Allison Feaster has always taken a pragmatic approach to her career. In college, she played on Harvard’s women’s basketball team (setting records that remain unbeaten, the Ivy League reports), but all along she assumed she’d eventually graduate and step into some corporate role. Instead, what followed was a 17-year career playing professionally on both European teams and the WNBA, including for the Los Angeles Sparks, Charlotte Sting, and Indiana Fever. All the while, she spent her free time preparing for life post-retirement. “I was building some skillset that would be attractive to a company. What type of company? I had no clue,” she tells us.
What Feaster was tapping into, even from the earliest days of her career, was the lack of opportunity for women athletes, as well as a lack of clarity around what career opportunities are available for athletes after playing professionally. And in a twist of fate, part of the work she does currently is helping relieve some of this uncertainty for others, as the Vice President, Team Operations and Organizational Growth for the Boston Celtics.
Following her WNBA career, Feaster was one of the first participants of the NBA Basketball Operations Associate Program and by 2019 was invited to join the Boston Celtics. Only 10 months later, she was promoted to Vice President. Today, Feaster supports the Celtics organization in multiple ways, including providing leadership, strategic vision, and operational support to staff and players. Furthermore, she co-leads Boston Celtics United, a multi-focus commitment to addressing racial injustice and social inequities issues across the Celtics community in the Greater Boston area, with a focus on issues within the Black community as a result of the country’s long-standing history of systemic racism.
“My life of tackling adversity, identifying problems, finding solutions, and being a team player, was the perfect training for the role that I'm doing now,” Feaster says of the unexpected path to the leadership role she’s assumed today. Ahead, she shares more.
“Outwardly, I try to lead with humble confidence. I want people to feel that I am strong, but at the same time vulnerable enough to relate and to hear.”
ON HER EARLY LOVE OF BASKETBALL
My sister was my academic role model. She was the salutatorian in her high school class, and I wanted to be as good as she was in the classroom. My brother, on the other hand, was my athletic role model. He is five years older than I am and I'd watch him play shoot when he was in high school. I wanted to play like big bro.
I went from my first game in a recreational league—not being able to make the ball or reach the rim on a free throw—when I was in the third or fourth grade, to playing with all boys the next year or two on a recreational team, to eventually playing on a varsity team while I was in junior high school. It made me realize that I was a little bit above average and different, and then I just continued to work toward that passion.
ON TURNING HER PASSION INTO A CAREER
It wasn't until the midnight hour of my collegiate career that I considered a serious career in professional basketball. My whole four years at Harvard were dedicated to playing basketball competitively for the Harvard team, but I was trying to get ready for life after basketball because there were no real opportunities for women, especially here domestically in the states, to play professionally. So, I was getting ready to get a regular job.
Then we had this upset in the NCAA tournament. It was our first game ever on national TV and it was then that I, as the leading scorer in the nation at the time, started to get some real attention as a serious basketball player. After the tournament, I got drafted and realized maybe I can play in the WNBA and go overseas for a few years. Fast forward to over 17 years later, I retired as a 40-year-old who put together this body of work as a professional athlete and world traveler that I never imagined when I first entered Harvard.
ON SHIFTING SKILLS FROM ON THE COURT TO OFF
My first role post-retirement was a new program for former players at the NBA. There were six of us, four former NBA players and two WNBA players, who received exposure to the NBA League office, but also a behind-the-scenes look at team operations. As someone who'd never had any exposure to the NBA team life, it was also another example of coming face-to-face with an unknown culture. I remember being in an NBA arena for the first time by myself. I felt exactly the same way I felt when my mom dropped me off in Harvard Square many years before—just terrified internally, but also with a certain degree of courageousness and bravery that I had to have in order to make my way through it.
ON EXAMPLES OF WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP
I'm super fortunate to have had very strong female role models growing up. My mom is the first and foremost role model that comes to mind—just watching her survive and excel as a single mom of four. She got out of an abusive relationship and went back to college to get her degree while working two jobs and raising four kids. And so that's the only way I knew how to confront any type of challenge: go through it and then rise above it. Then I got handed off to my college coach at Harvard who was this trailblazing woman who fought for equal rights her entire career, for gender pay equity, for gender equity, and for the women at Harvard.
Throughout my post-playing career, there have been a number of women who are my peers, but also my role models. It was the first time, outside of playing on a team, that I found a crew of women professionally who were bosses and are now some of my best friends. One is the head of league operations for the WNBA, Bethany Donaphin. The other is the first-ever African American woman assistant general manager for an NBA team, Morgan Cato. And the third is Stacey Lovelace, who started with me at the NBA and is now with the Detroit Pistons.
In terms of navigating my current role, it's predominantly male. I was super fortunate to come in under Danny Ainge, who was our president and general manager when I started with the Celtics, head coach Brad Stevens, who is now my boss and president of basketball operations, and our president on the business side, Rich Gotham. In this space, I've been encouraged and allowed to flourish. I've only felt empowered and it trickles down to the way that I interact with the players and the staff. I know there are stories out there in our league and across other leagues describing conditions under which women and other staff aren't given the proper opportunity to do what they do best and to be who they are, but it's been nothing but the opposite for me.
ON HER DAY-TO-DAY WORK
First and foremost, I act as a resource to help connect the dots. There are resources available to the players through the NBA League office, the Players Association, and the greater Boston ecosystem that help them not be in player mode 24/7, whether that’s concerning mental health and wellness or helping them pursue their passions outside the court. Some players want to continue their education, some want to connect with other changemakers around social justice and racial equity.
Part of my role is also helping to advise on whatever the president of basketball operations needs, and I help liaise with our business operations. There are Celtics that you see on the floor playing, but there are many people behind the scenes working to make this a world-class product and organization.
ON EXTENDING HER WORK INTO BOSTON CELTICS UNITED
The backstory of the initiative begins with the pandemic and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others in history through police brutality and violence against people of color. And the Celtics, even before, is firmly grounded in being a community organization. We are the organization that made NBA history with the first all-Black starting five, the first Black head coach with Bill Russell—we're cognizant of the role we play in the community and the tremendous impact that we can have through our brand, players, and staff.
Boston Celtics United is divided into six pillars, including law enforcement and criminal justice equity, education, and healthcare. We’ve awarded millions of dollars to Black-owned businesses by partnering with Vistaprint and the NAACP to provide grants. We recently partnered with Citizens for Juvenile Justice and other advocates for juvenile justice in Massachusetts to support legislation to raise the juvenile justice age from 18 to 20 in the state. One initiative that we’re really proud of is our Curbside Care Mobile Unit which partnered with Boston Medical Center to provide comprehensive care to moms and babies in underserved neighborhoods.
ON PERSONAL STYLE
Outwardly, I try to lead with humble confidence. I want people to feel that I am strong, but at the same time vulnerable enough to relate and to hear. By day, when we're in the gym, I want people to feel comfortable with me, so I come comfortably dressed. However, at night, at the games, is when I flex a little bit more with my personal style. It’s a reflection of the empowerment I feel watching other bosses around me set the tone for how women can show up in their professional space.
What I wear varies. I like bold colors, but a lot of times I'll revert to black. It's a safe, yet powerful, sign of strength, and I find a lot of strength in the color black and just my identity as a Black woman. At the same time, the beauty of the NBA is that the norm is challenged. What we think of as the norm and how people should show up is completely a construct. And the changemakers are the fashion-forward players, the brilliant minds who dictate it. You can put on a clean hoodie with slacks, a blazer, and some fly sneakers and that is not only fashion-forward but it's professional. This notion of what's professional is not just this business suit—it's thinking outside of the box a little bit. And so I have fun with that.
ON HER NORTH STAR
What drives me is knowing that I am having a positive impact on those around me. I'm elevating those around me. I want to always show up and have that type of impact where, no matter where I am or what type of recognition I've gotten, my teammates feel like I'm doing it to elevate them. I'm imperfect but I'm constantly looking to make this a better place, and better for those around me.
“I want to always show up and have that type of impact where, no matter where I am or what type of recognition I've gotten, my teammates feel like I'm doing it to elevate them.”