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“Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” That’s the mentality that drives Erika Ruiz, the first Latina agent in the NBA.
In less than two years at Klutch Sports Group, Ruiz has made a name for herself by negotiating groundbreaking contracts for multiple NBA Stars, including Fred VanVleet and Jarred Vanderbilt this past summer, as well as upholding NBA legacies.
It was as a third grader that Ruiz first fell in love with basketball. Sometimes our love for something is ignited in the simplest of moments or the most unexpected connections, and for her, it was a book fair.
“I remember going to a book fair when I was in third grade and seeing a book about Kobe Bryant that would forever change my life,” Ruiz says. “There were so many people at the fair, but I just couldn’t take my eyes off that book. Through that book, I learned about Kobe the person—his upbringing, his failures, and his dreams. Kobe Bryant is why I fell in love with the game. That’s how it all started for me.”
Her love of basketball blossomed in the company of her brother Tony and cousin Carlos, two die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fans. Ruiz grew up in California in an era dominated by the dynamic duo of Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal.
“We would watch the games religiously, and I just fell in love with basketball—particularly with Kobe’s style of play and energy,” she says. “I resonated with that energy from an early age. I think that connection of already having a love for the sport and being good at it is where I felt most alive. Having that connection to the actual element of the player that I saw on TV, I never looked back.”
Ruiz began her own college basketball career at St. Mary’s College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration. She transferred to play at Cal State Los Angeles, where she completed her two remaining years of eligibility and earned her bachelor’s in kinesiology. In 2013, she began her master’s program in communications management at University of Southern California, where she was also a video coordinator for the women’s basketball team.
In 2015, she began her journey to becoming an agent when she joined Creative Artists Agency. There, she worked her way up from the mailroom to the first Latina to represent an NBA player. And after seven years, Ruiz joined Klutch Sports Agency—an agency that aligned her passion and purpose.
Ruiz attributes her parents’ love and the nurturing environment of her childhood home as the driving force behind the pursuit of her dreams. “My parents worked so hard to give me everything I needed to follow my dreams,” she says. “I have to give my family so much credit. They didn’t try to shape or steer my career decisions. They just wanted me to work hard and go after what I wanted. Everything I’ve done has made them so proud of me. Their support has allowed me to strive for big things.”
And at Klutch, Ruiz has the strong support of founder and CEO Paul Rich.
In the world of corporate America, the journey of individuals breaking barriers is a testament to their resilience and the support they find along the way. Ruiz understands the importance of intentionality in creating opportunities for underrepresented individuals.
“I’ve said this for a long time: companies have to be intentional in their hiring process,” she says. “When I am in a room, I am still sometimes assumed to be anything other than the agent. But Paul is such an incredible leader. He empowers me in front of and behind the scenes, and it takes intent to make sure that you are setting that tone as a leader.
“I believe there are going to be more opportunities in our industry,” she continues, “but those in power need to be intentional. It’s not just about hiring; it’s about how you are making space and a pathway for people of color to excel because we wouldn’t be here if we did not have the talent.”
In the past six months alone, Ruiz has several wins to her name. Alongside Rich, she negotiated Fred VanVleet’s groundbreaking max contract with the Houston Rockets, marking the largest deal for any undrafted player in the history of the NBA. The pair also negotiated Jarred Vanderbilt’s impressive four-year, $48 million extension with the Lakers.
At L’ATTITUDE in Miami, Ruiz and the Mexico City Capitanes announced that Juan Toscano-Anderson, the first Mexican to win an NBA championship, would join the NBA G League’s Mexico City team. Ruiz worked with Toscano-Anderson through the decision-making process, and his final decision reflected his commitment to pursuing an NBA return and growing the game of basketball in Mexico.
As an agent, Ruiz is entrusted with upholding NBA legacies. She signed NBA veteran Austin Rivers and highly touted high school prospect Tajh Ariza.
“Many people try to do what we do, but they do not have access to the same resources or opportunities,” Ruiz says. “The pathway wasn’t carved out for them to be able to chase those dreams, and that’s a larger theme I want to continue to change.”
Interview conducted by Santa Brito.