I’ve found that this quarantine can wear on you. We are living in a surreal, emotional and uncertain time. Nearly everything has shut down, and most of us have been separated from family, friends, and work for an undetermined amount of time.
Every day is basically the same.
It’s like that movie Groundhog Day, if Groundhog Day were a movie about Bill Murray exhausting the true-crime documentary dropdown on Netflix.
The incessant and relentless nature of this period of time can be defeating, even if you’re one of the lucky ones, which I am. I’m healthy, my family, friends and loved ones are healthy, too. I just don’t know when I’ll see them all next. That’s tough. I was having a particularly morose day amidst all this COVID murkiness on Wednesday of last week.
It was the perfect day to speak to Christian Crosby.
If you don’t know him by name, you certainly know him by sight. For more than a decade now, Crosby has been on the court at Sixers games in one capacity or another. He started as a rookie member of the team’s high-flying Dunk Squad, and today can be found as the team’s in-arena host for all Sixers home games. Before and during each Sixers game at the Wells Fargo Center, Crosby is the endlessly congenial master of ceremonies, shepherding sold-out crowds in and out of planned segments on the jumbotron, and getting them hype for tipoff.
In our half-hour-long phone call, he told me all about how his career with the Sixers started, progressed and evolved. We talked about the mission and motivation behind his company, Live Life Nice. We also touched base about how he and his family are doing, with all that’s going on. What shined through more than anything in our conversation was his genuine and generous (Brett Brown voice) spirit. Getting to know him a bit and learning about his story and what drives him did more than fill my word count for today’s column. It turned my crappy day around.
Please enjoy my interview with the indefatigable Christian Crosby.
How are you doing? How is everything going with the quarantine?
You know what bro, I’ve got a lot of friends, a lot of family that either are directly affected or have people around them who are really affected by this thing, and for me, I’m one of few who are blessed enough to be able to maintain during this time, you know? And for me, being in the house is giving me more time to think. Not only about life, and what I love to do and want to do in the future, but it’s giving me more time to be creative.
Right. You know, I was talking to somebody about just how emotional it’s going to be to just see regular friends after this ends. It’s going to be wild to just go back to the day-to-day, whenever that is. But you’re healthy, you’re feeling well?
Yeah man, I’m doing good. I call my parents every day like, ‘Are y’all staying inside the house?’ I’m like the lieutenant of my family, making sure everybody gets the updates. I’m watching the news every day.
Do you have any tips for how [to pass] the time, with all this free time?
Look, I think this is the best time for people to get smarter, you know? I feel like Americans are the hardest-working people in the world…and because of that, we move at a super fast pace. And because of that, I feel like we lose sight of a lot of things. We don’t have the luxury of time…our culture is very ‘get it now, get it now, move quick, next, next, next.’ I feel like we do have the luxury of time now to some extent, I know a lot of people are still moving, but— reading, right now, is a really good thing you can do. Even if you don’t read, find something you really love, find something you’re interested in and learn…this is a perfect time to elevate your mental, right now.
Is this a mindset that you’ve always had? Did you grow up a hard worker?
[I] definitely come from a hardworking family. I was always taught to put your best foot forward, do the best that you possibly can do at all times, and always strive for more. But also, while doing that, be thankful and be grateful for what you have. I try to keep that mindset as I go, but dude, I was definitely young and dumb. I didn’t always get it, it took me a while to learn. It took a lot of mistakes before I really understood how to really utilize my time the best way. I’m still learning, I don’t got it all figured out.
Did you grow up a Sixers fan?
Bro, are you kidding me? I almost feel disrespected.
(laugh) I’m sorry. It’s the quarantine, I haven’t seen the sun in two weeks.
(laugh) The answer is absolutely. Heck yes, hell yes, are you kidding me? I loved [Allen Iverson]. I was obsessed with him. I had cornrows, I looked ridiculous, just like everyone else did. Some people could pull it off, but I definitely didn’t.
Would you go to games as a kid?
No — yo, this is crazy, I don’t think I told anyone this before — so, I did martial arts growing up. And you know how the [Sixers’] sales team, they sell packages for groups to perform at the games, and in exchange you buy tickets?
My karate school was one of those groups. So I actually — my first Sixers game was me performing Tae Kwon Do during pregame back in the AI days. And we got to watch the game afterwards.
And how old were you?
I have to find that footage, I had to be like, ten or twelve. It’s so funny thinking back, that that was my first Sixers game.
Right. That was [at] The Wachovia Center, I guess?
Yeah, it was called the Wachovia at the time, yup.
So, fast forward a little bit, how do you get involved with the organization as an adult?
Here’s a crazy story, I don’t know if everybody knows this either, some people [might]. I was a young aspiring actor back in the day, (laughs) and my biggest acting accomplishment was a Target commercial, so shout-out to Target.
That’s huge. That’s a big campaign.
But, before that Target commercial, I did a local commercial, which was like a Philly tourism commercial. Because of my martial arts background, I was in the commercial doing flips and kicks and tricks, and two Sixers dancers were in the commercial. And they saw me doing the flips and they came up to me and they were like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so cool, you’d be so perfect for this dunk team.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ They were like, ‘There’s a Sixers dunk team.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, that sounds amazing, what?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, tryouts are in September, come check it out.’ So of course— I mean, I just thought the girls were pretty, I just wanted to be their friend — [but] I got their information, and then I showed up to tryouts. And then, the rest is history. I got on the dunk team, I became, like — Hip-Hop was the mascot at the time — I became his right hand man. Dude, I fell in love with the Sixers organization so quick. i had no idea what I was gonna do, but I just knew in my heart of hearts from day one that I was gonna be a part of this organization because I loved it. I was like, ‘Yo, put me in coach, whatever you need. You need the silly string, what do you need Hip-Hop? I’m your man. I’ll be at every event, I’ll go to anything. I’ll come to the office early, I’ll stay late.’ Like, I was that kid.
Your Tae Kwon Do background, that obviously lent itself to the dunk team— whenever I watch the dunk team, it looks so cool, but I also feel like it looks way easier than it is in real life. I feel like when you get on that trampoline, it’s much harder to contort your body in the right way, is that right?
It’s a hundred percent accurate, and the funniest thing about is, the better you are at basketball, the worse you’re gonna be on that trampoline.
Oh, that’s interesting.
Which is why I was so good. (both laugh)
Were you good at [the dunking] right away?
No, I was trash. My first year, my nickname was Noodles, ‘cause they said I flailed off the trampoline like a wet noodle.
Wow. But you stuck with it.
I loved it, man. It was fun, I was so bad. I would go first— like, I was the guy that went first that just did the opener, normal dunk.
‘Cause then they end on the big, giant, impressive dunk.
Yeah. By the end of my second year is when I really started to shine. And then by year three I was the guy. I had it all figured out. I was the anchor dunker. I did all the crazy stuff.
So then, how did you transition to being the in-arena host? Did somebody have that position before you?
No, actually, there wasn’t a host for a long time before I became the host. I know they did have a host way back in the day. The way I got the host gig is just an extension of the story I just told you before. When the lockout happened [in 2011], we got new ownership. So imagine a lockout and new ownership. The entire organization shifted. People’s jobs and roles changed. And with that change came an opportunity where, they were like, ‘Christian, we’re gonna pivot the entertainment department, we want you to run the dunk team, are you down for that?’ And I was like, ‘What? Yeah.’ It was, at first, just me being the captain— let’s just call it that— of the dunk team.
During that time, though, with the shift, this is when the entertainment [in the stadium] really revved up. Derrick Hayes [Sixers Director of Game Presentation]— I’m gonna name drop, ‘cause that’s my guy— he was in charge of the whole department, but he was very short-staffed at the time. And I recognized that. This dude was working so hard, and he didn’t have a lot of help. So I saw an opportunity. I basically told him, ‘Yo, bro, I know I’m supposed to be overseeing the dunks, but like, if you want me to help you with the show, with the video, with the pyro, with this, with that, halftime— whatever you need, I’m here.’ He was like, ‘Yo, I’m not gonna lie, I usually would say no, but I need the help. So I’ll take it.’ So I started helping him, and I’d say— he was interviewing people for the coordinator position and Lara Price [Sixers Senior Vice President of Business Operations], actually, said ‘Why are you not interviewing Christian? He’s been helping you this whole time.’ So he interviewed me and they offered me a job.
So I got a full-time job in the entertainment department, not long after I became the captain of the dunk team. And from there, there were so many events that were happening outside of the Sixers [facility]— dude, I was hosting Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I was hosting clubs in [Atlantic City], I was making YouTube videos, I’ve always been an entertainer at heart. So people knew that I had these skills. There was this one time, it was Beach Bash, they asked if I could host Beach Bash—
In Avalon [New Jersey]?
Yeah. They asked me if I could host that, and this is when I was a full-time employee [but] I wasn’t a face or voice for the Sixers, at all. By then I had transitioned out of dunking, I wasn’t even a dunker anymore, at all. And Scott O’Neil [Sixers CEO] saw me— this is, like, early Scott O’Neil, like his first year— he saw me hosting, he comes right up to me, he’s like, ‘Yo, why aren’t you doing that for games?’ And I was like, ‘Uhh, I don’t know.’ And he goes, ‘You’re gonna do it for the games now.’ It was just that quick. It was just like that.
What was it like, your first night, doing the in-arena hosting?
Are you kidding me bro? I want you to picture yourself being the host for the Sixers, a team that you grew up loving, in front of 21,000 people and having the pressure of knowing that if you suck at it, everyone that you work with is gonna know.
Right, so were there rookie mistakes that you were making right away?
A hundred percent! Bro, I was not perfect, I’m still not perfect to this day. I’m still learning. But it was fun, life-changing. I enjoyed it and I guess they saw something in me. They saw through all the many mistakes I made (laugh).
Nowadays, when there are games, where do you watch from? I know you move around a lot, but do you have any, sort of, home base in the stadium?
There is a tunnel that we kind of live out of. But I move around, you’ll see me kneel down and I try to talk to as many fans as I can because, I mean, why wouldn’t I? I feel like it’s part of my job to make people feel at home when they’re there. So I’m not gonna just walk by somebody. Most of the season ticket holders are like friends at this point. A lot of people that go to the games, they’ve seen this whole transition. They saw me as a dunker, they saw me having a headset with the tie and H&M dress pants, and then they saw me as a host wearing off-whites and trying to be cool. They’ve seen the whole transition and most of them are proud of me. They’re kind of like my aunts and my uncles, my cousins. It’s really cool.
And Alan Horwitz must be like the grandfather.
Dude, Alan Horwitz is indeed the grandfather. He’s the OG.
He’s a good guy.
He’s a great guy.
What was it like hosting at NBA All-Star weekend?
Yo, NBA All-Star weekend is the most challenging, yet fulfilling thing ever. Because the rehearsals are all day, you’re on your feet all day. Everything you rehearse never happens, it always changes, it’s always on the fly. You never know what’s gonna happen with the contests. Something always goes crazy. And you have to be the voice of it. You have to be on your feet, you have to say what’s happening, but you also have to articulate it. You have to listen to people talking in your ear as you’re talking to people at the same time. You have to memorize all the information, you have to know the storylines, you have to tell the story and get everybody excited about what’s about to happen. It’s overwhelming, but, the people you meet— I’m standing there and [having a] back-and-forth with Chance the Rapper, I see Michael Jordan, i say hi to him. I’m dapping it up with Jay-Z. It’s ridiculous. It’s all of the stars coming together at one place to enjoy basketball. That’s when I really knew I was doing something, this is pretty cool.
What would you call the hardest part of in-arena hosting?
I think the toughest part of the job— if you cannot think on your toes in front of a bunch of people and just kind of not be fearful of messing up, then you’re not gonna be a good in-arena host. It’s very different than broadcast or television [with] teleprompters, because things just literally change on the fly and it’s happening in real time. So you could rehearse something, but that doesn’t mean that’s how it’s gonna go. You have to make sure it goes from A to Z no matter what. And you have to make it entertaining. I think the hardest part is being flexible. For me, the biggest thing is, like, being yourself and making it the least about you as possible. No one cares. We just wanna be entertained, we wanna see a fan hit a half-court shot. No one cares that I’m the guy talking about it. So the more I can put the attention on what’s happening— and less on me— and do it in a natural way, the more people are going to like it. It’s always about the fans, it’s never about you.
Is there a network of NBA in-arena hosts? Is there a group chat? Do you want to start a beef? I’m happy to help you with that, what do you think?
(laugh) Nah man, I am not the type of guy to beef with anybody. It’s really not my style. But, I’m tight with so many [other] hosts. There used to be an email thread with a lot of them. But I am on text-to-text basis with a lot of the other hosts. Ahmaad Crump from Cleveland is my freaking guy, I love that guy. Kat [Stefankiewicz] from Toronto is dope. Cori [Yarckin] from Orlando is fire. Who else? Oh, my guy Scott Fresh from Sacramento is the man. Melanie [Ricks] from the [Milwaukee] Bucks, she’s so good at what she does. The list goes on and on. We keep in contact with each other, there’s no beef. We actually share our best practices, and if we see one another go viral or something we always shoot a text to support.
Have you noticed that with [NBA] League Pass, you’ll see the in-arena feed, rather than the commercials for the local game that you’re watching? So, have you been getting any runoff from other fans who are watching a Sixers game on a home feed?
Oh yeah, that’s a great question. Ever since League Pass started— and I’m sure other hosts will admit to this— my following internationally really grew. Because most people watching it are actually not here, they’re from all over the globe. People watch it here, too, though, so just overall my following has grown from that. It’s been really cool to see. You know, I get the people texting me with the screenshots. But it’s also funny because when you mess up, everyone knows it. People will text [me] like, ‘Yo, bro, what happened?’ (laugh) ‘Yo, you fumbled your words, did you go out yesterday?’ [I’ve] gotta be on more because it’s more eyeballs on you, but I love that.
Do you have any memories or player interactions that stand out from over the years?
Oh my god. I’m gonna start by saying I wish I could share all the stories— I could never, right? You know how that goes. But the answer is, dude, there’s an unlimited amount of stories and things that you see when you have a job like this. I can honestly say, the cool thing is, when you see how [the players] are and you see the funny videos or these funny tweets, this is actually how these guys are. They’re not doing this for show, they’re not doing this for brand deals, these guys are hilarious. World B. Free. Yo, if he had social media, oh my god. He’s hilarious. Allen Iverson’s retirement night was insane. The playoff game when Meek first got released.
Game 5 against Miami [in 2018].
I was actually one of the few [people] that was in the locker room that they put him in when he was getting his haircut. Before he even changed [his clothes], I gave him my Sixers jacket— he was like, ‘Yo, lemme wear that.’ But it didn’t fit him. I think we ran out and got him something. Just seeing him and hearing what he had to say. Kevin Hart being in there, and then Villanova walked in there after they had just won a ‘chip, I don’t know if you remember, but it was just a really crazy time. Because we were coming off the Eagles [Super Bowl] high— it was crazy. That’s a moment I’ll absolutely never forget. It was insane. AI’s retirement night, just standing next to him before it all went down, seeing him get super emotional. I mean, that dude had to have cried like 100 times that day.
Were you there for the T.J. [McConnell] buzzer-beater [against The Knicks in 2017]?
Oh my god, T.J. buzzer beater, absolutely legendary. Shout out to Alex Subers [Sixers Photographer] for capturing one of the greatest photos from that. He’s a great friend of mine. T.J. is another guy who I had the pleasure of having a relationship with, and that dude right there is a class act. You’ve seen the interviews he’s done and how he is. So many memories, and just being able to hear what these guys are saying to each other in the moment. Even hearing what coach [Brett Brown] has to say, and being at the scorers table during the game and being so close to it. It’s a trust. You build this trust with the guys and they begin to trust you and know that what’s private is private and what’s public is public. Just to be able to be there is— as a fan— the most insane thing. I’m still a fan in all those moments.
Never thought I would get a picture of Joel Embiid choking TJ McConnell... but here it is pic.twitter.com/AHoX0bj9pU— Alex Subers (@alexsubers) January 12, 2017
Before I get you out of here, I want you to tell me about Live Life Nice. What has it been like building that brand and getting players involved, tell me about that.
I always just looked at media and entertainment, and a lot of times negative things got the most attention. And negative things got the most praise. It always bothered me. I came to a point in my life where I found myself being very angry. And I realized very quickly that being angry did nothing. And, in fact, it also made me part of the things I hated. I was part of the problem. So I made the decision that I’m gonna do something about this. I’m gonna put some positivity into the world. It was never supposed to be a business. It was always just supposed to be something that I put my time into to inspire others to be nice and do nice. The whole point is to empower inspire and motivate people to do that.
So I started Live Life Nice. It was apparel, it was content, and it really took off. And the Sixers took notice to it. And they gave me an opportunity in the innovation lab. So we’re still partnered to this day. We’re in 10-plus Foot Lockers, we’re planning to get into a couple of other retail stores, our online sales are doing well. And we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars towards charity. We’ve just sold over 130,000 masks which are benefiting The Philly Pledge, which goes toward PHL COVID-19 and Philabundance. So they’re feeding 90,000 people a week, and they’re helping the elderly, the disabled, the financially challenged and so many other people who really need help right now. So we’ve been able to use Live Life Nice not only as a business to sell apparel, but a way to inspire acts of nice and a way to give help to those who need help.
Ben Simmons is someone who supports, he wears our stuff all the time, which is insane. Pretty much all of the [Sixers players] wear it and support. It’s really nice and it’s now expanded out of Philadelphia. It’s now in New York, it’s now in New Jersey, Delaware— and that’s exciting. It’s exciting to create something and actually see people receive it and be a part of it.
My immense thanks to Christian Crosby and Sixers PR for helping to coordinate this interview. I look forward to voting for Christian for President as soon as possible.
Check out Live Life Nice.