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Kiesha Nix Makes History as the First Black Woman Vice President in Lakers Organization


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.

It’s incredible when things just fall into place.

As the vice president of charitable affairs for the Lakers, Kiesha Nix is one of the most powerful women in the sport of philanthropy. When she was first promoted from executive director for the Community Lakers Youth Foundation to her current office, NBA legend Magic Johnson called to congratulate her personally. “I was in the middle of a Zoom call planning a community holiday event when his name showed up on my phone. I almost didn’t take the call,” she says. But she did, and she heard him say, “Hello Miss VP.”

“I had to pinch myself,” Nix says.

Nix had never actively pursued a career in community relations or fundraising, but the calling seemed to pursue her. She and Johnson had partnered on community events for more than a decade since they first crossed paths when Nix worked for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. “I started out at the bottom of the totem pole almost 30 years ago as a project manager at Merrill Lynch, and by the time I left, I was negotiating contracts on behalf of Bank of America after the two institutions merged.”

She was also managing investments for several CEOs and other high-net-worth clients and was comfortable in her official role as a financial advisor. Still, others were wowed by Nix’s unique imprint of leveraging wealth management to maximize social impact. She volunteered thousands of hours with the bank’s charitable foundation, raising money, producing events and building relationships. “It was not part of my normal day-to-day job responsibilities, but I did that work for 18 years,” she says. “I saw it as a way to bridge the gap between our clients and the kids in South Central, Watts and Compton because that’s where I grew up.”

Nix says she was content working in finance until a colleague told her about a position in the community relations department, but taking the job meant she would also have to take a major pay cut. “I was a single mom, with no support, and my son was heading off to college. Taking a cut in pay didn’t make sense,” she says.

One of her mentors stepped in to convince her to go for the colossal career move, telling her that if she didn’t, she’d never end up where she ultimately wanted to be. “I took a leap of faith and I did it,” she said. “I’ll never forget, my boss at the time said to me, ‘If you do this job well, people are going to come looking for you.’”

Her first assignment was to manage the bank’s relationship with the Dodgers, then USC, several museums and other high-profile partners. The bank was only investing a few million dollars when she started. She grew that to $25 million before she left.Nix developed a reputation of trust, respect and compassion—all critical values for solid leadership. People were talking about her, so when Lakers president Jeanie Buss called Lon Rosen, the executive vice president of the Dodgers, looking for someone to run the Lakers’ foundation, Rosen didn’t hesitate to recommend Nix.

“They called me on Monday, and I had a whole new career by Friday,” Nix says. Now, she’s the first Black woman to be named vice president within the Lakers organization.

“I often tell young people I mentor that the people that have helped me along the way don’t always look like me. Lon is Jewish,” she says. “He’s a very respected man in sports. He didn't have to recommend me, but he knew my work ethic. Hard work is the great equalizer.”

Her swift promotion from executive director to vice president came as no surprise. Because the Lakers already enjoyed a positive presence of strong support in the community, Nix set out to raise more money to do more for the kids. During her first year, she raised more than $400,000 in one afternoon at the foundation’s annual golf tournament—the most ever raised in the history of the tournament. The COVID-19 pandemic hit during her second year, and her fundraising fell just short of the record. But the third year topped the first, and she set a record the fourth year, raising more than a half million dollars with the one-day event.

Nix says becoming vice president doesn’t require a lot of new learning as much as it requires her to be more available, but she does have two priorities: to continue growing the number of youth programs supported by the foundation, and to open doors for more young people of color to make it to front-office positions.

“It’s so important for young people to see themselves in me. I want them to think beyond becoming the next Kobe or LeBron,” she says. “I’ve never bounced a basketball in my life, but when I show up wearing my championship ring, they see that there are a lot of exciting career opportunities that happen behind the scenes, from social media to esports.”

Nix is also committed to helping more women, and especially women of color, reach higher leadership levels. “I think being the first Black woman vice president here is exciting,” she says. “I once heard Jeanie Buss say when she became the first female team owner to win a championship that it’s O.K. to be the first, but you can’t be the only. I’ve adopted that mentality, and I’m looking to help the next generation of leaders to take my place.”

Nix’s own background doesn’t spell advantage, but she’s relentlessly positive and totally driven. “A huge part of my story is that I became a single mom at 24 years old, but my son Kyler and I were able to accomplish a lot together,” she says, adding that they both made huge sacrifices and faced challenges during Kyler's upbringing in South Central, but that she wouldn’t trade any of it. “I used to bring my son to work and let him crawl around my desk when I couldn’t find childcare. Twenty-four years later, he’s a graduate of Fisk University and working in one of my old offices managing high-net-worth individuals, athletes and entertainers for a living.”

Looking back, she marvels at the twists her personal and professional life took, but believes she had to walk that path to be where she is today.

“Jeanie Buss would never have called Merrill Lynch looking for the person she needed. She called Lon at the Dodgers, who told her to call me,” Nix says. “Those stepping stones just made everything fall into place.”

Empower Onyx/Sports Illustrated present Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports

Madelyne Woods is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multichannel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.