Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are spotlighting the diverse journeys of Black women through sports, from veteran athletes to rising stars, coaches, executives and more, in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
If you were to ask Denise Jones to describe herself, she’d say she’s a fan of all sports in Los Angeles. He says his ability to talk and chat about anything with anyone is a secret weapon, one he uses in his myriad professional roles.
Jones prides herself on being well-versed in many different capacities in the sports media industry: live television host, sports personality, producer, writer, business developer and consultant are all roles she has held. His resume includes high profile clients such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Shoe Palace and many more. But more than anything, the young professional attributes her success to her ability to be malleable and hardworking.
“I discovered the fun in what I do,” says Jones. “He advises me on deadlines. I believe in those really scary moments that make your stomach go into knots … moments of excitement, moments of nerves, moments of defeat. I find that I feel the most alive.”
But to understand Jones’ feelings, you have to look back to his beginnings.
Growing up in Compton, California, some of his favorite moments growing up were the kids’ watch parties his family threw to watch legendary Los Angeles sports moments like the 2010 NBA Finals battle between the Lakers and Celtics, Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game and the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup title in 2012.
“Those were such important times for the city … You saw the whole city literally bleed purple and gold,” says Jones. “You really saw them hug and you saw them growling together.”
Jones grew up in a close-knit family that focused on sports and community. His father was one of his first coaches, while his mother attended most of his games. The Jones family was connected by sports.
Basketball was Jones’ favorite sport, and the skills and mindset he gained from the sport were immeasurable. “You have to understand what it’s like to juggle between wins and losses, understand what it’s like to depend on which things, understand what it’s like to work with a team,” he reflects. “There are so many lessons that you can naturally apply to any field. If you’ve ever played a sport, you have things that can’t necessarily be taught, but more experienced … you’re a naturally different person because of it.”
Another bonus to his upbringing was listening to the variety shows on POWER 106. Jones went to Huntington Park High School, and his commute was filled with daily talk from Liz Hernandez and Big Boy, as well as DJ Kool Aid spinning the latest hits. The impact of this displacement became apparent years later when his mother suggested that he should look at the radio.
“I love to talk,” Jones says. “I can chat anywhere with anyone about anything… I’m listening to almost every show for days on end and I’m thinking ‘they talk about anything. That would be amazing, let me try.'”
After applying to almost every radio station in Southern California, Jones began interning at independent gospel radio station KJLH, owned by Stevie Wonder.
“If you know radio, it’s a lot of work,” says Jones. “I was trying to be the first in and the last out doing anything from events to programming to errands. I learned so much in my time there.”
Along with his radio internships, Jones also worked at a bank and went to school; those years laid the foundation for his love of grinding. Jones landed an internship with POWER 106 after his move to KJLH and worked at POWER for about five years. Eventually, she became the youngest producer on her late-night show.
After her time in radio, Jones began to focus on creating for herself and sharing her projects on social media. Made connections at All Def Digital, The Fumble Sports, The Young Turks; Jones broke through by hosting one of his first Nike features. “It was really fun because one of my first interviews was with Devin Booker,” Jones says. “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].”
Once they had those first few events, doors began to open: He began forging relationships with companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Puma, Adidas and Wilson.
Now, Jones has a hosting position on the sports medium Lakers Nation and works on the fan engagement side with the Los Angeles Football Club.
“[Lakers Nation] it’s just a group of fans of the game,” says Jones. “Being able to come on board first as a fan was exciting and exciting … this is my home team, what a complete moment.”
In the NBA offseason, he works behind the scenes in business development with various organizations, including Jordan Brand and Cashmere.
Jones acknowledges that being professionally mobile and open to partnering with different types of corporations has been essential in her career so far: “The biggest lesson and the reason I’m where I am today is because I’ve been able to stay flexible “. he says “I’ve been able to really move, be flexible and pivot wherever I am [needed].”
Along with Jones’ leading roles, she works hand-in-hand with footwear retailer Shoe Palace to give back to the community through local LA girls’ clubs with her collaborative podcast called His prey
“Community has always been very important to me,” he 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 group for everyone.”
This year, Jones wants to encourage and connect women in sports through her WITS initiative The moniker, which stands for #WomenInspiredThroughSports, is derived from Jones’ experience with women’s natural wit and intelligence who participate in athletics. Launched in 2018, Jones’ goal is to create a space to connect women — and male allies — who have experience with sports and champion a community 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 sports bring to their character, and whether they still play sports as adults or not, the lessons they learned competing are ones they carry with them forever.”
So what drives Jones to keep working when he’s already accomplished so much? He says he wants others to benefit from their own adventures. He finds his motivation in the hope that he will have enough unforgettable moments to share with others in the future.
“I have a very close relationship with my grandmother and I love hearing her tell stories from the past and share those important moments,” she says. “I want to make sure that when I’m that age I have enough moments to share… I always want to have a great story to tell.”
Flame Pendergrass is a contributor to Power up Onyxa diverse multi-channel platform that celebrates the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.