Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
If you asked Denise Jones to describe herself, she’d say she’s a sneakerhead and a fan of all things Los Angeles sports. She says her ability to talk and chat about anything with anyone is a secret weapon, one she uses in her myriad of professional roles.
Jones prides herself in being well versed in many different capacities of the sports media industry: on-air TV host, sports personality, producer, writer, business developer, and consultant are all roles she’s filled. Her resume features high-profile clients like Nike, Adidas, Puma, Shoe Palace and many more. But more than anything, the young professional credits her success to her ability to be malleable and hard-working.
“I figured out the fun in what I do,” Jones says. “I thrive in deadlines. I thrive in these really cringey moments that kind of turn your stomach into knots… moments of excitement, moments of being nervous, moments of defeat. I find that I feel the most alive.”
But to understand Jones’s sentiments, one must look back at her beginnings.
Growing up in Compton, California, some of her favorite moments growing up were the kid-friendly watch parties her 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 moments for the city… You saw the whole city literally bleed purple and gold,” Jones says. “You really saw them embrace each other and you saw them get gritty together.”
Jones grew up in a close-knit family that put a focus on sports and community. Her father was one of her earliest coaches, while her mother attended most of her games. The Jones family was connected by sport.
Basketball was Jones’ sport of choice, and the skills and mindset she gained from the sport were immeasurable. “You have to understand what it’s like to juggle wins and losses, understand what it’s like to be depended on, understand what it’s like to work with a team,” she reflects. “There are so many lessons in it 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 so experienced… you’re naturally a different person because of it.”
Another perk to her upbringing was listening to the variety of shows on POWER 106. Jones went to Huntington Park High School, and her commute was filled with Liz Hernandez and Big Boy’s daily discourse, as well as DJ Kool Aid spinning the latest hits. The impact of that commute made itself apparent years later when her mother suggested she should look into 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 straight and thinking ‘they talk about anything.’ This would be incredible, let me give it a shot.'”
After applying to almost every Southern California radio station, Jones started interning for the independent gospel radio station KJLH, which was owned by Stevie Wonder.
“If you know radio it’s so much work,” Jones says. “I was trying to be the first one in and the last one out doing anything from events, programming, and running errands. I learned so much in the time that I was there.”
Along with her radio internship, Jones was also working at a bank and going to school; those years laid the foundation for her love of the grind. Jones landed an internship with POWER 106 following her time at KJLH and worked at POWER for about five years. Eventually, she became the youngest producer for her overnight show.
After her time in radio, Jones started to focus on creating for herself and sharing her projects on social media. She made connections at All Def Digital, The Fumble Sports, The Young Turks; Jones broke through by hosting one of her first Nike functions. “It was really cool 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 saw an athlete [persona].”
Once those first couple of events were under her belt, doors started opening: she started forging relationships with companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Puma, Adidas and Wilson.
Now, Jones has a hosting position at the sports media outlet Lakers Nation and works on the fan involvement side with Los Angeles Football Club.
“[Lakers Nation] is just a group of fans of the game,” Jones says. “Being able to come on board as a fan first was thrilling and exciting… this is my home team, what a full circle moment.”
In the NBA off-season, she works behind the scenes on the business development side with a number of organizations, including Jordan Brand and Cashmere.
Jones acknowledges that being professionally mobile and open to partnering with different types of corporations has been imperative in her career thus far, “The biggest lesson and reason why I am where I am today is because I’ve been able to stay limber,” she says. “I’ve been able to really move and be flexible and pivot wherever it is [needed].”
Along with Jones’s primary roles, she works hand-in-hand with the footwear retailer Shoe Palace to give back to the community through local Los Angeles girl’s clubs with their collaborative podcast called Her Take.
“Community’s always been super 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 that there’s still a collective for everyone.”
This year, Jones wants to foster and connect women in sports through her initiative WITS The moniker, which stands for #WomenInspiredThroughSports, is derived from Jones’s experience with the natural wit and intelligence of women involved in athletics. Launched in 2018, Jones’s 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,” Jones says. “Women who are resilient and disciplined; women who are leaders. They know the power that sports bring in their character and whether they still pursue sports as adults or not, the lessons they learned competing are ones that carry with them always.”
So, what pushes Jones to keep grinding when she has already achieved so much? She says she wants others to reap the benefits of her own adventures. She finds her motivation in the hope that she’ll have enough unforgettable moments to share with others in the future.
“I have a really close relationship with my grandmother, and I love to hear her tell things from the past and share these important moments,” she says. “I want to make sure when I am that age I have enough moments to share… I always want to have a cool story to tell.”
Nyala Pendergrass is a contributor for Empower Onyxa diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.