Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton aren’t the only members of the Bucks family that will be repping Milwaukee at this weekend’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland.
The Bucks’ official DJ and producer, Shawna Nicols, aka DJ Shawna; in-game host Melanie Ricks; Johnny Watson, who runs in-game entertainment, along with two members of his crew; have also been selected to be a part of it.
Nicols is the official DJ for Sunday’s All-Star Game and Friday’s Rising Stars tournament; Ricks is the in-game host for the All-Star Game; Watson is the director and producer of the All-Star Game’s entertainment; Kate Ulrich, the Bucks’ director of live programming and entertainment, is the lead stage manager for the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night; and Allie Stevenson, the Bucks’ manager of live programming and entertainment, is a stage manager for every night of the weekend.
“I’m just super proud,” said Watson, who’s made six previous All-Star appearances. “Being selected to do the All-Star Game by the NBA means you’re one of the best at what you do in sports. … I’ve been with this group of people for a long time, so watching them grow and having this type of opportunity is just going to help give them tons of experience both professionally and personally. It’s really exciting.”
‘Playing music for them makes me happy’
“It really is a huge honor,” said Nicols, who made her All-Star Game debut last year in Atlanta. “It’s so amazing to be selected when the NBA, I think, has some of the best entertainment in any professional league. And then to be invited to the All-Star Game as the official DJ is just incredible. It’s very humbling.”
What Nicols will be doing for the games is “very similar” to what she does for Bucks games.
Her roles will include playing music while players are warming up, walk-in music when the doors open to fans and timeout tunes.
To prepare, she’s been making sure that her music library has the most up-to-date hip-hop music that’s clean and edited.
“As a DJ, you just continually build your library out so that when you get an opportunity like this, everything is sort of at your fingertips,” she said. “It’s just a matter of organizing it so you’re ready for that event and that game.”
Rather than focusing on particular songs, she said, she’s more into creating a good vibe and energy for those in the arena — especially her teammates.
“We have Khris and Giannis there as well,” she said. “Playing music for them makes me happy. So I know what Giannis likes to hear and what Khris likes to hear. So being able to do that to add value and bring some Milwaukee love to Cleveland is a really cool gift.”
So what does she play for them? Burna Boy and Afrobeats for Antetokounmpo and old-school hip-hop and R&B for Middleton, she said.
Humbled to be a face of the NBA
“It’s just really cool to not only be representing, but also be there with your village, your family,” Ricks said. “It takes a village and we wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the help of every single person in our organization. I just feel honored that I get to be one of those people that gets to represent.”
This will be Ricks’ third All-Star Weekend appearance. She was previously the in-game host in Chicago in 2020. Before that, she emceed the celebrity game and practice in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2019.
“It feels inspiring, it feels humbling,” she said. “It’s one of those things where there’s two sides to this coin. One one side is, I earned that and I’m there because they saw the capability in me. But the other side is being humbled by the fact that I’m just a very, very normal, down-to-earth person from Milwaukee. … To be one of the faces that are asked to represent the NBA in such a huge way, it almost is baffling to me. To have that honor distinguished upon me is just so humbling.”
She said she remembers looking up to sports hosts when she was a kid and thinking, “I want to do that.
“To be that person now, I just hope that I’m inspiring someone to walk in my footsteps, and of course, walk even bigger and better than I ever could,” she said.
Why this year is extra special for Watson
Watson, the Bucks’ executive producer of arena and event presentation, has spent several months planning for the big weekend with other personnel from around the NBA.
Watson is responsible for the All-Star Game’s on-court entertainment, the national anthem, the half-time production, the lights, audio, video, graphics and more.
“Basically, everything that goes on when the game isn’t being played, that’s what I’m in charge of,” he said. “I’ll be working with a pretty large team from around the NBA to bring it to life.”
And this year is extra special: It’s the 75th anniversary of the league.
“They’re recognizing the existence of the NBA and the top 75 players to ever play the game,” Watson said. “I’m excited to be there for that and for all of these NBA greats, whether they’re current players or past players, to come together and be recognized. It’s going to be pretty cool to do that and be a part of the show that’s leading that production.”
Coming off last year’s Bucks championship run and now getting to work the All-Star Weekend has been “really fun” for Watson’s department and the Bucks organization, he said.
“Just to be a part of these things, I think it’s really cool for Milwaukee on this international, worldwide stage to be represented,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted, for sure.”