'She's Like My Second Mom': In the NBA, No One Gets Things Done Like Chrysa Chin

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2019

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 2: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on alongside Chrysa Chin of NBPA after Game Two of the NBA Finals on June 2, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

"Momma!" Andre Drummond shouted at a woman who was not his mother. He was sitting courtside in Las Vegas' Cox Pavilion and waiting for the second half of a Detroit Pistons summer league game to begin when he spotted Chrysa Chin.

Chin turned around as Drummond smiled, stood up and soon found himself wrapped in a warm hug. The short dark hair perched atop her head barely reached his waist.

"What time we meeting tonight?" Chin asked him. The two formalized their plans. She hugged him again.

Chin, 56, has worked in and around the NBA for over two decades. She spent three years as special assistant to former NBA Players Association executive director Charlie Grantham and then 17 working for the NBA, rising up to vice president of player development. "She was...unusually concerned about outcome for players, some of whom were potentially less worthy of her concern than others," former NBA commissioner David Stern said.

Chin returned to the NBPA in 2014. She now carries the official title of executive vice president of strategic development and engagement, but ask any one of hundreds of players who have come through the league over the past 20 years—young or old, current or former, healthy or hurt—about Chin and almost all will give the same answer.

"She's like my second mom," Drummond said. Joakim Noah described her as "the mother figure behind the whole NBA engine." Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, who also serves as a vice president on the NBPA executive committee, put it more succinctly: "She's the NBA mom."

If a player has a question about health insurance coverage, they call Chin. If they need a lawyer to review a document, they call Chin. If they're being extorted, they call Chin. If a car breaks down, well, a few years ago one player decided to call Chin.

"Most people in general don't know what a union is," David Foster, the NBPA's deputy general counsel, said. "We have to educate our players about what we do and how we can help them, and Chrysa is like the bridge between us and them."

Added Chris Paul, who was elected the players' union president about a year before Chin returned to the NBPA: "I can't think of a person who has a better relationship with guys in the NBA."

The league's older players trust her because they've known her for years. The younger players trust her because their veteran counterparts tell them to. "When guys call me with issues, whether something big or about their escrow check, I'm always telling them to call Chrysa," Paul said. "She's probably tired of me giving her number out."

Drummond first met Chin in the summer of 2012 during the NBA's annual rookie transition program. One evening three years later, they enjoyed a six-hour dinner at Tao in New York City.

"She broke me down, asked me what my goals were, my aspirations on and off the court," Drummond said. Chin was supporting but also blunt. "You're a professional basketball player," she told him, "and you need to focus on what you're paid to do."

"But she also was adamant that I never be afraid of stepping out of the box," Drummond said. "Being handed a lot of money at such a young age is hard, and she taught me everything I needed to know about being a professional."

Chin is part parent ("Momma Chin" is how most players address her), part business advisor, part therapist. The features of her job change by the day, but the goal, no matter what office she's worked in, has remained the same. It's what she tells players upon meeting them for the first time: "That I'm here for you, from the beginning until the end," Chin explained during an interview the day before her run-in with Drummond.

She was sitting in the Cox Pavilion bleachers, phone in her hand, her eyes glued to one of the team's benches. "I know that there's an issue, so I'm watching the dynamic," she said without elaborating. Prying specifics out of Chin is like trying to break a spy. "I know I can lean on her and trust her with information and she's going to carry it to the ground," Brown said.

From veterans like Langston Galloway to rookies, there may not be a player in the NBA who hasn't consulted with Chrysa Chin on everything from financial investments to team dynamics.
From veterans like Langston Galloway to rookies, there may not be a player in the NBA who hasn't consulted with Chrysa Chin on everything from financial investments to team dynamics.Photo courtesy of NBPA

Chin's job requires being many things to many people.

This day had started when she met a group of women from the National Basketball Wives Association, an organization not officially affiliated with the NBA but which she helped found. The event included a raffle in which she had to dance in order to recoup her prize. "She did like a Fortnite-type dance, but it also had a little twerk in it," Mia Wright, the organization's president and wife of former NBA player Dorell Wright, said.

Later, there was a meeting with one player who was thinking about "changing agents or financial advisors," and another was scheduled with a second player about "a business initiative he wanted to discuss." While all this was going on, Chin was working with the NBPA's legal and security teams to help protect a player who notified her that he was being harassed.

"It happens more often than you think," she said. "Especially with social media now."

Chin's phone began vibrating. She tilted the screen to the side, obstructing the caller's name. "It's a player," she said. "Excuse me." She cupped her hand over her mouth.

"It's a concern about an agent and how to manage the transition from one to another," she said after hanging up. "He wanted to know what the process is." She was asked what she told him.

"I'm not going to discuss that. I'm going to talk to him later," she replied. "But normally in these situations, my first response is to ask them: 'What's the issue and have you talked to the agent about it yet?'"

These conversations often start before players even get to the league.

Chin regularly travels to high school All-Star games and college campuses and runs workshops in classroom settings. She talks about preparing for life in the NBA but also how to make a career out of basketball even if you don't make it as a player. A favorite exercise of hers is having teenagers act out scenarios in which they reject requests from family and friends.

"It sounds minor, but learning how to say no to people becomes really important," Chin said.

The rest of the league's rookie class typically meets Chin on draft night, where she gained a measure of notoriety among NBA fans when she was tasked with handing each draftee a cap from the franchise that selected them, earning her the moniker of "The Hat Lady."

Others meet her during the league's transition program. Or maybe during their rookie seasons. She hands them all business card with the words "FIRST CALL" inscribed and featuring a list of NBPA phone numbers, including the one for her cell phone. The card is always accompanied by a quick speech: "I say, 'This is my cell number. I go to bed at 2, but I'll still answer the phone after 2. I just may not be as alert.'"

Chin prides herself on her accessibility. She meticulously collects players' phone numbers. She sleeps with her phone on the mattress beside her and only shuts her eyes after checking to make sure her ring volume—set to the sound of an old-fashioned phone ringer—is turned all the way up. She always answers, whether she recognizes the number or not.

"I get interesting calls at night," she said. "Sometimes guys are winding down and their minds are racing and they're thinking about things." Sometimes players just want to check that Chin is being true to her word. "One guy called me at 4 a.m. during the offseason and said, 'I just wanted to see if you would answer.' I then heard him yell to a bunch of players he was with, 'She answered!' It was hilarious."

Other calls are more ominous, like the time a young player with whom she was not close called her late one night. "I had your card in my wallet," he told her, "and you said if anything ever happened to call you, so I am."

The devotion to her job can take a toll. She rarely takes vacations, and her phone stays out during dinners with family and friends. "Everybody is always asking me, 'Can you please just put the phone away,'" Chin said. But simply being there is part of what players find both so endearing and comforting.

"It's such a big business and so many moving parts, it can get overwhelming," Noah said. In March 2017, Noah was suspended 20 games for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy. During that time, it was Chin who he confided in most. They'd talk over the phone or at the NBPA's midtown Manhattan headquarters, where Noah was working out. "She's just someone you can count on," Noah said. "She'll give you a hug in the good times and bad. It sounds simple, but in this world, that stuff matters."

"But don't let her small demeanor fool you; she'll get in a player's face," Bill Duffy, one of the league's most prominent agents, said. She'll tell them if an investment sounds silly or if she believes a family member is taking advantage.

"I always say, 'We're going to fight sometimes, and you're not always going to like what I have to say, and that's OK,'" Chin said. The candor isn't always welcomed. Some players, accustomed to living in bubbles of yes-men, initially resist, while the people in their orbit sometimes push them to ignore her advice.

Union president Chris Paul regularly gives Chin's phone number out to any players who ask him for advice about navigating the league.
Union president Chris Paul regularly gives Chin's phone number out to any players who ask him for advice about navigating the league.Photo courtesy of NBPA

"Nobody wants you to be close. That's the hardest part," Chin said. "Everyone's always jockeying for position. I always say, 'I have my own kid.' I'm not trying to take over the player's life. I'm just trying to add value and be helpful by using my expertise."

Keyon Dooling was a 20-year-old rookie for the Los Angeles Clippers the first time he met Chin at the 2000 NBA rookie transition program. He still remembers their first conversation: "I'm a grown-ass man. What am I doing here?" he asked Chin.

She blew off the comment, and when the Clippers came to New York that summer, Chin picked up him and two of his rookie teammates (Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson), all of whom were too young to accompany their teammates to a club, and took them out to dinner.

Dooling went on to play 13 seasons in the NBA. He got married, had kids, lost his father, spent time in a psychiatric hospital as he grappled with the memories of a childhood sexual assault, retired and became a player wellness counselor for the union. Throughout it all, Dooling said, there was one constant.

"I could always call Chrysa."


Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, and sign up for his newsletter here.