In association with Wilson, Ari Chambers of Turner Sports and Bleacher Report’s HighlightHER has launched a new signature ball. The ball is sleek, primarily black with a bronze-orange trim, and adorned with meaning that pays homage to Chambers’ upbringing and ideology.
A map of her hometown, Raleigh, North Carolina, weaves across and around the majority of the ball, showcasing Chambers’ roots.
Her high school, Southeast Raleigh Magnet School, and North Carolina State University College are emblazoned in a crest underneath the WNBA logo.
“It’s really hard to process the magnitude,” says Chambers when asked about Wilson reaching out to her to work on a signature ball in conjunction.
“When I first got contacted, I didn’t know if it was real.”
Wilson did their research prior to and throughout the creative process. Chambers was blown away by their attention to detail and how much effort and understanding had been put into their initial presentation.
“They studied the WNBA landscape, they studied the WNBA fan landscape, they studied me. And I worked with a great team for over a year to make sure it was just right. And it was all-encompassing of my values,” says Chambers.
While women’s sports and highlighting women are at the forefront of Chambers’ endeavors, she wanted to ensure the ball was inclusive. There are non-binary athletes in the league. There are multitudes of non-binary fans. Making the ball gender neutral was essential to Chambers, and Wilson followed through.
The ball has this inscribed: This basketball is dedicated to the future of storytelling and celebrating the game-changing experiences of women and non-binary athletes everywhere.
There are also the words WE ARE in all caps with an underlined space next to them.
“Everybody can enjoy women’s sports, and everybody can enjoy the WNBA. We don’t need to gatekeep. It should be open to everyone. That’s why the ball says we are on it. We can define ourselves however we want.”
Even with just surface-level knowledge of who Chambers is, this ball is a significant deal. The premier basketball manufacturer tied in their branding with hers for a special collaboration to further invest in women’s sports.
Getting to know Chambers on a deeper level creates an even further appreciation for what this means. This ball is another stamp of approval on a career founded in Raleigh as a young girl growing up and watching NC State basketball on elementary school field trips. She soaked in Naismith Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow and future WNBA All-Star Chasity Melvin.
She would help her dad grade papers as a kid when he was a professor of mass communication at North Carolina Central University, an HBCU just down the road in Durham. She sat in on his classes, and he’d been a producer in news companies before teaching, where she’d also accompany him to newsrooms.
“I just was always into storytelling and English. I knew I wanted to be a storyteller without getting in the way of my friends’ stories. It started off as telling those stories, but then realizing ‘Oh, I can tell the whole league’s stories!’ and now I can tell all women’s sports stories,” says Chambers.
On a personal note, getting to know Ari has been a special experience. In this line of work, I’m never really sure what to make of people with bigger platforms.
Ari Chambers IS Ari Chambers unequivocally. She’s incredibly genuine. She’s kind and positive but also honest about struggles and difficulties she and others face.
Her work on the new W show this season, Off Top, is all about highlighting everyone and being inclusive of all stories, much like the ball represents.
“I want it to be the expectation that your story is going to be covered,” says Chambers.
“When you have players, especially like Allisha (Gray,) and Ty (Harris), come from such a strong collegiate program, the numbers are going to match because they have the backing. Allisha Gray was 2017 Rookie of the Year! She’s an Olympic gold medalist. You have Ty Harris, who has a signature shoe with Under Armor. You have Ariel Atkins, Olympic Gold Medalist. These aren’t side of the street players. These are star players that don’t get the star treatment. Even if they didn’t have those accolades, I would still want to tell their stories because we need to make it a point where if there are 133 to 144 players in the league, those stories need to be told each year.”
She’s been in the trenches and working in the mud to prove herself and further the game and women’s sports at large.
Chambers got into cheerleading when she was four and continued with it all the way into doing it professionally for MSG, cheering for the Knicks, Rangers, and Liberty.
Seeing the discrepancy between Knicks and Liberty media coverage bothered her, so she picked up the mic herself, starting with NCAA coverage.
Chambers brought two laptops and a notepad to the Garden on game days, putting in separate work in between when she had to be on the court for specific timeouts.
“I’d have two different games, split screening on two different laptops, and be taking notes on it, then say, we would have a media day in Bristol, and I’d have to leave MSG at 1130, and then be on the road for Bristol at six o’clock. So it was just like this never-ending cycle of studying the game, having to perform at the NBA games, and then going to cover NCAA the next day.”
She’d meet up with friends who played in the W when they came to New York City, interview them in their hotel rooms on her phone, and put them online. That eventually led to working with Summit Hoops (now The Next) and continuing to grow as an interviewer and writer.
Her first on-camera work came at the 2017 All-Star Game in Seattle and blossomed from there.
A friend of Chambers’ whom she’d worked with as part of Torch Patrol, the Liberty’s cheer squad, took over in Connecticut as the head of entertainment for the Sun. Coincidentally, MSG ‘found out about Chambers’ work writing and as a journalist in spite of it never being a secret. She was pushed out of her cheering job. Yet, the next day, Chambers got the call about becoming the in-arena host for the Sun and hasn’t looked back.
Bleacher Report contacted her in early 2019 about starting up HighlightHER, starting initially on her own for the first few years before being able to hire out and bring in other women of color dedicated to sports. She’s still pushing the game forward today through practically every medium, and that ball is a statement of such.
It’s a proclamation of the work she’s put in, the work that still can be put in around sports, but also the place the game is at now. She’s worked her ass off to get here.
I didn’t know what to think the first time I met Ari or the first time I interacted with her. Her positivity and upbeat nature are infectious, but I never really know how to take that kind of energy off the jump.
While I’ve only been in this space for a short time, I can without question that Chambers’ impact can’t be overstated. I’m better at my job because of her, the conversations we’ve had, and just witnessing how she goes about her life in basketball. It’s rare to find someone in sports that a player, coach, or media member, has only glowing words for.
It doesn’t matter to her if you’re playing six minutes per game or are a six-time All-Star; your story has value. She’s going to cheer for everyone’s highs and be supportive at their lows. She’s that one constant voice and presence of positivity that I think you really have to sit back to appreciate and understand the years of work, admiration, and tender care she’s approached the WNBA with.
While she might not be a cheerleader occupationally anymore, Ari Chambers is the cheerleader of the W. She brings the passion, the gumption, the heart, and the voice every single day, repping women’s basketball. She doesn’t have to lead a cheer to draw attention; she magnetizes people to the game with her constant flow of loving the game and those who play it. The WNBA is so important, and Chambers deserves her flowers for her stake in that over the years and moving forward.
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.