A Winning Shot

Three COM students share their experience working as production assistants for NBA Entertainment during this year’s NBA Finals


Courtesy of Mytia R. Zavala.

When the Golden State Warriors clinched the win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last month, they brought home a big shiny trophy. But they weren’t the only ones with a reason to feel proud of themselves. Three students from Academy of Art University’s School of Multimedia Communications had just capped off two weeks of hard work as production assistants for NBA Entertainment (NBAE)—the NBA’s video and film production and broadcasting department.

Mytia Zavala (M.A. ‘15), Tommy Liu (M.A. ‘15), and Molly O’Brien (B.F.A. ‘16) were among 10 production assistants hired to work with the NBAE during the 2015 NBA Finals. Their “top-notch” academic work and professionalism got them shortlisted for the job by department directors Jan Yanehiro and Steve Kotton and instructor Dave Stoelk. Stoelk, a freelance writer and producer who also worked on the championship series as a producer for NBA TV, found out about the open positions from a colleague.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Stoelk said. “Yes, some of the job entailed ‘grunt work,’ but that’s how you start. You gain people’s trust. Those students were working on a national stage in a bright light for all to see. And they rocked it! I got feedback from NBA TV network producers – AAU students represented the Academy very well!”

The PAs reported each morning to the NBAE’s temporary headquarters at the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco. Non-game days had them overseeing a variety of tasks, from replenishing drinks to picking up lunch—but game days got their adrenaline pumping. First, each PA was assigned to a media crew, then, after lunch they headed over to the Oracle Arena.

“It was great to get a glimpse of what it’s like to work for the NBAE,” Liu said. “During the games, I got to see the big picture of how all the different crews work together to create their content.”


Courtesy of Mytia R. Zavala.

Each media crew focused on a different aspect of the event, like capturing game footage, or filming the fans in the stadium or the team getting off the bus, or conducting pre and post-game interviews. The content they created was used in sports packages, “mini-movies,” or as clips on social media, like one Liu helped initiate, that went viral on Instagram.

One night after the game, Liu was working with a crew capturing footage of the Cleveland Cavaliers leaving the arena after Game 5, but when he spotted star player Stephen Curry he knew it was a winning opportunity. “When I saw Stephen Curry walking down the hall I pointed it out to my cameraman, so we went over and walked with him and interviewed him and got some great footage,” he explained. “The NBA liked it so much they immediately posted it on their social media sites.”

The fast-paced environment of live sports coverage gave Liu and his fellow PAs invaluable experience. Since their tasks varied so much on a day to day basis, they learned how to juggle multiple types of work, with many different parts, all at once. “The NBAE staff rotated us to make sure we all had opportunities to experience it all,” explained Zavala who just graduated last May, and plans to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. “I learned that hard work pays off. Being quick, efficient, and detail oriented is the key to surviving in a fast paced world.” 

O’Brien, who is a guard on the Academy’s women’s basketball team, was thrilled about the opportunity to work for the NBAE. “I came to work everyday with an open mind and an attitude ready to learn so I soaked in everything they were asking and made sure to get everything done,” she said.

“Having played college basketball and then getting to work for the NBA was a dream,” she added. “It’s every kid’s dream to be in that arena one day. Being an athlete and being that close to that caliber of players and that type of atmosphere just kind of takes your breath away.”