Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx spotlight the diverse journeys of Black women in sports—from veteran athletes to future stars, coaches, executives, and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
If you ask Denise Jones to describe herself, she’ll 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 she uses in her myriad professional roles.
Jones prides herself on being well-versed in the many different capacities of the sports media industry: on-air broadcaster, sports personality, producer, writer, business developer and consultant are all roles she fills. Her CV includes high-profile clients such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Shoe Palace and many more. But more than anything, the young professional owes her success to her ability to be flexible and hardworking.
“I realized the fun in what I was doing,” Jones says. “I thrive on deadlines. I thrive on those really terrifying moments that kind of turn your stomach into knots… moments of excitement, moments of nervousness, moments of defeat. I find that I feel most alive.”
But to understand Jones’ feelings, we have to look back to her beginnings.
Growing up in Compton, California, some of her favorite times growing up were the kid-friendly viewing parties her family threw to watch legendary Los Angeles sports moments like the 2010 NBA Finals .between the Lakers and the Celtics, Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game and the Los Angeles Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup title.
“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 violent together.”
Jones grew up in a tight-knit family that emphasized sports and community. Her father was one of her first coaches, while her mother attended most of her games. The Jones family was connected by sports.
Basketball was Jones’ sport of choice, and the skills and mindset she gained from the sport were immeasurable. “You have to figure out what it’s like to juggle between wins and losses, figure out what it’s like to be relied on, figure out what it’s like to work with a team,” she muses. “There are so many lessons in it that you can naturally apply in any field. If you’ve ever played sports, you have things that aren’t necessarily learned, but rather experienced…you’re naturally a different person because of it.”
Another asset to her upbringing was listening to various shows on POWER 106. Jones went to Huntington Park High School and her commute was filled with daily talks from Liz Hernandez and Big Boy, as well as DJ Kool Aid spinning the latest hits. The impact of that commute became apparent years later when her mother suggested she look into radio.
“I like to talk,” Jones says. “I can talk anywhere to anyone about anything… I listen to almost every show for days and think ‘they talk about everything.’ That would be amazing, let me try.’
After applying to almost every radio station in Southern California, Jones began an internship at the independent gospel radio station KJLH, which is owned by Stevie Wonder.
“If you know radio, it’s so much work,” says Jones. “I tried to be the first in and the last out, doing everything from events, programming and order fulfillment. I learned so much during my time there.”
Along with his radio internship, Jones also worked at a bank and went to school; those years laid the foundation for her love of the grind. Jones landed an internship at POWER 106 after his time at KJLH and worked at POWER for about five years. She ended up becoming the show’s youngest producer overnight.
After his time in radio, Jones began to focus on creating for himself and sharing his projects on social media. She made connections with All Def Digital, The Fumble Sports, The Young Turks; Jones broke through by hosting one of his first Nike events. “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 got to see an athlete [persona].”
Once the first few events were under her belt, doors began to open: she began building relationships with companies such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Puma, Adidas and Wilson.
Jones now has a position as a sports media host Lakers Nation and works on fan engagement with Los Angeles Football Club.
“[Lakers Nation] is just a group of fans of the game,” says Jones. “To be able to join first as a fan was exciting and exciting … this is my home team, what a full circle moment.”
In the NBA offseason, she worked behind the scenes in terms of business development with a number of organizations, including Jordan Brand and Cashmere.
Jones admits that being professionally mobile and open to partnering with different types of corporations has been imperative in her career so far. “The biggest lesson and the reason I’m where I am today is that I’ve been able to stay flexible,” she says. “I was able to really move and be flexible and spin wherever [needed].”
Along with Jones’ starring roles, she works hand-in-hand with footwear retailer Shoe Palace to give back to the community through local LA Girls’ Clubs with their collaborative podcast called Her Take.
“Community has always been extremely important to me,” she says. “I come from a family of six, including my grandmother. It’s always been a band wherever we go… I want to make sure there’s still a band for everyone.”
This year, Jones wants to encourage and connect women in sports through her WITS initiative. The moniker, which stands for #WomenInspiredThroughSports, stems from Jones’ experience with the natural wit and intelligence of women involved 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 strength that sports bring to their character, and whether they still play sports as adults or not, the lessons they learned in competition are ones they always carry with them.”
So what drives Jones to keep grinding when she’s already accomplished so much? She says she wants others to benefit from her own adventures. She finds her motivation in the hope that she will have enough memorable 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 cool story to tell.”
Pendergrass Flame is a contributor to Onyx Authorizationa diverse multi-channel platform that celebrates the stories and transformative power of sports for black women and girls.