Kelcey “KJ” Wright is the host and team reporter for the Memphis Grizzlies. A sports journalist by trade, she also produces and hosts her own podcast where she sits down with NBA players and digs deeper on their lives. She’s also the only Canadian to do this job and we are thrilled to have her tell us about her journey!
Hi KJ! So excited to chat with you. Please tell us about your move to Memphis to what feels like a dream job.
I had never even been to Memphis before. I'd never even been to Tennessee before. And then all of a sudden, I guess my life is down here. Like I remember my mom and I drove down with the U-Haul. And as soon as I drove her to the airport, I literally just went to a parking lot and cried. It was overwhelming.
But I had known that this was the goal all along. And I had known that I was so unhappy doing so many other jobs, that with this one step forward, I was scared and I was overwhelmed, but I was so proud at the same time.
What was your first day like? Do you remember?
Oh, I remember it completely. They flew me down here for one night. And there was a five hour interview where they took me for like 20 minute intervals with everyone around the office. So on my first day I'd already met… I mean, you do the math, 20 times, five hours. Like I met a bunch of people. And then it was — dive right in. So the guys had practice sometime in the afternoon, I went down and we had media availabilities.
And I’m so lucky because I played Team Canada growing up and there's another guy who lived in Mississauga, like right down the street for me, who also played Team Canada, who is on our team now. And I am so thankful because as the guys are coming in, and I'm freaking out already, I'm seeing the court for the first time, and I'm meeting all the other local journalists. The guy who I knew from home came over and he's like, “Hey, Welcome to Memphis”. And I felt at that moment, my stress just left my body — having one familiar face.
And then the first game that we had was a local adopt a pet night. And this one little puppy, he was so little, we had him on our pre-game. He fell asleep in my arms and I adopted him. I was so lonely and had to take him home with me.
Aww. That's so sweet.
Ha It’s so sad. But now he's my best friend. I literally can't imagine going through the pandemic without him.
I’m sure he feels the same way! Was it very intimidating? I'm just picturing a very male dominated industry.
It's definitely all men. But I will say now that I'm in my third season, I'm in all of the females of the NBA group chats. And I was talking to someone in Toronto about this. I feel like in Toronto, the girls in sports were all friendly with each other, but not necessarily friends. And I think that's because there's such limited opportunity if you're trying to get into like basketball specifically, whereas here, in the actual league the women are the most supportive I've ever met in my whole life. Like the sisterhood here is the strongest sisterhood I've ever felt ever in terms of work.
And especially with the pandemic, the border being closed and I wasn't able to go home; these girls, before I even met them in person, we were vacationing together and something will happen at work and I'll have this whole group chat where I'm like, is this normal? They're such great human beings. I'm so thankful.
Wow. That's so cool. Especially in journalism. It feels like a very cut throat industry. Like every person for themselves.
Yeah, it's been amazing. And the Grizzlies are incredible. And I've been around sports for long enough. Like I've worked with enough teams, I've played with enough teams to know that what we have right now is actually really great. We don't have one guy on the team, who's like an asshole. And I've covered teams where we had guys who were.
The culture that they've created here it's so infectious. It's so positive that it just makes work so easy.
Oh yeah? I don’t imagine “locker-room” culture to be that way.
And I worked in hockey part-time before I got down here and I used to just dread going to games because some, not all, obviously some were really great, but some of the players were just such dicks or they would like hit on me every time I like walked anywhere and like, it's just not a healthy work environment. And honestly it's not like a woe is me thing. Like I've had the boys club. We've talked about that earlier, where you’re excluded, or I’ve had the gross bro stuff before too. But this it’s just like a step up of professionalism. I don't know if it's just because these guys are pros or if it's just the culture that they've built here, but I've never once gone to work and felt uncomfortable or felt excluded or felt lesser than, which is big. I know it sounds so silly. It sounds like what should be the bare minimum. But unfortunately it's not.
Well, it's not even the bare minimum at workplaces where you're not on camera and you're not supposed to present in a certain way. You know what I mean? So the fact that you are in an industry where that's important and how you look is part of the role and you're in a male dominated industry — and it's still not an issue. That’s huge. It's sad, but it's huge.
No, it is sad. And I definitely don't take it for granted. I'm so thankful every time I go to work, knowing that this is the standard for how I want to be treated and I know the kind of people that I wanna have are around me. And so I don't think the bar is ever gonna get lower. Because you just don't accept what's bad moving forward, and the bar is definitely set very high.
I'm so happy for you. That's so exciting. And credit to your hard work and tenacity to get here as well. That connection between the fans and the players, does it fulfill your journalistic ability to story tell and things like that
That’s the podcast side for me. The actual games are so fun. You get to watch a NBA game, which is like —
Duh. You get to dress up, you get to talk to players. Like that's cool. But the podcast is where I don't even know. I spend probably four or five hours prepping a 20 minute podcast, but I get those creative juices flowing. You get to find the story of what makes this person special? What story are we gonna try and uncover today in this podcast? And I think that's the most fun part of the job because I can watch a game and talk about what's happening, right? Like, okay, you didn't shoot good here. You shot good here. But finding stories that people want to listen to and that the players wanna talk about. I think that's the most fun in terms of being a journalist.
That’s really fun. I don’t even know much about basketball and I’m excited. I know you’re heavily involved in women in sports initiatives.
Yeah, I played basketball in college. So I think from a really young age, I was always very aware that women were treated differently in sport because I had a brother growing up, and my dad coached the boys team in high school. So I saw how boys teams were treated versus how we were treated. Now that I have somewhat of a footprint or a voice online, it's always been important. If you're just involved in sports in any way — spectating, watching, scorekeeping — the stat is something like 65% of C-suite female execs have played sports. I've always thought it was so important because of how sports shaped me. If I can help even one young girl who was in a position that I was in before, I wanna be able to do that.
Incredible. Has the job or industry changed you?
Social media has played a big part in what’s changed me. I truly feel like being in this position even just for the past two and a half years and the effects of social media have almost hardened me. Whereas being in this position, having this job, has made me really empathetic because you're storytelling all day long. You are literally researching people and seeing their lives and putting yourselves in their shoes to be able to have a conversation. And on the flip side, when I share these stories or when I share literally anything online, I feel like it hardens me because of how horrible Twitter is or Instagram or DMS are.
I feel like there's like those two completely different sides where you meet people in real life. Whether it be like Grizzlies fans or just basketball fans altogether. And people are so sweet. And then there's this other side where it's like, oh, this is an actual, horrible place to live and be. And I never wanna tell a story ever again on Twitter. So I don’t know if that makes sense.
I mean, I get overwhelmed, stressed out by my maybe thousand friends that I have on Instagram. I can’t even imagine how you feel being in such a public eye, doing such a public role.
Yea I can't imagine being a celebrity, you know? I'm a reporter in a small city. Imagine being an actress or a younger person in the spotlight.
I think a lot of people will feel this, but sometimes it's hard to wake up every day and have self love. Other days you can look in the mirror and be like, “I am beautiful. I am smart.” You can say all your affirmations, but at the same time, one negative comment from someone can tear that all down so easily.
Totally. How do you remember the positives more than the negative? Or do you?
No I do. It can eat at me sometimes, but I think for the most part, I have realized that negativity speaks more about the person saying it than it does about me a lot of the time, just because it's my personality. And I try not to take anything too serious. I can laugh at it or send it to my friends or post it on Instagram and be like, “You okay?” Like, “Is everything all right?” But I don't think the ones that are really personal or actually very attacking or the ones that reply to my work stuff, those bug me. So if they post a video on the Grizzlies Twitter, for example, and someone says something like that bugs me more than if they did it on my personal account.
Because on my personal stuff, I can ignore you. I can block you. I can delete you, but on these accounts they put really nasty stuff. My parents see that, my bosses see that. Yeah. That's just uncomfortable for everyone. That's an actual attack on someone.
Completely and your ability to remain focused and rise above is pretty impressive. It also speaks to your confidence, mentally and physically. Where do you get that from?
Man, I had a rough go. I'll tell you that. So when I was a varsity athlete, I had a little athletic body. I weighed, I think 150 pounds or something. Because I'm 5’9. So I still had some weight on me, but once I was done school, I gained 40 pounds right away just because I was eating the same as an athlete would and not working out five hours a day. And I was so down. I had been an athlete my whole entire life and that was my identity. And all of a sudden I didn't look the way that I had looked my entire life. And that was really, really, really hard. And so I would say over the last, maybe five years, my confidence has started to come back up and it has nothing to do with weight.
I still weigh way more than I did in college, but it's more of that. I'm a woman now, I have to understand that. And there's curves that women get and it's learning to just look at myself in the mirror and not hate what I see, which has taken a really long time. And that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual weight, but it's just like how my brain changed. I mean there's some days where I still try on a dress and I'm like, cool, this isn’t doing up and I want to hit my head against a wall. But then there's other days where I'm like, you know what? People have rolls. I have cellulite on my legs when I sit down at games. There's a certain point where I just don't care anymore because that's literally just being human being.
And I’ve found that through my fashion as well. I’m past the expectation of wearing what I think a reporter is supposed to wear. And now I'm at a point where I'm like, I just wanna express myself, like Kelcey, not what I think Kelcey is supposed to look like. And I've gotten so many girls reaching out to me being like, “Oh my God, you are such — and I don’t mean like style icon — I mean icon in the sense of now these girls wanna dress how they wanna dress and not like wear a suit and tie how they think they're supposed to dress. And I think that's really freeing in a way.
KJ is wearing the Wallace Crop, Ferris Shorts and Oli Robe in Dusty Rose.