Celtics’ Allison Feaster: ‘I didn’t get here by myself’
The former Harvard star discusses her hoops career and journey to the NBA
Whether making history on the hardwood at Harvard, scoring buckets in the WNBA and overseas, or sitting courtside as an executive with the Boston Celtics, Allison Feaster has typically displayed a calm demeanor. But as she reflected on her groundbreaking journey recently, her emotions got the best of her.
“I didn’t get here by myself,” Feaster told The Undefeated. “My mom had to work so hard. She worked hard and by herself. And there’s so many people along the way who invested in me. … and so it’s not me. It’s not me and I don’t ever think that it’s me doing this. I am a product of those who are important to me and I am a champion for those who are coming after me.”
The basketball world first became familiar with Feaster when she led Division I women’s basketball in scoring with 28.5 points per game during the 1997-98 season and led Harvard to an upset win in the NCAA tournament over top-seed Stanford. She went on to play 10 seasons in the WNBA for Los Angeles, Charlotte and Indiana, and also played overseas in Portugal, France and Spain.
After retiring from professional basketball in 2016, Feaster was one of two women who enrolled in the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associate Program and became the NBA G League’s manager of player personnel and coach relations. In September 2019, Feaster was hired as director of player development for the Boston Celtics and was promoted to director of player development and personal growth. Feaster is now on the short list of African American women who are in executive roles within the NBA and its 30 teams, and the only woman working for the Celtics in basketball operations.
“I pinch myself every day I walk in the gym,” Feaster, 45, said. “I’m living a dream and, at times, it doesn’t seem real. Of course, I don’t lead with, ‘I’m the first or the only.’ It’s, ‘I’m so thankful to be in this space and really appreciative of this opportunity,’ and understand the responsibility I have to touch others and to pull others up along the way with me. ”
During Women’s History Month in March, The Undefeated spoke to Feaster about her storied basketball career, her road to the Celtics, and much more.
What do you remember most about upsetting Stanford in the women’s NCAA tournament?
I remember the preparation more than anything. I don’t really remember the game itself. I remember the work we put into getting ready for that moment and not just the week or days before the game, which was also very tailored to us playing in front of a loud crowd that we’ve never played in front of. Each and every moment of that season was getting us prepared and I think that’s what I recall most about that upset.
How do you reflect back on your college and WNBA career?
My college career. I reflect on it very fondly and very foundational in the sense that my college coach taught us all, and I’m pretty sure every last Harvard women’s basketball alum would say, her mantra of, ‘Act as if your role is the most important role on the team,’ is what a lot of us lead with today. And that is really what stuck with me above and beyond the NCAA tournament, appearances, the Ivy titles, the individual accolades, is that.
In the WNBA, I remember it being pretty similar to what I’m experiencing now. It was a feeling of, ‘How did I get here?’ because it’s something I completely didn’t plan or explicitly planned for it. But I guess just getting ready for any opportunity and having the ability to choose whether you want to go work on Wall Street or go play professional basketball is the dream of all dreams. Yeah, and not to mention the teammates I had a chance to play alongside: the Dawn Staleys, the Andrea Stinsons, Lisa Leslies, the list goes on … DeLisha Milton. It was a wonderful experience.
Do the Celtics players know how good you were as a player?
When you come into an organization with young guys, you certainly have to temper humility with letting them know. I think everybody has an idea that I didn’t play around, that I was about it. Everybody’s pretty much aware, especially come tournament time where there’s always a blurb about Harvard upsetting Stanford back in the day.
But it’s funny because I’ll be in the facility working out and [co-workers have] come up to me and they’re like, ‘Were you an athlete? Did you run track or do something or play?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I dabbled a little bit.’ And then the next day, they’ll come back after Googling, not that I’m some megastar, but they’ll come back and Google and say, ‘Damn, I feel stupid.’
How did you get interested in working in the NBA?
I didn’t really start to think about it until I had an opportunity to join the Basketball Operations Associates Program at the NBA league office. It was back in 2016 when I started. That program was geared towards former players, and I started with [former NBA players] Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Troy Murphy, Brian Cardinal, and another former WNBA player, Stacey Lovelace.
But I never really imagined that there was space for me. You really didn’t see other women working on the team side per se, but I just really had no clue of what was available about the structure of a team’s basketball operations, or how I would fit in. I always imagined myself on the finance side with my background and my MBA, trying to find a way to leverage my experience and those tools, but never saw an opportunity in NBA basketball. …
The experience was what I called the turning point in many years of uncertainty, struggle. I just had zero clue about what my life would be once I retired and I think that’s probably why I stretched playing for so long. When I finally got that role [in the program], it was life-changing for me.
Can you talk about your initial position with the Celtics?
The initial position was director of player development. … Player development can mean any number of things, but specifically as it pertains to the entire organization, it’s really serving as a guide, helping these guys maximize this experience, helping them in any number of areas, focusing on mental health and well-being, how to be the best professionals they can be. I played the game so I chime in and give my two cents on court stuff, but just really helping these guys be the best they can be both on and off the court.
And from there, 10 months in, I got promoted to vice president of player development and organizational growth with some crossover between the basketball operations side and the business operation.
How would you describe your job now?
Still have the player development, basketball operations responsibilities, but now it also includes co-leader of our Celtics United Social Justice Initiatives, which is this organizational commitment to combating social and racial injustice in greater Boston. … I also serve as co-lead for the criminal justice and law enforcement committee within the Social Justice Initiative. Got my hands full, but it’s amazing and fun work.
How would you describe the perception and reality of racism in Boston and being Black and Boston?
There are things Boston has to work on, obviously. In just exploring and just building out this social justice initiative, we had a lot of conversations with grassroots organizations, government institutions, academics, and Boston has its own set of issues and we’re doing what we can to make an impact as an organization.
What was it like being an 18-year-old Black woman going to Harvard?
That was culture shock. It was complete culture shock. I was coming from a small Southern town. My mom has to drive me up with my stuff and drop me off in Harvard Square and I remember being terrified because I didn’t really feel like I belonged. And so, it took a while for me to become adjusted and thank God I had my basketball community and team to wrap their arms around me and my coach, because it would have been that much more difficult.
What would you tell a young Black kid who is considering an Ivy League school but is nervous about not seeing many people that look like them there?
I gained from that experience that has allowed me to flourish in similar situations. … This is a temporary moment of discomfort that you will overcome, but the resources, the network, the brand, all those really, really powerful things that historically, young people of color don’t have the great fortune to be exposed to like others whose family members have gone to Harvard or Ivy League schools or people who know someone who can get a recommendation to get into school like that. It’s capital that is really priceless if you can get into that world.
The Celtics drafted the first Black NBA player in 1950 in Chuck Cooper, had the first Black star in Bill Russell, the first Black starting five, the first Black head coach in Russell, hired several Black head coaches and hired an African American woman in an executive role in yourself. What do you think about the Celtics’ history of giving Black people an opportunity?
The history of the Celtics organization speaks for itself. Those highlights … they give you chills because it takes a lot of courage, especially given what was said about Boston and whatever racism exists or existed here to draft the first African American player, to field the first African American starting five, to have an African American head coach. To do those things and with the backdrop of everything else that was going on, says a lot about the courage of those leading the Celtics at the time. And here we are in 2021 and there’s a space for me and for other African Americans and people of color in general in this organization.
I’m really proud of that, but it also drives home a very, very salient point is that we have a huge responsibility to continue to represent our community and continue to work. While we’re not a social justice organization per se, it’s not our top calling, we are a community organization and we do have a responsibility to represent our players as we have in the past now more than ever given their racial and ethnic makeup.
You were in the NBA bubble with the Celtics. What was your take from being there when the players forced a three-day layoff after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin?
Even before the bubble, it was a really painful and emotional time for a lot of people, people of color specifically, and our guys who are predominantly young men of color. And it was for us, as a staff, it was a time to stop and listen and offer whatever support we could.
We understood the huge, tremendous sacrifice our young men made and pulling together and going into the bubble to compete. We were all doing our part, or doing the best to do our part, to support them and just to offer counsel and guidance.
What are your hopes for the Celtics this season?
It’s extremely difficult to win a title at this level, and being the last team standing ultimately depends on so many factors. I believe in this team because I trust our coach and his staff, and most importantly, I see the amount of hard work our guys put in, individually and collectively, to be the best they can be. It’s not at all about me. However, I know that in the face of adversity anything is possible because I’ve lived it, and I certainly lead with that conviction.
Your daughter plays high school ball. Can she be as good as you?
She’ll be better than I am. She spent her formative years in Spain playing. She was playing at the same club that I was playing and she’s a much better ball handler. She’s taller than I am. Her rebounding is great. She’s already having conversations with a few schools. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. I want her to take her own path, do her own thing. But it’s certainly fun to watch and observe from afar.
What advice would you give to a woman who wants to be like you one day?
There’s really no one path, no recipe for success, but I can just share what worked for me and that is never stop hustling. Never stop grinding. Always be open to learn new things, to step outside your comfort zone, to grow. I was not the most social person. I had to make phone calls. I followed up with emails. I thanked people for opportunities. You really have to be on your grind and be top of mind and be prepared when an opportunity rolls around.