CloseUp360, The Players' World Off The Court

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn: @CloseUp360
Video Channel: YouTube.com/CU360

CloseUp360 is the world's first dedicated multimedia platform focused on NBA players and insiders, and their impact off the court.

The arena beyond the game of basketball has become a league of its own. NBA players have never been more active and diverse outside of the sport globally—from entrepreneurial endeavors and philanthropic efforts to global initiatives and social activism, and much more. They are also among the world’s most popular celebrities, most captivating young stars and most marketable athletes.

Taking a 360-degree view of all things off the court, CloseUp360 is a lifestyle media platform and production company for all basketball players, with a primary focus on the NBA—from the stars and role players to the international standouts. CloseUp360 offers an immersive look inside players' lives outside the lines. Topics include players' journeys, personal branding, career development, hometown impact, international growth and lifestyle interests.

CU360 features weekly content (profiles, features and series) and daily content (news and social posts), focusing on players and people behind the scenes who are leaders off the court. The sections include:

Players: Profile pages with video/written features and original photos of each player

Global: The NBA’s international players, events and expansion

Business: The business of basketball and outside entrepreneurial interests

Community: Players’ various types of philanthropy and foundation work

Culture: Art, food, travel, style, sneakers, health, fitness, family and more

Insiders: People who are influential in players' off-the-court development and success

News: Updates, announcements, product launches and more

CloseUp360 was established by Jared Zwerling, a 16-year NBA and basketball media and marketing veteran whose career has spanned the NBA, CBS Sports, ESPN, Bleacher Report, the National Basketball Players Association and Sports Illustrated. Throughout his career, Jared developed a niche in off-the-court coverage, which inspired him to build CU360 with a select team of longtime industry friends who had similar content and business experience in this specialized arena.

Founder and President

Jared Zwerling

It was only a matter of time.

The journey began when I started writing for my school newspaper at an early age. I was around eight. My first story was about an ambidextrous starting pitcher on the baseball team. I wondered, How could he throw 90 miles per hour with either arm? Turns out, he had broken his arm at one point and trained the other.

When I was 17, I landed my first professional writing job, as the youngest person on staff at Community Newspapers in my hometown of Miami. With my own business cards in one hand and a camera in the other, I set out to uncover every exhibit, business, restaurant and more in the city.

The rest of the time was spent fueling my burning passion for basketball.

After college and sports business graduate school at New York University, as I started covering the NBA regularly. I wanted to unearth everything surrounding the game: the culture, the lifestyle, the business. I was drawn to the off-the-court space, and it motivated me to successfully create positions covering that world at Bleacher Report, the National Basketball Players Association and Sports Illustrated.

Now, that itch to find and create opportunities has culminated with CloseUp360, syncing with the booming popularity of NBA players around the world. This is basketball’s time. And what happens beyond the game is now its own domain.

Writing, creativity and storytelling had always come naturally to me, but it was really the desire to advocate for players as people, change the content game and influence the youth that sparked CU360.

Seeing my mom run her own community groups and my dad manage a medical practice with his colleagues, I always had the desire to start a company with a purpose. At the root of watching my parents help others was an appreciation for people—who they really were, their lives, journeys, pursuits, emotions and everything else.

Media is in a disturbing state when it comes to truly understanding and profiling players. Today's clouded climate—silly, sarcastic and lazy one-quote content—has caused more players to distance themselves from reporters. The result: an incomplete picture of who players are off the court, and a disservice to kids who need to be surrounded by thought and perspective to develop as students. The NBA is entertainment, yes, but its players and league insiders offer so much more than what happens within 94 feet.

We are here to take you CloseUp to players in a 360-degree way, turning them into three-dimensional public figures, with trust, quality, credibility, authenticity and genuine storytelling at the foundation of the platform.

For everyone who has helped me along the way, thank you. I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with each of you.

Finally, I’m very excited to introduce our team. Here are their stories:

Senior Video Producer

Griff (1)

Somehow, my third concussion playing basketball made me closer to the game then ever.

I was 5’4”, a freshman team point guard with no fear, and (accidentally) switched through a pick to guard a 6’10” uncoordinated beanstalk. He probably couldn’t see me down by his waistband, so he grabbed the ball, jabbed his elbow towards the key and connected directly with my temple.

I have no memory from the next couple hours, and little from that full year of school, to be honest.

That being my third recorded concussion before my 15th birthday, my basketball career was over before it began. I was ordered by doctors, coaches and my mom to sit out for at least 18 months, and in a teenager's eyes, that might as well be a lifetime.

Thankfully, I wasn’t any good. Couldn’t shoot, had inconsistent passing and could only sufficiently guard people under 6’, but even then, I always saw myself as a dirt poor man's Aaron Craft. My coaches were supportive of my 18-month on-court ban, knowing I wasn’t gonna add much to the team on the court. But thankfully, coach Chris Whelan asked me to stay on the bench and act as a manager. I was just as bad at passing out water as I was passing to the post, so he asked if I would operate the video camera of the court for the film room. BOOM. There it was.

Coach Whelan asking me to film games quickly became me taking pictures of the games, and within three months, I won The Washington Post’s High School Photographer of the Year in 2009. Finally, I found my spot on the court.

I snuck into a good college, James Madison, with a basketball photography “portfolio”. I got a job the first day of freshman year as the university's athletic department photographer, and traveled with every team to their games around the country all four years. I shot more than 250 sporting events in those four years and learned to appreciate the details that make athletes unique, on and off the court.

After graduation, I took a slight left turn, following my camera to an incredible opportunity at Discovery Channel. I traveled the world from 2015-2018, capturing photo, video and virtual reality in 30 countries, and earned status on every major airline. I loved my time with Discovery, but after a couple years, it wore on me that I wasn’t watching any of the content I was capturing for fun. I would never actively turn on a nature show or a travel show. I was always tuning into NBA League Pass and catching the highlights from last week that I missed while I was out of office.

That’s when I found CloseUp360.

I had started watching some of the athlete-produced content hitting the internet—Tom vs. Time, Stephen vs. The Game, The Shop—and realizing, Wait...I know how to shoot high-quality documentary and reality TV now...I can do that? Maybe if I work with athletes directly, I’d actually watch the kind of work that I am making?

I did a couple hours of Googling, found that Jared and his team had just started CloseUp360, and sent him an e-mail.

Shout out to that uncoordinated 6’10” bean stock elbow. Appreciate you.

Editorial Manager

JoshCompressed

Forgive me if I’m the 8,756,920th person who’s credited the 1990s Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers of the 2000s for their sports fandom, but allow me to explain.

I didn’t root for Michael Jordan in the Finals. Instead, my earliest sports memories were of pulling for Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek and the Utah Jazz to upset the NBA’s dynasty of the day. And while most of my generation of Angelenos fell in love with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (even as they grew to despise each other),

I was the kid with the Derek Fisher jersey who relished Robert Horry’s bevy of big shots and drew comparisons to Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen on the school blacktop.

Since then, I’ve consistently found myself fascinated by those adjacent—and ultimately integral—to greatness. The winners we all seem to revere and admire didn’t do it alone, and the stories of the losers shouldn’t be lost just because they wound up on the wrong side of history. There are opportunities for entertainment, enrichment and education in each and every one, no matter how large or small their on-court impact may seem.

My time at Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group gave me the skills to serve as CloseUp360’s Editorial Manager. It was Jared’s enthusiasm for stories about players as people, irrespective of stats and accolades, that not only drew me in, but made me want to be a part of this new platform.

Since then, my excitement for CU360 has only grown. I have had the privilege of getting to know “The Mailman” and working with players who, in their day jobs, fill a variety of roles on the court. I have also been fortunate to work with talented, hard-working, resourceful and energetic people, including writers and creators across the country. As much as I can and hope to do to make CloseUp360 worthy of a loyal audience, I understand that doing so requires a team effort and that every person’s impact therein matters.

Which, for all the superstar hagiography from my upbringing, is what I took away from watching the Bulls and Lakers of yore, and why I’m thrilled to be a part of CU360.

Multimedia Producer

MagsCompressed

Growing up, my stepfather was a huge influence on me when it came to sports. We had just moved to Southern California in the early 2000s—the same time the Lakers were in "Prime Kobe" era. Seeing my stepdad express so much excitement and passion while watching a game piqued my curiosity. So I started watching games with him, and quickly became obsessed to the point where my mother threatened to not let me watch games because I got so worked up.

Between the Lakers’ rivalries with the Pistons and Celtics, I was hooked. We watched games together constantly.

Watching Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality” take over during close games was transfixing. As competitive as I am, I lived for those moments as a kid. His impulse to rise to a challenge was what I related to most, and despite all the hate and criticism he got over the years, he was my favorite player. Years later, I had the opportunity to sit courtside at a Lakers game during Kobe’s final season, and it all came full circle for me as it was the first and only time I got to see him play in person. He wasn’t the same Kobe I grew up watching, but he still had that same drive, that unapologetic refusal to lose.

Though sports were always a passion of mine, I also loved movies and pursued a career in film and entertainment after graduating from USC. I worked in theatrical marketing at Universal Pictures and then for a notable movie producer. When friends and family asked me what I wanted to do next in my career, they’d almost always ask me why I didn’t try to work in sports since I loved it so much. But I never felt like there was a position in sports I’d really enjoy.

When our founder approached me about CloseUp360, I saw so much potential. I love the storytelling side of film, but I love the competition and excitement of sports. CU360 is essentially a combination of those two things, so it felt perfect for me—finally something that speaks to all of my passions. As the Multimedia Producer of CloseUp360, I work with players to develop story ideas, produce video features and help direct photography.

What I hope people will love about our brand is the stories we tell about the other side of the players’ lives. We’re showing who these players are off the court, All-Star or not—divulging their stories, interests and personal lives, and how they relate to basketball. I hope that fans and readers take away something new and different from our brand, as we look forward to sharing our stories with them.

Social Media Manager

Zach Schmidt

I give a lot of credit for my deep love of basketball to Kawhi Leonard. He attended my rival high school (Martin Luther King) and was a senior when I was a freshman. Even though we were supposed to not like him or his school, I could not help myself from admiring his game. He didn't feel like a rival; he felt like a player who was going to make a name for the area where we grew up: Inland Empire, California.

As Kawhi's game progressed, I started highlighting him on an Instagram blog I founded called @iedreamers.

On this blog, I covered Kawhi and the other top professional, collegiate and high school athletes that were from my hometown. I grew the brand to 27,000+ followers on IG and made more than 1,000 athlete contacts.

But out of all the athletes I featured other than Kawhi, there was one who especially stood out to me: Chino Hills High School senior Lonzo Ball. I knew he was going to be special and I wanted to help him in any way that I could. So, over time, my team and I grew a relationship with Lonzo and his family to the point where they wanted us to help them launch their own family brand called Big Baller Brand. We jumped on the opportunity and took over their social media and strategy. The page had only 100 followers when we first started and—by trial, error and a little bit of controversy—we took the page to more than one million followers.

Now, I look to take everything I've learned from the experiences of @dreamers and @bigballerbrand and implement the positives into @CloseUp360. Storytelling within sports is my biggest passion, so I am really excited for the opportunity to do so on such an incredible stage, with some of the best content producers and athlete partners in the world.

Director of Business Operations

PSX_20181025_005453

I jumped at the opportunity to join CloseUp360, excited to apply my business and legal background, as well as experience creating and consulting for startup companies, as the company's Director of Business Operations.

I love basketball. I’ve followed and played basketball since I was a toddler. I played biddy ball every season and pickup ball outside every day after school growing up. I was a small guard—a scrappy dribbler and shooter. I understood the mechanics of the game, so I made an impact greater than my size.

I remember worshipping the legends: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I grew up when Jordan’s Bulls reigned over the Pistons, Jazz and Lakers. My friends and I ritually played NBA Live 95, usually starting with an hour-long draft of all the best players of the day, and fighting to the death for world domination.

Despite how much we played, I always longed to learn more about the players’ lives outside of basketball.

In those times, Michael Jordan was the pioneer in the emergence of the off-the-court brand. He made money on and off the court. He influenced people. He inspired people. People, most notably kids, aspired to be like Mike. The Nike, Gatorade and Hanes commercials permeated pop culture. “I want to be like Mike” was on everyone’s tongue, which stuck out of their mouths mimicking Jordan’s notorious trademark.

Fast forward to today, when basketball players are so much more than just professional athletes. They’re human beings with incredible stories and journeys. They represent brands and startup companies; host summer leagues; develop clothing lines; design shoe styles; inspire popular workouts, training and dietary regiments; engage in vital philanthropy; and influence a worldwide market that is one of the largest in all of professional sports. They are doing big things off the court, and they have a lot to say.

We’re excited to give our fans an exclusive look into these players’ lives outside of basketball, and share their unique and inspiring stories. We hope fans appreciate our work, engage with our content and crave more, because we’re working hard to deliver.

Our team features top-notch professionals who share my passion for basketball, and all have an unwavering commitment to telling the best and most authentic stories. It’s a privilege and honor to work with them, and we’re excited for the journey ahead.

Business Development Director

Sumair Khan

My earliest memory of basketball was of my dad taking me and my brother to Target to pick out shirts. At the time, everyone was wearing Bulls, Lakers or Blazers shirts. My brother picked a Bulls shirt. I didn’t like Lakers colors, so I picked a Blazers shirt.

At the time, my brother made the right choice, as the Bulls had just beaten the Blazers in the Finals. But my allegiance switched to the Kings once I moved to Sacramento, and I’ve stuck with them, one heartbreaking season at a time.

As a kid, I’d spend my days playing basketball, mimicking all the great players of my generation.

I didn’t exactly have the athletic prowess for an NBA career, but I followed the storylines of the top players and teams. From the greatness of Michael Jordan, to the Kings and Lakers rivalry, to watching a kid from Akron exceed the hype, these basketball stories can’t be scripted. (To any Lakers fan, I still contend they had extra help in the 2002 Western Conference finals.)

It’s the emotional connection that makes these stories so great. It got me thinking about ways to bring these stories to fans to create the same emotional connection I felt as I saw these storylines unfold.  

I started collaborating with players on original content around the same time more of them started becoming more aware of their brand and opportunities off the court. Working in entertainment, I wanted to combine the storytelling quality of film and television with athlete-driven content. There was white space for quality sports content.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to join CloseUp360. A lot of content creators have popped up, but much of the content feels like news pieces or highlight reels without much of a story. There was a need for a platform with the access and authenticity that can drive the athletes’ voices and create meaningful visual stories.

As the Business Development Director of CU360, I find key partnerships with players, teams, agencies, brands, content distributors and more. I also work on the development and production of long-form content for traditional, streaming and theatrical distribution, and collaborate with our editorial team to create short-form content across our platform.

My goal is to enhance the company’s reach in the media marketplace, and to give the players a platform to share their voices with as many fans as possible. I’m excited to be a part of a great team and to combine my passion for storytelling and basketball.

Brand Partnerships Director

Rama Raju

Basketball has always been my favorite sport to watch and play. My earliest memory of the game of basketball was playing on an eight-foot hoop with a wooden backboard in the backyard with my dad. I loved going outside, whether it was rainy or cold, and just doing the countdown over and over again, 3...2...1… and making as many buzzer-beating shots as I could. I loved watching the NBA in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and trying to imitate shots that the stars took, from Kareem's skyhook to MJ's fadeaway.

I was born and raised in Ohio, just like LeBron James. Watching LeBron come up in high school, then being drafted No. 1 overall by my favorite team, the Cavs, and then living up to the massive hype surrounding him was inspirational and unbelievable to witness. LeBron coming home to Ohio after his stint in Miami to rejoin the Cavs and winning a championship in 2016 is one of the greatest stories ever in all of sports, and is the greatest championship ever won in the history of sports, given the circumstances and coming back from being down 3-1 in the series to the Warriors. The 2016 NBA Finals still gives me chills thinking about it to this day.

After graduating from The Ohio State University with a B.S. in business administration, majoring in finance and minoring in economics, the dream was to move to New York City and work on Wall Street. So I packed up my bags and finally left Ohio. I worked in the hedge fund industry for four years, until the financial collapse in 2008. While I was in NYC, I met CloseUp360 founder Jared Zwerling. We became friends and played ball together in various rec leagues in the city.

After a great experience living and working in NYC, I decided to move to Los Angeles and change gears from the world of finance. I received my MBA from Pepperdine University, and worked in the IT Industry for IBM and DirecTV. While in LA, I was always pursuing entrepreneurial ventures in my spare time, and working with startups and starting my own. I became really interested in brand marketing and promotions, particularly sweepstakes. I even developed my own proprietary system, which helped me win many sports-related sweepstakes, including more than $50,000 worth of prizes in less than two years. Some of my favorite wins include all-expenses-paid trips to the SEC championship game in Atlanta, MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby in Anaheim, and the NBA All-Star Game after-party in Los Angeles. My passions for basketball, brand marketing and startups have led me to help CloseUp360 with brand partnerships and sponsorships, and coming up with creative ways to help us grow.

I now live in north Texas and have been working on many different entrepreneurial ventures. I am the author of the book M.O.V.E. The President: Make Our Votes Elect The President of The United States of America, which aims to educate people about registering to vote, voting rights, the electoral college and our presidential election process. I’m the co-founder of a tech startup company that was selected as a finalist for CodeLaunch, which is a national seed accelerator competition. I also completed a sports management certificate program in sports industry essentials from Columbia University to hone my skills, and gain valuable industry experience in preparation for my role as the Brand Partnerships Director for CloseUp360.