Sitting on a deck in the middle of a lake in Orlando in March as he’s done many times in his career, Cleveland Cavaliers Director of Basketball Communications BJ Evans enjoys the good life, as he relaxes, a day ahead of the Cavaliers scheduled meeting with the Magic.
It hadn’t always been this way for Evans, a 1993 graduate of North Carolina A&T. There has been struggle and setbacks to get where Evans is, having one of the most high profile jobs in professional sports public relations, working with on a daily basis the greatest basketball player in the world, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, winners of the NBA championship just two years ago.
Evans’ career began when he graduated North Carolina A&T and became the Sports Information Director at University of Maryland Eastern Shore. After two years there, Evans returned to his alma mater as Sports Information Director for a couple of years. Just like at UMES, Evans was a one-man operation at A&T.
“That prepared me for being able to appreciate how I got here,” said Evans as he reflected on his career. “When you’re responsible for everything then you get a chance to learn and do everything. You appreciate the hard work and the lessons that you learn.”
During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Evans ran press operations for beach volleyball, which allowed him not only national media experience, but also international media experience.
In 1998, Evans was hired as the Assistant Commissioner for Communications of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), when one of his mentors, Larry Barber, retired. This move opened up his exposure and contacts to the NCAA level where he sat on various committees, including Division I men’s and women’s tournament committees.
People in the sports knew Evans wanted to be in the professional sports world, more specifically the NBA, and with the hard work he was putting in and his dedication, it opened him up to receiving phone calls about various positions on the NBA (and NFL) level.
“I still have a box at my house of letters from people and jobs that I applied for where I did not get the position,” said Evans. “I didn’t let that deter me. I used those letters as motivation that eventually a door was going to crack and I would run through it.” He began to implement ground-breaking media relations strategies and was instrumental in helping to setup the MEAC’s first Website, meacsports.com.
Evans had made plenty of contacts but wasn’t seeing his career progressing the way he wanted. His goal was to always get to the NBA. With the newly formed NBA D League (now called G League) in 2001, Evans was presented an opportunity to become the media relations director of the team in Asheville, NC. He didn’t worry about the fact that his title said assistant commissioner and his title with Asheville was going to be manager. “It was a footstep to the NBA,” Evans recalls telling a member of the communications office at the NBA, when asked why he would leave a position at a Division I conference office for a position with a team in the D League.
Asheville was the last of the eight teams named in the inaugural D League. There were just three staff members there at the time. Because Evans had the background from UMES and North Carolina A&T of having to do everything, it made his transition to the role an easy one. ”It was like cake work for me because I had to do everything but only had to worry about one sport; oh I got this,” Evans remembers as he laughs.
Asheville had the top operations in the league in part because of Evans. While some of the members of the other teams were learning on the job, Evans already had the experience. It also put him in a different light amongst the NBA brass. A lot of the arenas were having operational issues with the new D League. He became the only communications person in the league to travel and assisted other teams with their game operations. Now his name was out there as someone who was ready for the NBA.
So when the Miami Heat was looking for a communications coordinator, Evans was flown down for an interview and was offered the job on the spot. His job in Asheville lasted a total of six months.
After three years in Miami as a coordinator and then ultimately assistant director, Charlotte regained a franchise. Seeing an opportunity to be closer to home he accepted the position of Director of Communications for the Charlotte Bobcats. After four years as a director he was elevated to Vice President of Communications.
“Pro sports is demanding and it’s 24 hours… it’s everything you can think of,” said Evans. “I feel like my foundation was solid because we had to work so hard in the HBCU ranks so nothing really fazes me. Now that I do have a staff, I feel like I’m robbing these teams.
“I sit back and laugh sometimes and think how did I get here?” Evans continued. “Then I think about all those bus rides from Greensboro (NC) to Tallahassee (FL). Now I’m on a charter plane. It’s just crazy to think about how far I’ve come to get to this point.”
With his stops in the NBA, Evans has worked with some of the greats of all time. Pat Riley in Miami. Michael Jordan in Charlotte. And now LeBron.
“I don’t want to say that I have made it because I feel like I haven’t made it, I’m on the path to making it,” said Evans. “I’m still not
satisfied. I will never let grass grow under my feet.”
And two years ago with the Cavaliers winning it all, it gave Evans further time to reflect.
“[After the championship] I’m sitting there and I’m like man, in 1993, I was the Sports Information Director at UMES and here I am in 2016 standing in Oakland, CA, part of an NBA world championship team,” said Evans. ”It all hit me at once and I got really emotional about it because at that time at Eastern Shore, I never imagined being here now.
“It’s PR man. It’s fun.”
(Evans is so good at what he does that the above picture of him setting James up for an interview, while directing other PR activities was the only one of him we could find. Good PR people are not generally visual on the Internet.)