We wouldn't be too far off if we called the National Basketball Association an old boys club. Sure there are some female dancers and some cheerleaders, but the players, coaches, managers, and owners are predominantly — OK, almost totally — men. This year Becky Hammon was hired as a full-time assistant coach, making her the second woman ever to coach for the NBA.
And more women are breaking through.
Metro Times staffer and part-time fashion designer Emily Thornhill signed a contract a few weeks ago to become the Detroit Pistons' resident DJ. She's the first woman to ever hold that position in the history of the NBA.
Thornhill, who'll be performing under her DJ alias, "Thornstryker," started her reign as the NBA's first woman DJ during a preseason game against the Chicago Bulls on October 7.
Thornhill's groundbreaking contract runs through the end of the season, and she says she'll spin at all 41 home games, starting November 1 against the Brooklyn Nets.
"Is this real life?" she asked repeatedly during an interview just before signing her contract. Though she says she was a little nervous before her first gig, most of her jitters have fallen away.
Thornhill says she'll be "the ultimate wedding DJ," performing songs that both the kids and Grandma will know and enjoy. That's a bit of a daunting task these days, but she's cut out for the job.
Thornhill has been DJ'ing since her early 20s. She got started by hosting karaoke night at a Milford bar near her home, where she got acquainted with the sound system and learned a little bit about spinning from her co-workers. She says her time spent DJ'ing in Milford was "mostly requests." In fact, it wasn't until she moved to Detroit that she started exploring the music she's really into, namely disco, deep house, techno, and hip-hop. She describes her tastes as diverse and eclectic.
After her move, she started working at Blackfinn in Royal Oak and then later the Bosco in Ferndale, where she melded fashion and music for a unique experience that blended both of her creative endeavors together. Later she linked up with Embarco. The entertainment company has been booking her for two years, and they hooked her up with the Pistons.
Harlan Hendrickson, the Pistons' VP of marketing, says he heard Thornhill's name in some circles around town and was intrigued by her reputation.
"She brings an immense wealth of musical knowledge," he says. "Her wheelhouse will really benefit our fans."
But Hendrickson doesn't want to get caught up in the fact that Thornhill is a woman.
"Yes, she will be the first female DJ," he says, "but we just wanted something different. [Emily] brings that quality. She has it. She has experience doing weddings and bar mitzvahs, but she's also been throwing down in some of Detroit's most jaded clubs and really holding her own. She is such a cool chick and has a warm personality and that good karma."
But according to Thornhill, she almost didn't get the gig.
"There was another girl before me," she says. "She was booked, but she got cold feet and pulled out."
Thornhill's taking her monumental position in stride and hopes her accomplishment sets a good example for girls.
"I'm really honored," she says. "It's a huge deal to break through this barrier. My parents always told me I could be whatever I wanted, and it's true. Girls can really do anything they want. It's not a man's world anymore."
Thornhill recently got a makeover, compliments of her new employers, but she says maintaining her integrity is extremely important.
In addition to Thornhill's position, Hendrickson says the Pistons have worked to give this year's fan experience an overall face-lift. They recently acquired an enormous new scoreboard.
"It's a monster," Hendrickson says. "It will change how you see the game ... [and it] will change the experience of watching a Pistons game at the Palace," Hendrickson says. "No holds barred; we can do whatever we want now."
This year's entertainment lineup will continue to include resident acts like D-Town and the team's dancers and cheerleaders, but there will also be live music by acts like Sebastian Bach and Detroit-born Jana Kramer.
"There's a renewed excitement here at the Palace," says Hendrickson.