Chrysa Chin’s world revolves around crisis. It’s not a stretch to say there are many concurrently happening in the world right now, and Chin’s role as the NBPA’s first executive vice president of strategy and development puts her at the center of how NBA players grapple with it all.
Chin is one of many women quietly working behind the scenes to support athletes as they publicly advocate for social justice and adjust to pandemic-induced changes to the season. It’s a responsibility she takes seriously enough to consider the players her “industry sons.”
“If I get a text that says, ‘Mama, I’ve got to ask you a question,’ and I don’t have their number because they’ve changed it or something, I’ll say, ‘Okay, I’m here for it all, but I need to know which son of mine this is,’” laughs Chin, who embraces her maternal nickname. “Like a mom, there’s no judgment with me. They can call me with whatever the issue is and from there we move forward. You can talk about all of your stuff and feelings no matter what that stuff is.”
She joined the NBPA in 2014 after 17 years with the NBA itself. NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts recruited her in part because of the relationships she’d developed with the players, who trust Chin enough to come to her with problems of all scale—from arrests and substance abuse issues to emotional support or even just questions about the bubble.
And like a mom, she’s on call 24/7 for the players—which makes it hard for her to describe a typical day in her role.
“There is no typical day in my life,” she says. “My job in the bubble has been about access, making sure players knew that I was there and where I was staying. It was FaceTimes and Zooms and texts and calls, but it was also things that might not seem that important, like making sure players had all their physical needs met or checking on their families in whatever cities they left them in.”
If Chin had to summarize her job, it would fall into three buckets: personal and professional development, crisis management and damage control. She oversees the NBPA’s anti-drug policy and program, helps under-21 draftees transition into the league, and responds to crises involving any players. With the next draft pushed back to November and many of her players living under one roof during the bubble, her job as a crisis manager has expanded into overall support system.
“[With] the pandemic and all of the social issues we’ve been confronting as a country, the world has changed a lot of things but kept some common threads…. As all these things are going on, so are players’ lives,” Chin explained. “The hiatus and everything else have magnified the things we have to address to make sure everybody stays healthy in all senses.”
Chin convened with 19 of the 22 teams in the bubble as soon as she could after completing her mandated quarantine upon arrival. Even early on, she felt the weight of the task that awaited her.
“Being by myself is [normally] not an issue, but I was out on my balcony when I was quarantined, and I saw [San Antonio Spurs players] Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan walk by. I was so happy to see them I was ready to jump over my balcony,” Chin says. “It was an adjustment for everyone in the bubble. And to do it for the length of time many of them have had to do it for, and with everything else going on in the world, is incredible. I’m so proud of our players because they found a way, with and without support.”
Players too have felt the weight of the times. Chin says several, both in and out of the bubble, reached out looking to talk about the various social justice issues, the pandemic, and how it will all play out in the future on and off the court. On the league side, executives like Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programs, fulfill complementary roles. Among other duties supporting player development and education, Behrens oversees all the programs that coordinate league and player social responsibility efforts—like the social justice coalition formed after the Milwaukee Bucks-led athlete strike in late August to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Chin adds that players have also gone to work with the NBPA Foundation and its executive director, Sherrie Deans, to turn those conversations into action.
“Guys are calling to [ask], how do we make a real impact? How can I affect the town or city I’m from, the area where I went to school?” Chin says. “They’re really being thoughtful and not just wanting to check a box. They may think it through with me or with others in our organization. It’s an honor to get to send them to other women like Sherrie.”
The WNBA also has point people for such work—including WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike and the Players Associations’ executive director Terri Jackson, as well as WNBA head of league operations Bethany Donaphin—but commissioner Cathy Engelbert notes that the athletes themselves have long taken the lead on social justice. Most recently, players including Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Layshia Clarendon, Sydney Colson, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and rookie Satou Sabally were among those to lead the July 6 creation of a social justice council to start conversations, educate and engage the community toward meaningful change, spearheading their own support system and using the forum their league has offered.
“It has been and continues to be a very emotional time for our players and our country,” Engelbert says. “I knew coming into the season what an emotional moment it would be: the pandemic, racial injustices, along with [the deaths of] Kobe Bryant and Gigi, and then just the fights they’ve been fighting for a long time with their own activism all coming to the forefront.”
And although both leagues are inching toward their respective championship rounds, neither expects the off-court work they’re doing to stop in the offseason. As Chin says: “This is a 24/7 job, and it’s a 24/7 effort for players too.”