Hometown: Meriden, CT
Profession: Vice President for Team Business Development, New York Liberty
College: Canisius College – Business Major and Student-Athlete
Favorite Inspirational Female: Nikki McCray
All in the Family
Keia Clarke was recently named Vice President for Team Business Development for the New York Liberty. The former Canisius College basketball player describes her role as destiny. Although, Clarke was not always so keen on accepting her fate.
Clarke was raised by a single mother, a former basketball player, who had high hopes for her potential on the court. “As the story’s told, she took me on a court when I was two or three years old,” recounts Clarke. Despite being surrounded by basketball as a child, Clarke did not embrace the game right away. It wasn’t until her middle school years that she became serious about playing. Once she was hooked, Clarke played for her high school team, as well as her home state AAU team, the Connecticut Starters.
As she began to take basketball more seriously, not one, but two women’s professional leagues were established. The American Basketball League (ABL) had a local team and Clarke had a special in, “My mom had a friend who knew a couple of the players,” said Clarke. Boston Celtics legend KC Jones was the coach of the Hartford-based team and Clarke, because of her mother, got to hang out with the players on occasion. “I got to go after the game, with a couple of the players from the New England Blizzard … I’m like in 9th or 10th grade, and I’m having wings with Kara Wolters.” The women’s game would continue to grow with the inception of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 1996.
With the slogan,We Got Next, the WNBA came on the scene with iconic commercials and full-fledged superstars. The early commercials inspired Clarke and a few teammates to skip track practice one day and play pickup at an outdoor court. They knew a bunch of guys would be there, and that they would probably be split up, one or two girls per team. However, the ladies had something else in mind, “We’re gonna play as a unit, the five of us are gonna call next, because that was the whole premise of that commercial. We completely planned this whole thing … we were just like kids playing around. I don’t think we realized the magnitude of what was happening.”
Back to Basketball
As a student-athlete at Canisius, Clarke had no intentions of being in the sports world, she wanted a corporate job. Clarke eventually found her way to the WNBA, but even that took a bit of nudging from her mother. As graduation came closer, she decided to pursue her mother’s connection at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Although her position in sales started as necessity, Clarke soon found there was a way to blend her passion for sports and business. After 11 months at the Hall, she enrolled in the Sports Business graduate program at New York University. While enrolled, Clarke worked at Golf Digest. It was there that she was introduced to targeted market for women. Seeing the thought and care given to a specific market, a female market, at Golf Digest inspired Clarke to write her thesis on the WNBA.
Clarke began working for the WNBA after graduating from NYU, and has stayed with the league ever since. She spent roughly five years at the league office as part of Team Marketing & Business Operations (TMBO) at the NBA/WNBA offices. In 2011, she joined the New York Liberty as the Director of Marketing before her recent promotion to Vice President. Her new role is a move from execution and implementation of ideas, to primary decision-making. “I’m definitely going to be – and have been – more ingrained in … making sure things go off without a hitch, and that we’re making the right decision when it comes to the business model.”
Be Open to Opportunity
In the end, Clarke found the perfect place where her passion for basketball and her professional skills could thrive harmoniously. We asked Clarke to share advice to young women looking to follow in her footsteps, she offered this; gain experience. “If you want to be considered, raise your hand and say,’I want to be considered.'” Her the confidence to toss her name out there for positions is something she wants more women to do. “Keep an open mind,” added Clarke, “sometimes you just have to take a risk and sometimes you have to trust your instincts, believe in yourself, and follow through with the support that you’ve been given.”
For Clarke, her mother Linda McFadden has been a huge part of her support system. In her role as an executive with the New York Liberty, she hopes to share the stories of players in a way that inspires and encourages others to reach their potential, in sports, in business and in life. “Our game is phenomenal, these athletes are the best in the world at playing basketball.” However, the skill on the court is amplified by the stories behind these women, “I can think of no better career for myself from a front office standpoint, than to provide a platform for them to do what they do.”