Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are spotlighting the diverse journeys of Black women in sports—from veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series. Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
Today’s generation of athletes are no longer just competitors, they are much more—they are businesses, commodities, brands. They are more sophisticated, understanding that there is more to legacy in sports than collecting championship rings, signing big contracts or lucrative sneaker deals.
That’s where Nikki Duckett comes in, navigating the legalese and creatively advising her athlete client base on the kind of decisions that will help them build their legacy off the field. Think of her firm, Nikki Duckett Collective, as a business extension for gamers. “I’m seeing athletes become CEOs of their brands,” says Duckett. “I understood [that] The missing piece to really help these athletes take their careers and brands to the next level is top-notch legal representation.”
Serving as general counsel for the Clippers for the past seven years, Duckett decided to make a move from her position in the NBA to launch her own legal advisory firm for athletes in July 2022. After decades of working as a litigator in three Los Angeles firm, Duckett joined the Clippers in ’15, becoming the first and only black woman to serve as the top attorney for an NBA team.
Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers hailed her latest decision as brilliant and game-changing for the industry and praised her work during her tenure with the franchise. From building the team’s legal department from the ground up; to serve an integral role in numerous agreements between the franchise and Fortune 500 companies such as American Airlines, Kia Motors and Red Bull; to negotiate one of the league’s most lucrative television deals, Duckett has made an indelible impact in LA
Walking away from all she’s accomplished in the NBA wasn’t easy, but it was necessary for a woman like Duckett, who follows her heart over her head, even when it comes to business. This is the main characteristic that distinguishes it from its peers and earns the trust of its customers.
“Of course, I have decades of experience in sports and business law,” Duckett says. “But I bring intuition, creativity and innovation, and those are the pieces that are often missing from these more conscious business endeavors that I really believe these athletes need.”
For Duckett, every customer is different, and what serves them — and the community at large — is what’s important to him. She knows how to channel the money, power and influence that so many athletes have and use it for the greater good, both in the US and around the world.
“The monetary work is there, but the deeper impact is to guide these athletes in using their influence in a way that is really conscious, thoughtful, beneficial, not only to the athletes, their teams and their communities, but for all the people you look up to them,” she says. “This is important to me.”
Having the ability to speak to people with compassion and connect is something Duckett learned as a child. Growing up, her father worked for a large oil company and her family moved around the globe. At a young age, Duckett learned how to speak to people’s emotional language, a skill she still uses to this day when talking to athletes. Because she can relate to them, her clients gravitate to her and trust her with their important legal decisions.
Early in her legal career, Duckett also honed her writing skills and learned how to use the power of persuasion in the courtroom. When advocating for clients, she came to understand the importance of not just reporting the facts, but telling the human side of the story. It was a strategy that paid off—Duckett never lost a case during her 16 years in private practice. She decided to use her writing skills and creative spirit to create a series of future children’s books, The Adventures of Marie LeDoux, which tells the story of a 10-year-old biracial girl living in Norway. It is a lesson in universal love, the power of the divine, and the power of self-love.
The Nikki Duckett Collective is as unique as Nikki Duckett herself; it is an accumulation of all her extensive business experiences combined with her life experiences and personal conviction that people have a human story and purpose, even when it comes to legal matters. Duckett was brave enough to create a new business, now she is living a dream come true.
Whether legally advising a major NBA franchise, taking the bold step of starting a new firm, or even writing a children’s book, trust is at the heart of everything Duckett does. And, when creative intuition is calling, she encourages other women to take that leap of faith as well.
“We’re not necessarily encouraged to have that entrepreneurial spirit that a lot of men have. If you’re considering it, you already have the smarts that you need to be great at whatever service your business is going to provide,” says Duckett. “The difference is, to be someone who does it, you have to believe in yourself. and have that faith.”
Senita Brooks is a contributor to Power up Onyxa diverse multi-channel platform that celebrates the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.