Ivy Awino—better known as Poizon Ivy—has made a career out of being a DJ who loves basketball.
In her teens, Awino worked as a ball kid at American Airlines Center. After learning to DJ in college, she became the official team DJ for the Dallas Wings, even touring with WNBA superstar Skylar Diggins. Now, she is the resident DJ for the Dallas Mavericks.
Awino improvises soundtracks to basketball games. She may be playing the theme from Jaws when the home team is playing defense, “We Will Rock You” after a show-stopping basket, or hip-hop classics during timeouts.
It has been about a year and a half since the untimely death of the Mavericks’ official DJ of eight years, Whiz T.
“DJ Whiz T was an amazing DJ, an amazing talent; such a staple for the Mavs and the city of Dallas,” Awino says.
In the interim, others have helped fill the role, including Dallas Stars DJ Michael Gruber. Once the Mavs’ front office started the conversation about hiring someone, the name Poizon Ivy quickly came up.
“The basketball world is small just like any other industry,” Awino says.
The basketball world, especially in the NBA, is also overwhelmingly male. Awino is the first woman hired as the Mavericks’ resident DJ. (In 2014, the Pistons became the first NBA team with a female DJ.)
After meetings with Jonathan Kornblith, game operations director for the Mavericks, they reached an agreement. Awino’s first game with the team is Oct. 3 at American Airlines Center, when the Mavs play Charlotte.
Born in Nairobi, the capital and largest city in Kenya, Awino moved to Dallas when she was 9 years old. This was back in 1999, late December.
“It was super crazy because of Y2K,” Awino says. “People thought the planes were going to crash and things of that nature.”
Growing up in Farmers Branch, she quickly became a Mavericks fan. At 12, she decided to join the Mavs Hoop Camp youth program with the goal of becoming a ball kid. Awino quickly won over the franchise’s community relations director and kept the job until she left for college at 18.
“Ball kid duties vary,” she says.
She remembers showing up three hours before tip-off to attend meetings, hand out promotional materials at the door, rebound for players during warm-ups, and provide “moisture control” on the floor of the court during games—among many other responsibilities.
Starting at Marquette University, Awino became interested in the sports business. With an alumni list that includes the Mavericks’ own Wesley Matthews—as well as other NBA players like Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, and Olympic gold medal winner Jimmy Butler—Marquette is what makes Milwaukee a great college basketball town.
“My first career goal was to become the first female commissioner of the NBA,” Awino says. “I’d been around the game for so long. I was writing papers about the life of a female executive in the NBA.”
But Awino was also interested in music; she started playing piano when she was 5 years old. She eventually switched gears in school and focused on entertainment. Awino started a college radio show and one of her friends, DJ Adamocity, agreed to teach her how to DJ.
“He was one of the biggest DJs in Milwaukee,” she remembers. “I didn’t think he was serious about it.”
But the next day he dropped off two turntables and a mixer with instructions on how to set it up by herself. From there he taught her the basics and started bringing her to parties. Awino had to help carry the gear, but eventually started getting spots for opening sets.
Between performing in front of live crowds and spotlighting local talent on her radio show, Awino earned a following in Milwaukee. She worked with various record labels as an independent contractor, helping with promotional work and doing guerilla marketing. Soon she was booking her own parties. She also auditioned to be the official DJ for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Returning to Dallas last year, Awino was still taken with the idea of being a DJ in an arena. She almost had to start over, making new connections, but once again her background in basketball was key. When it was announced that the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock wouldmove and become the Dallas Wings last year, Awino contacted Skylar Diggins.
A guard for the Wings and former Notre Dame star, Diggins is the only female athlete with Roc Nation Sports, the sports management side of Jay Z’s Roc Nation. She has modeled for Nike, appeared as a guest interviewer on ESPN, and appeared in magazines like Vogue and Sports Illustrated.
Awino offered to work as Diggin’s personal DJ. Awino quickly joined Diggins on tour in the off-season with her basketball camp, Shoot 4 the Sky. Diggins shows attendees how she works out and Awino provides a soundtrack, analyzing the basketball player’s moves and deciding on the appropriate number of beats per minute.
“It makes me study the science of music,” Awino says.
After the Wings relocated, she simply cold called their office and asked if the team needed a DJ. After a series of meetings, Awino was asked to DJ for a few preseason events and eventually offered the job.
“It’s a strong belief I have,” Awino says. “If the path isn’t there, blaze a trail.”
For Awino, basketball and music have gone together for a long time. She remembers the two connecting when she was a student at the Hockaday School in Dallas:
“With the (school’s) basketball team, I would be in charge of putting together their pre-game playlist,” she says. “And growing up in an arena I was just subconsciously soaking everything in. There are a lot of athletes and entertainers who have very close relationships because they want to be each other. Sports culture has lent itself immensely to the music industry and vice versa.”
The Wings played their last home game for the season at UT-Arlington on Sept. 11. Awino’s first preseason game with the Mavs is Oct. 3.