These Hoopers are Using Social Media to Build Their Own Personal Brands
A decade ago, Briana “Bree” Green was living the life that only a select few ever get a chance to experience as a DI collegiate athlete at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP). She had lofty goals and high expectations for herself before suffering multiple ACL injuries, which ultimately plagued the remainder of her college career. Despite undergoing two ACL surgeries during her four years at UTEP, where she won the Conference USA championship as a senior in 2012, Green put in the work during rehab to eventually play professionally in Europe and Mexico.
“I saw the movie Love and Basketball, and [in it] Monica went to play overseas in Spain,” Green says with a big smile on her face. “That was one of my favorite movies growing up, and when I was in college, I knew I wanted to go overseas. I wanted to travel and experience basketball somewhere else, so the WNBA was never my main focus.”
And indeed, just like Monica in the classic film, Green also ended up having a stint as a professional hooper in Spain before ultimately accepting a coaching job at IMG Academy in 2016. Still working towards getting her confidence back after the knee injuries, Green refound her identity there while coaching girls basketball. She soon began expressing her passion for the game on social media.
“I had another knee surgery and hadn’t been cleared by the doctor yet, so I was bored with it,” Green says. “I recorded myself dribbling, and it went viral on Facebook. Everybody, for whatever reason, said I should try out for the Globetrotters, but I was like, Eh, I’m too competitive, but whatever.”
Her friends indeed saw it coming before she did—one day a Harlem Globetrotter recruiter saw the video online and tracked down Green immediately after. She managed to fight through the lingering pain from the knee injury and impressed the staff enough to earn a spot on the Globetrotters roster. After posting a few more viral videos—one of which consisted of her dribbling a ball on a treadmill, Green knew she had to go all in, documenting her journey as a Globetrotter in unique fashion.
“I knew it would be a good time to grow my brand,” Green says. “I wanted to make sure I separated ‘Hoops,’ which is my Globetrotter nickname, from Bree…from Brianna. I made sure the whole time that I would focus on my personal brand and try to grow it as that.”
And that she did. Green left the Globetrotters after realizing she could make a lot more money as a content creator instead. Fast-forward to 2021 and Green now has 357,000 followers on Instagram, 375,000 more on TikTok, and 191,000 subscribers on YouTube. She’s leveraged the impact of her social channels to partner with entities like Nike, Adidas, Gatorade, AT&T, ESPN +, and Space Jam.
“It’s amazing just ‘cause I took that risk,” Green says when asked about all of the brands she’s gotten to work with since deciding to go full-time on social media. “To have it all pan out is pretty dope, and I try to be different. I try to separate myself. I try to be innovative, coming up with new ways, and on top of that, being a female doing it. I just try to make myself unique.”
The state of North Carolina has consistently produced top-tier hoops talent for decades. From Steph Curry and CP3 to John Wall and Brandon Ingram, The Old North State has rightfully earned the reputation of being a hotbed for high-level hoops. But now, off the court, two Raleigh influencers are changing the way basketball players are engaging with social media to create business opportunities.
Marcus Hodges played at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University and pursued the hoop dream of playing overseas in the United Kingdom, but quickly realized that dream wasn’t his to chase anymore.
“I went to the British Basketball League out in London, and the team I actually got picked up [by] ended up folding,” Hodges says in a Zoom interview from his shoe closet—a closet that boasts just about every basketball shoe one could imagine, regardless of sneaker company. “They didn’t have enough money to become a team, and I took it as a learning experience off the court. I ended up coming back home and played some semi-pro for a little bit, and that’s when I started getting in the training field.”
The fact that many soccer players in England were making his salary in a month motivated Hodges to think of other ways he could earn a living while being around the game that he loves. It propelled him to start his Separation Team skill development and training business nine years ago.
Availability was truly his best ability when he started to work players out. Hodges currently lives in Raleigh and noted how multiple DI players at the time would reach out for workouts when they were back in town, such as Devonte Graham of the New Orleans Pelicans and Lexie Brown of the Chicago Sky.
“We were all new to [social media] at the time, but really how I got into it is, let’s say no kids show up for my workouts, meaning I now have an hour by myself,” Hodges says. “My girlfriend at the time was there, and Instagram just came out with 15-second videos. I would ask her to record me doing a crazy layup…hitting ten threes in a row or doing a crossover into a jump shot. I didn’t realize at the time that I was marketing myself.”
Hodges laughs about the early days of putting videos out on Instagram, saying he used to get excited when he’d get 11 likes. Now, his TikTok videos alone have amassed over 3 million likes and has a combined following of 312,000 users. Although being a popular trainer for young talent can pay the bills, Hodges has earned a lot of additional income from brand partnerships.
“Legends, Manscape, DratKings, Footlocker, Eastbay—they’re a lot of the companies I’ve partnered and am partnering with,” Hodges says. “Some companies just reach out, give me gear, and ask me if I’m able to put together certain types of videos. Other companies just want me to wear what I like from their brand, so it gets promoted.”
Another North Carolina influencer is catching the eyes of basketball fans on the internet as well. Milton Chavis’ journey included a stop at Word of God Christian Academy, where he played alongside four-time NBA All-Star John Wall. Like his Raleigh brethren Marcus Hodges, Chavis had a respectable collegiate career with stops at Kilgore Community College before finishing out at Morehead State University.
A short stint overseas led Chavis to pursue the route of coaching and training, which sparked his desire to explore content creation.
Chavis’ popular “Travel or Not” video series shows him going through a set of unique moves, most of which you’ll never see in an actual basketball game. The creativity and athleticism displayed in his videos are among the reasons why Chavis has gone from 18,000 to 75,000 followers on Instagram in a span of six months. Basketball stars like Gilbert Arenas, Kevin Garnett, and DeMar DeRozan have even reached out to pay homage and discuss his content.
“It’s been crazy, man,” Chavis says when describing the growth of his followers and the opportunities that have come with it. “I started in March, researching the gather step rule, just the one rule in the NBA. I was just being creative and was able to show the skill that I still have, the athleticism that I still have. My posts took on a life of their own. I’ve been on nearly every basketball platform aside from ESPN and SportsCenter.”
Chavis’ content has led him to team up with rising streetwear brands, which send him merchandise and pay for promotion. New Balance and Addikt also have formed relationships with Chavis, while aspiring artists pay to have their music played in Chavis’ videos.
The road to social media stardom has been met with obstacles for all three of these influencers. Three ACL surgeries for Bree Green and empty gyms for Chavis and Hodges ultimately motivated them to persist, even in the middle of discouragement.
“I remember this one particular time I posted that I was having workouts at 9:00 a.m. at Word of God,” Chavis says. “That was like 2017. I get to the gym and nobody shows. I was like, Dang! I’ve already been training for like a year and a half and doing decently well. I was also working with kids with special needs and at Fitness Connection,” Chavis continues. “I knew that this was just for a season, and to see how everything has come since that point is insane to me.”
Brands will continue to seek out content creators who engage with their audiences authentically. Green, Hodges, and Chavis have all used their social media platforms to create other business opportunities for themselves and the circles around them, with a centralized goal to impact the communities around them through basketball.
“I betted on myself, and it’s working out,” Green says. “There’s a lot more I want to do, and I just want to keep striving and growing.”
Luke Akinsola is a freelance writer that covers sports, music and pop-culture. A full-time marketing and communications professional that also worked as a TV producer at Fox Sports. Prior to his current work, Akinsola covered the women’s and men’s national basketball teams during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. He’s also a proud R&B Connoisseur and Tar Heel alum.
Photo credit Donnie Bui, Milton Chavis and Clayton Boyd.