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Interview: Behind the lines with Rick Ross

Bettina Monique

By Editorial Team

This week BTM was able to catch up with a living South Central community legend, “Freeway” Rick Ross, and discuss everything from tennis to black economics. There are very few people who don’t know about the exploits of a man who once dominated drug trafficking to such an extent that federal law enforcement established a special task force to bring him down.

During his primitive years as a drug dealer one thing remained apparent; that was Rick’s ability to conduct business and organize a community to serve a singular purpose. At the time Rick was one of the only black men successful in coordinating large groups of blacks across multiple regions within the United States in any business endeavor whether legal or illegal. As such, Rick become a real threat to the establishment during a period of racial tension and conflict within South Central Los Angeles.

Rick’s story has been well documented over the years and with his new Netflix movie entitled, “Freeway: Crack in the System” there is not much left to reveal. However, his early years of being an avid tennis player in high school was briefly discussed. Rick had big dreams of becoming the next tennis great alongside his hero Arthur Ashe and other local tennis stars in his community. Rick’s tennis career was cut short due to his issue with illiteracy and as a result climbed the ladder to government involvement as a drug kingpin.

The part of Rick’s story that usually goes untold is his early life as a tennis player and also his active participation within the sport of tennis. As a tennis coach, mentor and financier he has helped shape the black tennis community in ways most know little about. Rick still frequents Rancho Cienega Tennis Club to play at his leisure and connect with the community.

BTM: How did you first get introduced to the sport of tennis?

RR: I got started in tennis within the South Central LA community as I played a condensed version of the game in a dirt field with worn rackets. From there I was very interested in the game and several other kids in the neighborhood began to latch onto the sport. We just grew to love the sport from there because we were introduced to tennis at such an early age.

BTM: What attracted you to the sport? What do you love about tennis?

RR: I love the competitive nature of the sport and the ability to use my mind on the court to wear down my opponents by getting every ball back in play. I apply tennis strategy to almost everything I do.

BTM: What was your biggest accomplishment in tennis as a junior prior to your drug dealing days?

RR: I was a leader on the Dorsey High School tennis team and we were on an all black team ranked 3rd in the country.

BTM: Did you play tennis in prison? Was it popular in prison?

RR: Yes, we had tennis courts in some of the facilities so I was able to play while I was there

BTM: Are you currently involved in the sport? How?

RR: Yes, I coach tennis to young juniors. I am coaching a couple youngsters now that will be the best in the world one day. They are just that good.

BTM: What would it take to get more blacks into playing the sport professionally like other sports like football or basketball?

RR: Tennis is a very expensive sport to just pick up as a kid because it is so expensive. You have to have money for coaching and equipment, not to include travel expenses and transportation around town just to get to the best training programs in the area. In order to get more blacks playing tennis there must be more programs to introduce the sport at the grass roots level to build popularity and a desire to continue playing for fun as a kid.

BTM: We heard that you supported a few professional tennis players on tour… If yes, Who? Is this something that you plan on doing?

RR: The most notable on tour now is Sachia Vickery. I sponsored her for the US Open several years ago. I backed a lot of players over my career and have also done whatever I could do help young players as they transitioned to the pro ranks and also while on the pro circuit.

BTM: Who is your favorite player on tour now? Is there a player that excites you?

RR: I like watching Federer and the William Sisters play, but I don’t have any favorites at the moment.

BTM: What would you tell kids and young adults about the life of hustling and fast money?

RR: Stay in school and focus on your education. Do not take the short cut in anything and never be afraid to ask for help when in need. The easy way out is usually the most damaging to you as it has negative consequences. Be a critical thinker and ask yourself whether your actions will have bad consequences.

BTM: Without the drug game now, do you think that you will be able to get back to where you were in a legal business environment?

RR: I will be richer. I believe that I can exceed where I was financially when I was drug dealer. I am using technology to bounce back financially. When I was in prison I missed out on all of the internet and social media buzz. But now I see where things are and there are some things that others are not doing on social media and I see where I can change the game using social media and technology.

BTM: What are you doing now in business that you want to share?

RR: I am writing a book, doing speaking engagements, running a clothing company and doing a new movie. I also have a movie out on Netflix, “Freeway: Crack in the System.” Plus I work a lot within the community helping people develop their businesses. I stay extremely busy now.

BTM: What is the current state of the black community on a national level? If not good, why are we so behind in business ownership? What can we do to improve it?

RR: The black community is in the worst condition that it has ever been in. Unemployment and homelessness are among two of the biggest issues affecting our local community. It has definitely gotten worse over time as opportunities have been reduced. Blacks don’t work together as they should.

BTM: Please tell us some of the key elements (or principles) to business success as you have run an organization (albeit illegal at the time) and have attained the skill and ability to organize large group of people in multiple areas and motivate people while generating huge sales.

RR: ​Work hard and don’t take the easy way out. Be willing to work for free at first to prove your worth upfront. If you can get into a job and prove yourself valuable you can get any job you want, Think long term; don’t be so focused on the short term hourly pay. Build a portfolio of work and keep your sights set on the big picture.


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Osaka seeks #10 in 2019

WTA Tour

By Editorial Team

Naomi Osaka is seeking #10 in 2019… This is not a ranking goal as she has climbed that ladder to the top spot after winning the Australian Open, but rather a business goal.

With nine major corporate sponsors in the bag as of today, Naomi does not appear to have easily balanced her off-court business success. She only has one semifinal finish at Stuttgart since the AO where she retired due to injury against Anett Kontaveit.

The clay court season has not been friendly to Naomi, but she plans on raising her level on grass courts at the Birmingham Classic this week heading into Wimbledon. The draws for the world number one have not been easy either; she faces Maria Sakkari in the first round.

In addition to winning matches, Naomi must manage her branding potential by maintaining a good image and growing her global market presence.

If there is space on her sleeveless shirt or racket bag Stuart Duguid of IMG is sure to find room and solicit a killer deal. Stuart has been the marketing genius behind the recent surge in Naomi’s branding power.

The endorsement list for Naomi is both staggering and impressive. It’ll definitely require a skilled team to track the many contract renewals and re-negotiations.

Yonex – January 2016

Wowow – June 2016

Nissin Group – December 2016

Citizen – August 2018

Nissan – September 2018

Shiseido – November 2018

All Nippon Airways (ANA) – January 2019

MasterCard – April 2019

Nike – April 2019

#10 = BareMinerals *

* Updated on 06/20/2019

Naomi not only has a new team on the court led by Jermaine Jenkins, but also a strong off-court presence that is fully equipped to handle even more sponsors waiting the wings for her next major title win. These hefty sponsorship dollars are in addition to the $11.3 million in career prize money that she has accumulated to date.

Her 10th endorsement deal may come well before her next title as momentum is gaining within the Japanese business markets. Being able to tap into both American and Japanese cultures, Naomi’s team can capture a very diverse mix of companies willing to spend big dollars for the 21 year old’s endorsement.

All bases seem to be covered within her well assembled sponsorship portfolio, however there is still room for more American based companies ranging from gaming software to investment banking. The 10th bag will drop for sure if she is able to repeat her US Open title this year, but expect more companies to step up to the plate in anticipation of Naomi becoming a household name like “Serena” or “Venus.”

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Osaka grows branding empire

Farzanah Farveen

By Editorial Team

Naomi Osaka’s branding junket continues as she secures major Japanese endorsement deals spanning from automotive to skin care. The US Open title win has unlocked multiple opportunities keeping agents and lawyers busy well into the holiday season. Naomi has secured standard on-court sponsorship from Adidas and Yonex, but with her Asian background she is able to tap into a huge consumer market filled with big pockets willing to make her the face of many products.

Her existing off-court deals with Nissan (car manufacturer), Nissin Food Groups, Citizen (luxury watch brand) and Wowow (Japanese cable broadcaster) were recently topped this month by Japanese personal care company – Shiseido. Shiseido made Naomi their brand ambassador for an undisclosed amount over the next three years.

“Shiseido never stops innovating and changing to best support the lives of consumers worldwide through beauty. With our ever-stronger foundations and upgraded global structure, such as Osaka, we are always striving to improve ourselves. We are never satisfied, always challenging the status quo. As Osaka gives her best, we too are taking on various new initiatives, challenging the world and reaching for new heights,” the brand said in a release.

Earlier in March 2018, Shiseido launched a new three-year plan that will see the company implementing new strategies to accelerate growth and be among the top three companies in the global prestige cosmetics market, while maintaining its presence in Asia Pacific and Japan. The three year-plan is the second phase of its six-year medium-to-long term strategy titled “VISION 2020” developed in 2014.

It can be expected that more global brands within the US could make investments in Naomi’s international appeal, but she must continue her rise to the top by wining more titles and keeping the spotlight on her tennis talent.


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Donald Young launches watch brand ahead of US Open

By Editorial Team

Wristwear endorsements are not uncommon within the sport of tennis as evident by some of the top players on tour including Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Chris Evert sporting everything from Audemars Piguet to Rolex. Over the last few days Donald Young has put his name on a new brand called Uncle Jack. Donald’s sports watch with red band is set to launch at the this year’s US Open.

Donald has missed several main draw appearances due to a major losing streak in the first half of the year, but all was not lost as he made a comeback with some great wins recently in his homestead of Atlanta where he defeated the giant, Ivo Karlovic, for the second consecutive time 2-6, 7-6, 7-6. Immediately following the BB&T event, he was able to qualify for the maindraw of the Citi Open in DC and secure one of the biggest wins of his career against former world number 2, Stan Wawrinka.

Maybe the tides are turning for the 238 ranked tennis star as he now promotes new Uncle Jack watches named after him in collaboration. Uncle Jack watches are not of the same caliber as a Rolex, but they are made in Australia and are supposedly worn by top athletes and global taste masters according to their website.

Neither Donald or Brandon Ellis (Uncle Jack co-founder) were available for comment leading up to the launch, but several fellow ATP Tour players have already put in their requests for the limited 100 count edition DY Watch.

Catch Donald and his new watch in New York next week as he competes in US Open qualifying in anticipation of making an appearance in the main draw.

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