Kickin' it with Kia serves multiple purposes for Nurse and the Liberty

A deep dive into the New York's new Instagram Live Show

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Kia Nurse handles the ball for the Liberty. (Photo Credit: Dominic Allegra)

Kia Nurse chuckled while her new teammate, 12th overall pick of the 2020 WNBA draft Jazmine Jones, explained why she needs Louisiana, Frank’s Red Hot or Crystal hot sauce when she goes to play ball overseas. The New York All-Star smiled ear to ear while she listened to Jones attentively recount her draft night moment-by-moment.

“That’s dope,” Nurse said on the third episode of her Instagram live show Kickin’ it with Kia. “Your stories are so cute… this is amazing. Really, honestly, a lot of times like a lot of rookies are just shy, and I’m like ooookay, she’s not shy.”

The interactive video series that the Liberty launched in late April features Nurse and another one of her teammates literally “kickin’ it” on Instagram live. The program lasts between a half an hour to 45 minutes, depending on how well Nurse knows the guest.

Along with asking teammate specific questions, Nurse throws in some games such as the very popular “This or That” and the lesser-known: questions with no answer, storyteller song lyrics, and even a running joke about how much money should be spent on toilet paper.

“So I knew the purpose of our show really was to allow our fans to get to know us and do it in a little bit of a different way,” Nurse told The Next in a phone interview. She has paid attention to how teams, players and journalists have interacted during these sport-less COVID-19 months. She didn’t want her teammates to get “trapped into those” same questions that are being asked, hoping to bring fans into a conversation that she’d have with a teammate on a “typical day.”

While engaging with the Liberty fan community is the main goal of New York’s marketing department, an ulterior opportunity presents itself to Nurse. Hosting Kickin’ it with Kia gives her so much more. She’s preparing for her life adjacent to basketball in addition to this ‘New Era’ for the Liberty.

During COVID, the Liberty are focused on storytelling

Team COO Keia Clarke spoke about the inception of Kickin’ it with Kia on a virtual panel hosted by Front Office Sports. She noted that focusing on storytelling on the marketing side is a direct reaction to sports being on hold. Fans are hungry for any type of content. This is a unique opportunity where the franchise can focus specifically on the player stories off-the-court, which she contends aren’t as “told as much” as they could be on the women’s side of professional sports.

“If we can’t give them the sport, can we give them the personality?” she said. “Can we give them their community platforms and passions? A lot of our attention is on storytelling right now.”

Other WNBA franchises have dipped their toes into player-driven interview shows, such as the Seattle Storm with the goofy but always entertaining Between Two Birds hosted by (you guessed it) Sue Bird, and NatChat, starting Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa. While Nurse’s program shares some similarities with Achonwa’s talk show in some segments and possibly its reason for creation – to keep fans involved and engaged during quarantine – Kickin’ it With Kia has its distinct differences. It may not have a green screen or even a pre-recorded theme song, but Nurse finds a way to get her teammates to truly show themselves and be honest about who they are and what they feel. It’s a chiller show, hence its title, aside from the fact that Clarke and Co. were probably going for an alliteration.

“The whole purpose of the show is to get people to say things that they wouldn’t say to the media,” Nurse said to Kiah Stokes on episode four.  

In episode one, she got Australian wing Bec Allen to reflect on her hand injury from last season. Nurse asked her a purposeful “This or That” type question.

Nurse: Would you rather have a practice with practice players or without practice players? And when I say with practice players, I mean like the aggressive ones that want to block every one of your shots.

Allen: That broke my hand??!!!

Nurse: That’s what I wanted to get to.

Allen: The one that broke my hand??!! I feel sorry for the guy, I really do. He seemed lovely, but it was like my whole f-ing hand.

Apparently, they never saw that one practice player again. But while it was clearly a bit awkward, the injury resulted in Allen’s best stretch in her career, or what she called her “purple patch.”

“But it’s not necessarily a conversation about basketball, sometimes it’s about basketball,” Clarke told Ian Thomas of Front Office Sports. “Sometimes it’s about random things. But it’s that personality piece that the casual fan will latch onto.”

That’s all the more reason that the Liberty needed to launch Kickin’ it with Kia. In addition to the five rookies (not named Sabrina), how well does the casual fan know Bec Allen in all of her glory and quirkiness?

Amid a complete roster overhaul, Allen is the longest-tenured player by New York, where she spent most of her five years on the roster as a role player. But in 2020, that most likely will change.

Nurse: “If we’re not having fun, and no one's having fun, then there’s no point of doing this.”

Kiah Stokes, Bec Allen and Amanda Zahui B have a laugh before tipoff. (Photo Credit: Chris Poss)

Something else that distinguishes Kickin’ it with Kia from other WNBA player talk shows is how Nurse begins each episode. She asks for her teammate’s government name, which is the namesake that appears on a birth certificate or a passport.

For some, this was a drag. Asia Durr grumbled as she shared that she was born Asia Michelle Durr. Jazmine Jones cackled before telling the fans that her middle name is Antoinette. Nurse replied: “I like that, classic. It goes with anything.” Apparently this unconventional introductory method came from a family joke and is something her dad always talked about.

Nurse reaps benefits while hosting an Instagram Live interview show. Not only does she get to hone her broadcasting skills, but she enjoys the opportunity to catch up and joke with some of her teammates that she’s closest to. Take Kiah Stokes for instance, who Nurse has known since 2014. She was a freshman during Stokes’ senior year at UCONN.

For Stokes specifically, Nurse introduced a new segment. The object of the game was to reveal the store option that Stokes would purchase of two potential choices. It wasn’t exactly “The Price is Right,” but the goal was to expose Stokes’ more conservative spending habits. The two of them must have argued over which toilet paper brand to buy for over three minutes. Nurse declared that Stokes opting to buy the cheapest toilet paper is akin to buying “sandpaper for your butt.”

Nurse was so invested in this argument that she also asked rookie Jocelyn Willoughby. The former Virginia Cavalier answered saying that the brand doesn’t really matter to her, to which Nurse replied that she was disappointed. Stokes isn’t alone on this one.

The whole exchange was random but super entertaining. But for Nurse, that’s the whole point.

“I don't want it to be super serious,” she said. “I'm not a super serious person when it comes to this kind of stuff. So I kind of just want it to be light-hearted and them to be able to feel comfortable enough to be themselves and show their personality to the fans.”

Nurse tries to be as natural as possible while on Instagram Live. She hasn’t drawn inspiration from any comedians or any late-night hosts. Her work as an analyst on TSN, however, has shaped how she’s gone about the structure of her show.

“I tried to make it a conversation that I would have with one of my friends,” she said. “I think that's the fun part about it. I don't think I'm funny, most of the time, but a lot of people think I'm funny.”

Nurse is a natural comedian for sure. On episode two with Asia Durr, mid-way through the show, Nurse’s phone overheated, leading to a delay in the programming. Durr laughed when her teammate told the live audience exactly what happened. She imagined the chaos that ensued when Nurse ran to put her phone in the refrigerator to cool it down.  

“I'm gonna get you a T-shirt with like glitter on it that says, diva,” Durr told Nurse. “And let's get your basketball number on the back.” Nurse fired back: “Only if you make it personally by hand, bedazzled by hand”

“Oh Kia, I’m not that talented,” Durr said. “How am I going to do that?”

Kia Nurse and Jocelyn Willoughby chatting on episode five of Kickin’ it with Kia. (Screenshot via Instagram.)

Building team culture and chemistry through a screen

The mood changes when Nurse is interviewing a rookie, and she admits that. While that’s to be expected, she doesn’t hold back her personality completely.

“So it's kind of like an introduction on both sides where, you know, they're probably learning a little bit about me and I'm learning a little bit about them,” she said. “So I'll still do research probably, just to see what they've come up with through stuff that they've done in college or simple Instagram searches are always easy to figure out what people like.”

While she might not know the rookies as well as she does Allen, Durr or Stokes, Nurse still wants the first-years to make the most out of the segments and show the fans who they are as human beings. Willoughby took Nurse’s questions with no answer to another level. Instead of just spouting an answer, Willoughby gave the questions of: do penguins have knees, and what color is a mirror a ton of thought. She even got a tad bit flustered, telling Nurse that she was going to google all of these bizarre questions when she got off the Instagram Live.

Communicating with the rookies for the first time outside of a professional setting (team Zoom calls) doesn’t only serve the benefit of New York’s business side or even Nurse’s professional life outside of basketball. Engaging in these human-to-human conversations will only help when the Liberty take the court later this summer.

Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb has been paying attention and can see bonds forming across a screen. “But even if you look at what the business side has been doing on Instagram with Kia Nurse’s Instagram live show,” he told The Next. “You can just kind of see that’s not the first time that she’s talking with these rookies, that there is already a bit of a bond there, which is interesting during these times, but it’s definitely going to pay off in the long run.”

Kickin’ it with Kia has been instrumental in building the internal and external communities that this young and very new roster will be experiencing and interacting with. The show serves the fan community and keeps those starving engaged. But also for a team that is going to be built on a specific set of values and behaviors, players new and old can do their homework.

As to what’s next with the program, Nurse has taken a hiatus amid the current state of the country. She wanted to take some time alongside her sisters in the league to grieve and “demand justice.”

But weeks before the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Nurse told The Next that she’s looking to having more solid themes in the future. If the opportunity presents itself, Kickin’ it with Kia could take a more mature approach, continuing the Liberty’s commitment to providing awareness and meaningful conversations about racial injustice.