Five months have passed since Kiki Rice became Jordan Brand’s first name, image and likeness (NIL) athlete, and the young baller has already witnessed a dramatic increase in the spotlight that surrounds her.
Since signing in October 2022, the UCLA women’s basketball star admitted she’s fielded her fair share of NIL and Jordan Brand-related questions, and the amount of photoshoots has increased exponentially. Most recently, she spent a late-February afternoon with FN in Los Angeles amid a stretch of games against college hoops powerhouses.
At 19 years old, Rice is no stranger to heightened attention. As a senior playing for Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., she earned honors as national player of the year, and ESPN’s class of 2022 ranked her as the No. 2 women’s player and top point guard.
“In terms of getting the recognition and attention that I have since a young age, it comes with pressure because I know there are a lot of eyes on me. People are watching what I do and how I perform,” Rice told FN. “But I’m grateful to be in this position and I always bring myself back to that. I take that pressure and challenge myself and use it as a motivating factor in terms of my improvement and my work ethic.”
And now, she added, the opportunities that come with being a Jordan Brand athlete are a dream come true.
“Growing up, I always loved Jordans and Jordan Brand. I couldn’t even imagine being a part of the brand in this way,” said Rice. “The trust and belief that Jordan Brand has in me to represent them at such a young age and be the first NIL athlete is something I take a ton of pride in. I’m grateful to be in this position.”
Rice is now part of an athlete roster that features top-tier WNBA talent including Aerial Powers, Te’a Cooper and Dearica Hamby, among others. Several of the ballers have reached out to offer advice, Rice said, most consistently saying stay faithful to your work ethic and continue to grow.
“Jordan Brand having such a family emphasis is one of the reasons I signed with them — and it’s also why my experience so far has been so special,” Rice said. “There are so many top WNBA players at Jordan Brand in the position that I hope to be in one day, and whenever I need advice or to reach out to someone, I have resources available. It’s been great.”
Rice said she’s become particularly close with one of the Jordan Brand athletes, Jordin Canada of the Los Angeles Sparks, who also played college ball at UCLA.
“Being able to talk to her about her experience with the brand, and her coming back to practice with us, it’s been a super cool connection. It’s really nice to be able to talk to her about everything,” Rice said.
Rice’s relationship with Jordan Brand began in December 2021 at a basketball tournament during her senior year of high school, when Jasmine Jordan, the basketball field rep for women’s sport marketing at Jordan Brand, was watching.
A few weeks later, Rice and her parents, John and Andrea, met with Jordan and Anthony DiCosmo, VP and GM of sports marketing at Jordan Brand, via Zoom to talk about the company’s plans to elevate women’s sports and where she fit within those plans.
From the first conversation, Rice said she could tell how committed Jordan was to the women’s game and supporting female hoopers. That support in the time since hasn’t waned.
“In every conversation with Jasmine, I know she has my back, I know she’s looking out for me,” Rice said. “She asks me if I need anything or my opinion on this or that, but above all, she’s family and she lets me know she’s going to support me through this all.”
Although Rice recognizes she is in a privileged position, the baller knows she is more than deserving and is driven by a power of self-belief.
“Believing in your abilities, your talent, your potential is what separates the greatest players from the good players,” Rice said. “You have to believe that you can go out there, be the best and no one’s going to stop you.”
She does, however, have her confidence in check.
Rice attributes how grounded she is to how she was raised, and said her parents help her maintain perspective throughout her journey. It doesn’t hurt that she was raised in a sports-loving household and her parents were also athletes — while at Yale University, her father played basketball and her mom played tennis.
“Obviously I want to celebrate my achievements and what I’ve accomplished, but I know the journey is not finished. They always bring it back to that and help me focus on continuing to get better,” Rice said.
Now that she’s here, and the spotlight on her is brighter than ever, Rice isn’t solely focused on her on-court performance. The athlete is ready to use her platform to share her values in order to create a better tomorrow. Specifically, Rice is focused on growing the women’s game and increasing gender equity in sports.
“Growing up, I played with a ton of guys and personally experienced the inequality, the differences with how young girls and guys were treated. One of the conversations I’m having with Jordan Brand is how can we level the playing field starting at young ages? Figuring out the best ways to use my platform to bring attention to this issue is something I’m focused on doing with Jordan Brand,” Rice said.
What’s more, both Rice and Jordan Brand share another value: uplifting the Black community. In recent years, Jordan Brand has continued to make headlines for the millions of dollars invested in its Black Community Commitment.
In June 2020, MJ and Jordan Brand announced they would donate $100 million over the next 10 years to organizations that promote racial equality, social justice and greater access to education.
Last month, MJ and Jordan Brand revealed their next round of Jordan Community Grants, a total of $2.3 million awards that will be delivered to 48 grassroots organizations in the U.S.
“It demonstrates their commitment to their word,” said Rice. “A lot of big institutions say they’re supporting the Black community or are backing an issue, but you don’t see a ton of actual response or action. To see Jordan Brand’s continued action over the past few years is admirable and demonstrates the true commitment the brand has.”
She continued, “Seeing that so many of our priorities are aligned is something that makes me realize how perfect this fit is.”