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Culture

Shelly Cayette Breaks Barriers in the NBA

shelly cayette
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In recent months, the country has seen a shift in a positive direction when it comes to representation in sports, both on and off the field. Last month, Rachel Balkovec became the first female manager in affiliated professional baseball while the Red Sox became the first MLB organization to have two female coaches after hiring Katie Krall. Weeks later, another professional sports organization made strides in the back office.

Last month, Shelly Cayette made history with the Cleveland Cavaliers when she was promoted as the team’s executive vice president and commercial officer. With Cayette earning this new title, she has become the first Black woman to hold this role with a team in the NBA.

Who is Shelly Cayette?

Cayette fits in perfectly with the Cavaliers organization, coming from an athletic background, which she attributes to her tenacity in her career today. In high school in Louisiana, she was a standout basketball player before playing at the collegiate level at Tulane University from 2001 to 2004. Staying true to her Louisiana roots, she transitioned into the marketing world after college and eventually broke into the NBA through a marketing position for the New Orleans Hornets in 2007.

Five years after continuing her tenure in her home state, Cayette moved up north to join the Cleveland Cavaliers’ organization in 2012. Before her recent promotion, she served as the team’s senior vice president of global partnerships, a perfect background for her new role for the organization. Last summer, Cayette even earned herself a spot on Sports Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 list. In her new role, Cayette will oversee corporate ticket sales revenue, membership sales and service, strategy and corporate partnerships, and youth sports programs.

Cayette’s role with the Cavaliers

As one could imagine, the historical nature of Cayette’s new role with the Cavaliers is not lost on her, but she hopes to see a day where these moments aren’t a milestone.

“Look, I’ve got to tell you — part of me would like to see the day when I’m not making history,” she told Crain’s Cleveland. “It’s nice to know that I’m the first, but hopefully, I can open doors, so there aren’t any more firsts. The goal is to do away with firsts.”

On top of her executive role for the Cavaliers, Cayette holds another important title in her life: mom. She shares a two-year-old daughter with her husband and is pregnant with their second daughter. And after 15 years in the industry, Cayette knows that she harnesses the ability to lead a team and drive the necessary revenue.

“And there’s this notion that you can’t have a family and do the job, but that’s not true,” she said. “You can if the organization works with you, just as they’re willing to work with a man. I think when you have the support of organizations, the support of ownership groups, and the support of senior leadership groups, it creates a support system that allows talent to shine.”

Life outside of the organization

Cayette thoroughly enjoys what she does within the organization. In fact, she’s said, “When you enjoy what you do, it’s not a situation where you say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to work and go to all the games, too. You don’t think about it. It’s all cohesive.” But just as her professional and personal life are chock full of activity and responsibility, Cayette finds time for alternative activities, too. There’s always room in her schedule to do outreach within the communities in Cleveland and beyond the city’s limits. 

She works with multiple nonprofit organizations in her day-to-day, mainly those that focus on providing education opportunities in unserved communities in the city, with efforts spanning mentoring and supporting leaders within the community. She’s also on the board of Cuyahoga Community College and College Now, a local organization that mentors over 4,000 students every year to help guide them to graduation and navigate their lives toward a successful career.

Beyond her role in organizations across the city and county, Cayette is also a volunteer committee member of Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Equity & Inclusion Division, which works to build a positive environment for businesses to thrive and provide economic equity and opportunities to minority-owned businesses in the city.

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