By Harry Colbert, Jr., Managing Editor
When the Minnesota Timberwolves began their search for a director of Player Programs they knew they wanted someone who could relate well to the players and player needs – someone who had “been there, done that.”
The ideal candidate would know basketball inside and out and a plus would be if that someone played on a professional level. And with the international diversity on the team, a person who was well-traveled would also make an excellent candidate. The Timberwolves found that person in Kaayla Chones.
Chones assumed the role as director of Player Programs in 2013 after a nine year professional career in the states and abroad. In her role, Chones is the liaison between the players and the Timberwolves’ front office, coordinating the needs of coaches, players and families and assisting the NBA league office with T-Wolves player relations. Her duties also include facilitating players’ personal foundations needs and coordinating player events. Most importantly, she focuses on personal growth, finance, family and health for the players and their families.
“The average NBA career is four and a half years so I want our players to be prepared for their careers after ball as well as during their playing days,” said Chones.
Chones knows firsthand about success on and off the court. A star high school and college player, Chones was drafted in 2004 to play for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, where she spent two seasons. During that same time she also played overseas in Spain and Hungary. A 6’3” post player, Chones went on to play with the Seattle Storm and finished her WNBA career in a Los Angeles Sparks uniform in 2007. She continued to play in Europe before retiring in 2013, going out on top, winning the Israeli League Championship.
That’s when she got the call from the Timberwolves.
“Flip Saunders hired me, and that in itself says a lot,” said Chones, speaking of the departed Saunders, who was the team’s president of Basketball Operations and coach.
Chones was born into her love of the game and her understanding of the demands on a professional player. Chones father, Jim Chones played 10 years in the NBA. In a bit of symmetry, Jim Chones’ career ended in the place Kaayla Chones’ career began – Washington, D.C. Today Jim Chones is a radio analyst for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While African-Americans are the majority on the court in the NBA, it’s a bit of a different story in the front offices. While the NBA has done a decent job of hiring women and people of color (in 2014 nearly 35 percent of front office jobs at the NBA League Office were people of color), African-American women in front offices is still the exception, and not the norm. Chones knows she’s breaking barriers in her current role.
“Only about eight or nine people in my position around the league are women,” said Chones. “The Timberwolves are not just saying there’s a need for diversity, they are putting action behind it. Me being an African-American female working on the front office side, I can impact people coming behind me, who I don’t even know. That’s why I work so hard. I want to see growth for us. My door is always open to mentor, to be an ear, to be an example. I’m honored to have that kind of voice.”