In 1996, when Melissa Proctor was 15 years old, she began writing letters to the Miami Heat asking for a job.

Every job.

She then called the main office and asked to be put through to the director. She called every morning. Every morning, she was suppressed.

After months of difficulty, they finally put her in touch with Jay Sabol, the equipment manager at the time. Stop calling, she remembers him saying. Your enthusiasm is great, but you have to stop. She kept calling. A few weeks later, defeated, she remembers Sabol saying: I don’t know what job to give you. Ballroom attendants are usually men, but that’s the best we can do for you.

But, he added, it doesn’t pay off.

I’ll take it, Proctor said.

She never thought this meager offer would lead her to an illustrious career in the NBA.

When she became the first female flight attendant to enter Miami Arena a few weeks later, it was also the first time she had attended a live professional basketball game.

Proctor knew nothing about sports until his cousin watched a Heat game on TV earlier this year. She immediately loved the pace of the game, the intensity. She also immediately pointed out to her cousin why there are no women on television.

Later that day, when her mother asked her if she wanted a job in the field, she replied: Mom, I want to be an NBA coach, so I’m taking a job with the Miami Heat.

And then she was there. In this brightly lit arena, I wiped sweat off the floor with a mop in hand, bounced balls and watched some of the best athletes and coaches in the world.

Melissa Proctor can be seen in the background as a flight attendant and Michael Jordan in the foreground. Courtesy of the Atlanta Hawks

During games, Heat coach Pat Riley would draw pieces on a piece of paper and at the end of the game he would crumple it up and throw it in the corner. Proctor took the papers, smoothed them out, and put them in his journal. Then she went home, studied it and learned all she could about the game of basketball.

The only money she made was tips, which ranged from $20 on a good day to $40 on a great day. But she was just happy to be there.

Today, Proctor, 40, is the marketing director for the Atlanta Hawks, responsible for everything from game production to fighting for racial equality within his company and in society at large. Today she is a master of many professions, an artist, a mother, an author and a speaker. She didn’t become a head coach, but somehow her path to one of the most important leadership positions in the NBA was better than she could have hoped.

As a child, Proctor drew everywhere. When her mother, Olivia, took her to take a test to get into a school for the gifted in Miami, she drew the whole picture. The teacher who tested her recommended that she participate in the art program. Her mother enrolled her at the University of Miami.

In high school, her artistic nature grew with her. Proctor was inspired by his experiences in Jamaica, where his father, Hugh, was born. African themes and motifs have also become an important part of his work.

As a young man, Proctor, then 17, was obsessed with Dennis Rodman. She read her memoir, Bad as I Want to Be, from cover to cover. Rodman loved Pearl Jam, so she became a big fan of the band. When the Bulls had to play the Heat in Miami, Proctor called. She wanted to turn it into a work of art. She spent days and nights painting a portrait of Rodman and then added elements he liked, like the band with Pearl Jam and the Buddha statue (because, she laughs, he was always talking about Nirvana).

The night after the game, as Rodman sat on the couch with a bright purple backpack and long painted nails, she came up to him, told him she was a big fan and showed him the work. Rodman was dumbfounded.

Oh, man, this is great. I’m going to put it in my house in Chicago, she remembers him telling her.

Then she watched as he carefully stuffed his artwork into his purple backpack.

After that, NBA players, coaches and others began to call on their work. She hired a lawyer to help her set the price.

I had no idea how much it cost. I was a kid, she said.

She took a break from ballroom dancing when she enrolled at Wake Forest University in 1998 and began studying art. When she was a student, Wake Forest’s Office of Multicultural Affairs bought her artwork, a portrait of two students of color with the word akili, which means knowledge in Swahili, for a special graduation ceremony for students of color, for thousands of dollars.

The venue was purchased by Wake Forest for the graduation ceremony. Polished Melissa Proctor

That’s when I realized how important it was, she says.

But she realized one thing: She didn’t want to be a struggling artist. She saw her mother, who had emigrated from Belize, work incredibly hard to put food on the table, and she needed a job to pay the bills. Art is something she will do in addition to her full-time job.

She heard about an internship at Turner Broadcasting System, researched the companies that belong to Turner — Cartoon Network, TNT, CNN, etc. — … and decided to get noticed: She wanted to make a kind of TV guide magazine about her life, present herself and sell her art.

Proctor wrote a fake press release and article highlighting her creativity, used a photo of her dressed as Cleopatra in the publicity department, had her work hung up everywhere, and finally included a piece of paper that said: When I have received this work, please return this worksheet to me with your mailing address.

That was his resume.

Jennifer Dorian, now CEO of Atlanta Public Broadcasting, remembers the magazine Proctor founded.

Through the magazine, she made] a promise that this man would be brave and courageous, and Melissa never broke that promise, Dorian said.

Proctor was offered the job and moved to Atlanta where he worked for the Atlanta Hawks as a ball handler. She completed a year’s internship at Turner before moving to London to study an MA in Design and Branding at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She then returned to the United States to care for her ailing mother and gained experience in television production before returning to Turner as Director of Brand Strategy.

Then, in 2014, she received a phone call that changed her life. It was the Atlanta Hawks. They wanted to make her vice president of brand strategy.

Now, a year after the coronavirus pandemic, Proctor is the Taylor Swift of the branding world, engaged in everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to writing memoirs, from prom girl to organization director. In 2016, she was named executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Hawks and State Farm Arena.

Under his leadership, the Hawks became the first NBA team to open its buildings to early voting. That means working with groups like I Am a Voter to ensure that as many Atlanta residents who can vote can exercise their right. They also do their best to ensure that people who are not registered voters get all the information they need.

Hawks is currently working with the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to provide access and opportunities for local entrepreneurs, particularly people of color. We want to do something that makes a lasting change, not just say Black Lives Matter on the platform, because it’s not about marketing. She said it was about work.

It was a fast race, with a great bounce: Last fall, after the Hawks collaborated on the production of a MLK NIKE City Edition jersey honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the upcoming season, the Hawks received a request from the Vatican indicating that the Pope wanted the jersey. They sent one, and then received a text message with photos and videos of the pope opening and blessing the jersey. What a surreal moment, she said.

This season, T-shirts were worn in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Atlanta was the birthplace of King. Jason Getz/Imagine

In 2019, the Caribbean American Arts Foundation presented Proctor with the Captain of Industry Award. At the awards ceremony, his mentor Dorian watched as Proctor addressed dignitaries such as civil rights leader Andrew Young.

Twenty years ago, she was shy and introverted. But I was in awe of her that day. She was charismatic, an excellent speaker and a natural leader, Dorian said. I didn’t see that 20 years ago.

He’s my mentor now, Dorian added.

Proctor is one of the most notable leaders in the NBA, while being surprisingly open about his goals for the future.

Sitting here, I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I’m just living this journey, she said. I could become a professor at Emory, I could work for a non-profit, I could open a school, I could do many things. But right now, I’m completely open to what I need to do with my life.

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