Kiesha Nix made history as the first Black female vice president of the Los Angeles Lakers organization, Sports Illustrated reports.
In her current role as vice-president of charitable affairs for the Lakers, Nix is one of the most powerful and influential women in the sport of philanthropy.
Nix, who previously served as executive director for the Community Lakers Youth Foundation, received a congratulatory greeting from Lakers icon and NBA legend Magic Johnson on her promotion.
“I was in the middle of a Zoom call planning a community holiday event when his name showed up on my phone,” Nix recalled. “I almost didn’t take the call,” she says. But she did, and she heard him say, “Hello Miss VP.”
“I had to pinch myself,” Nix says.
She and Johnson have a working relationship of over 10 years as they partnered on community events when Nix worked for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America.
“I started out at the bottom of the totem pole almost 30 years ago as a project manager at Merrill Lynch, and by the time I left, I was negotiating contracts on behalf of Bank of America after the two institutions merged,” she recalled.
According to Nix, she was comfortable working in finance until she was informed about the community relations position by a colleague. The major drawback was if she took the position, it came with a major pay cut.
“I was a single mom, with no support, and my son was heading off to college. Taking a cut in pay didn’t make sense,” she said.
One of her mentors convinced her to make the career change, telling her that if she didn’t, she would never reach her ultimate goal.
“I took a leap of faith and I did it,” she said. “I’ll never forget, my boss at the time said to me, ‘If you do this job well, people are going to come looking for you.”
Nix began expanding the bank’s relationship with the Dodgers, USC, several museums, and other high-profile partners in the community. Before she arrived, the bank was only investing a few million dollars. By the time she left, the investment had grown to $25 million.
Garnering a well-earned reputation of compassion, respect, and trust, when Lakers president Jeannie Buss asked Lon Rosen, the executive vice president of the Dodgers, for recommendations to run the Lakers’ foundation, he highly recommended Nix.
“They called me on Monday, and I had a whole new career by Friday,” Nix said.
“I often tell young people I mentor that the people that have helped me along the way don’t always look like me. Lon is Jewish,” she continued. “He’s a very respected man in sports. He didn't have to recommend me, but he knew my work ethic. Hard work is the great equalizer.”
Nix hit the ground running in her new position by raising more than $400,000 in one afternoon at the foundation’s annual golf tournament, which was the most ever raised in the history of the tournament. Although the pandemic was a down year, she raised over $500,000 the following year.
One of the primary goals of Nix is to expose young people of color to the possibilities of front-office positions in the NBA and other professional sports leagues.
“It’s so important for young people to see themselves in me. I want them to think beyond becoming the next Kobe or LeBron,” she says. “I’ve never bounced a basketball in my life, but when I show up wearing my championship ring, they see that there are a lot of exciting career opportunities that happen behind the scenes, from social media to esports.”
Nix is also committed to helping more women—especially women of color—break more glass ceilings by ascending executive-level leadership roles in their respective industries.
“I think being the first Black woman vice president here is exciting,” she says. “I once heard Jeannie Buss say when she became the first female team owner to win a championship that it’s O.K. to be the first, but you can’t be the only. I’ve adopted that mentality, and I’m looking to help the next generation of leaders take my place.”