Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.“I love giving back, developing relationships with kids and hopefully creating a positive influence on somebody else’s life. Everyone needs someone to look up to.”—Gianna Smith ’08
You get an immediate sense of New York Knicks Community Relations Coordinator Gianna Smith’s passion for her work within seconds of listening to her talk about her day. That morning, Ms. Smith commuted into Manhattan from her home on Long Island hours earlier than she had to be at work to squeeze in a trip to Brooklyn to check in on the finishing touches being made on a Knicks-themed bedroom for a Make-A-Wish kid.
While Ms. Smith is responsible for day-to-day coordination and execution of a wide variety of community projects for the Knicks and Liberty, making a private visit, or personally purchasing the items for this child’s room, which she also did, isn’t part of the job description—it’s just something she wanted to do. “The room looked amazing!” she said. “I just wanted to make it special. It’s about going above and beyond to give a child this kind of experience…I become so invested.”
Working for community relations for the Knicks and Liberty, one of Ms. Smith’s main focuses is working with the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a non-profit connected to The Madison Square Garden Company that positively impacts lives and helps make dreams come true for children facing obstacles.
“We utilize the Garden of Dreams and their charity partners to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences for kids,” she said. “Children have wished to meet Carmelo Anthony…play 1-on-1 with Tyson Chandler. We make it happen,” said Ms. Smith, who works with members of the Knicks to assign players to events, whether it’s through Garden of Dreams, or other partnerships, sponsorships, camps or clinics.
Ms. Smith also spearheads the Knicks’ Community Awards and Scholarships Programs. Through the Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award, the Knicks honor local heroes who have made significant differences in the lives of others throughout the community. With this award, a donation is made to the recipient’s charity of choice. Ms. Smith said 2012 was unique because of Hurricane Sandy. Throughout the month of November they honored individuals who saved lives, cleaned up, and developed initiatives during and after the hurricane.
High school students who have excelled on and off the court are honored by the Knicks through the Dave DeBusschere Award. Another program that celebrates and engages the youth population is the Knicks Poetry Slam, which encourages students’ expression through the written and spoken word. This program awards four-year full time scholarships to high school students to participating colleges and universities. Ms. Smith was proud to report that her alma mater Adelphi was one of them.
For each of these recipients, Ms. Smith is integral to planning a pre-game experience and on court recognition during a Knicks game. Ms. Smith, who describes working for MSG and the Knicks as “a dream,” loves being able to create such a special memory for others.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘You’re so lucky to have this job, you probably get used to seeing the players and being at all the games,’” she said. “When we bring in individuals into the Garden it’s often their first time experiencing it. For me, it’s like living the experience over and over again, game by game, through somebody who has never experienced it in their life. It’s so exciting. It keeps me humble. At every game, during every experience, I appreciate that I have this position and that it’s such a great opportunity.”
When asked what qualities are needed to succeed in a role like hers, Ms. Smith cited being able to work with children, communicate effectively, and prioritize and manage your time. “You have ten different events going at the same time, and are planning for them simultaneously.” Ms. Smith, who was a communications major and business minor at Adelphi who played basketball and worked in two different offices on campus, credited the experience she had at the University for preparing her for what she does today.
“One of the things that helped me most during my years at Adelphi was not only being a basketball player, but going to school full time, while also working part time in student affairs and public affairs,” she said. “What I was doing on Adelphi’s campus is exactly the same thing I’m doing here at MSG: working on fifteen different things at one time; having to prioritize and manage my time appropriately, all the while making sure I give 100% to every single thing I do; failure is not an option”
Ms. Smith is proof that hard work does pay off. As a student-athlete at Adelphi, she appeared in all 115 games of her college career, made 98 starts, and earned all-conference and All-Met honors. Her junior year, she was the 17th player in Adelphi history to reach the 1,000 point milestone. Ms. Smith, who finished her career with 1559 points, is currently second on the Adelphi women’s basketball career points list.
To date, even with all she has accomplished professionally, she said her greatest achievements thus far revolve around her Adelphi experience. “I never thought that I would go to college and receive a scholarship for playing a sport,” she said. “Being able to do that and help out my family financially…to develop into the player that I did at Adelphi, to make my mark in the sport of basketball…I’m most proud of that.”
Ms. Smith, whose work schedule is anything but routine with community events late into the evening and on the weekends, said an interest that she has not yet had time for but plans to get involved in the near future is a mentoring program. “I love giving back, developing relationships with kids and hopefully creating a positive influence on somebody else’s life. Everyone needs someone to look up to.”