She is running up and down the court the entire game, but she isn’t there to play. Her purpose is to motivate, trash talk, serve nicknames, and crack jokes. She’s “Bria Janelle, the voice of the AEBL.” If you have attended a game, you have heard this moniker a million times. Bria Smith, better known as “Bria Jenelle” isn’t just the host of the Atlanta Entertainment Basketball League, she is a vital part of the AEBL’s identity.
“I was one of the original pillars.” Bria stated.
AEBL founder and CEO, Jahi Rawlings, first met Bria when she was shadowing DJ Greg Street of Atlanta's V-103 station. It was 2011 and Bria was finishing her senior year at GA Southern. Her college hoops days were coming to an end and she was ready to focus on another career path: hosting.
“I met Jah when I was in college. Before AEBL was even thought of. I was on the campus station, 91.9. I came back to Atlanta trying to understand the ropes a little bit more because being in Statesboro, it’s only one sector of radio. I had actually went to a Greg Street show. He was showing me the ropes of radio and the intro to it...Jah was working in the music industry at the time. We got to talking about sports and life and we just kept in touch...That was 13 years ago and we have been rolling ever since” Bria remembered.
Years later, when Jahi was developing the concept of the AEBL, he knew Bria was the woman who should be holding down the microphone.
“He brought to me an idea...He was like ‘Yo I got an idea, what do you think about it? Would you like to be a part?’ and I was like ‘sure’” Bria recounted.
At that point, Bria had gained ample experience as a radio host and covered the Atlanta Hawks for her media outlet, LoudGenius.com. However, she was hungry for more opportunities to work around the sport that she loved.
“I had been hosting before so I knew a lot about being a radio personality. I did a lot of different music events but...there weren't any women hosts in basketball in particular. So Jah was like ‘yeah I think it would be a great fit, you could really grow and build and develop’. And that’s kind of how it started. I covered the Hawks...and he was like I had dope interview skills, it would be good to add that to the AEBL. And voila! Here we are” Bria laughed.
The summer prior to the launch of the AEBL, Bria made a trip to the Big Apple. A city rich with basketball history and already successful pro-am leagues up and running. She knew that being a woman in her new role with the AEBL, she would be scrutinized much harder if she came off as “not knowing her stuff.”
“I went to NY and I was like ‘bet I'm about to learn all about these summer leagues.’ I went to all the major summer leagues in NY and I really got a chance to like study and learn the game and how summer basketball was supposed to be. And in 2013 we got rolling. So I have literally been there before the beginning...before the foundation was even laid” Bria reflected.
Now, heading into year seven with the AEBL, Bria has successfully expanded her brand in the sports world and she continues to use the league as a stepping-stone to new opportunities.
“I think AEBL has given me a platform. I’m the only female MC in the country that hosts an NBA summer pro-am league. It was like that platform that let me blossom and grow into not only being the voice of not only the AEBL, but Atlanta basketball. I feel like that’s the thing that I like the most about the AEBL is that it advocates for women to be in a non-traditional role. Which is really dope” Bria stated.
One opportunity Bria has been able to gain from the AEBL was from the well-renowned McDonald’s All-American game. This all star game was created for the top high school boys and girls to showcase their talent before heading to college.
“AEBL has really been that platform for me to grow in the lifestyle space of basketball. It has definitely been an influence for me on being like the in-game host for the McDonald's All-American game just because that lifestyle component is something that they felt like they were missing. Especially to have a woman do it, that was something that they really enjoyed. They were like ‘hey we want you to bring this flavor to the dunk contest’, so we did the dunk contest a little bit different last year.”
Bria continues to break barriers for the women on and off the court of sports. She is the co-founder of a media outlet that promotes the inclusion of women's sports and sneaker culture, Made for the W. She has recently become the co-host of Posted on the Corner, a nationally broadcasted radio sports minute, and tours as the emcee for the WWE and Cricket Wireless. She has been exposed to so many different things since she first began hosting the AEBL and she still believes that this league is what Atlanta needs the most.
“I think the AEBL is not only for the culture, it's for the community. It’s a safe space. It’s the only place in the city where you can see your favorite NBA player for zero dollars. Even if you’re in the top row of the last set of bleachers, you still have a chance to interact with them. I feel like this is a place where they all let their guards down. Being in an NBA locker room versus being in the ABEL's is very different. So they are more open and receptive. It’s not business for them...it’s a stress free environment. It’s their give back as well” Bria concluded.