In a world where women have been forbidden to have their own perspective on sex, discuss intimacy freely, and leverage the media, Nicole Banister has taken on the role of reshaping and rewriting a new narrative.
She has created a media platform called My Basketball Team to demystify relationships and intimacy, using sex-positive narratives as a way to rewire the female perspective on intimacy. My Basketball Team is a digital storytelling platform that shares short stories about relationships and intimacy submitted anonymously by people around the world.
Can you tell us your story and what inspires you?
I’m a multicultural, multinational, Third-Culture Kid. My dad is Black American and my mom emigrated to the United States from Iran when she was 16. Because of my dad’s job, we moved all over the place. In the U.S. we lived in Houston, New Orleans, and Los Angeles, and then we moved to Singapore right as I was beginning high school. After high school, I moved to Washington, DC, and did my undergrad at Georgetown where I studied the intersection of culture, politics, and diplomacy. I moved to South Africa to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer after I graduated from Georgetown, and I’ve now spent the last seven years here in the Rainbow Nation. I work full-time for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) organization where I spearhead global partnerships across government agencies, the private sector, and nonprofits to facilitate a sports-based approach that drives demand for youth-friendly health services.
Traveling all over the world, being exposed to so many diverse cultures and languages and people, and having a family who encouraged me to see things far beyond simply black or white, are critical foundational pieces of how I move through this world. I’m inspired by people—by their resiliency, their dynamism, their agility, their inherent goodness. My work in social impact and social justice, particularly in SRHR, stems from this interest in the really different ways people approach conversations around sex. This is a topic every single person in the world should be fairly well versed in, but that’s simply not the case. After years of international travel both personally and professionally; side hustles blogging, modeling, and representing different brands; and my passion for candid conversations about sex, this year I launched My Basketball Team. My Basketball Team is a digital storytelling platform that shares real short stories about dating and relationships from people around the world. I share one story a day, every single day on our Instagram page in the hopes that these sex-positive stories spark dialogue that normalizes public discourse around intimacy.
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“It was one of those girls nights out and I volunteered to be the designated driver. We ran into some of our guy friends at the bar and there was this guy with them that I’d seen a few times, but never met or had a conversation before. I don’t even think he introduced himself that night… Maybe he did. A few tequila shots later, I figured it was time to drop my responsibilities and order a cocktail. He stuck around and asked who was driving us and I shamelessly told him I was supposed to be the DD, but we’ll just order an @uber and pick my car up in the morning. He then asked if he could drop us off instead. I didn’t know him like that but knew his circle pretty well, so I handed him my keys right away. Thanks for that, tequila. We all got in my car and he dropped my friends off at their houses. We then started to head toward my apartment, just the two of us. We go from the streets to the sheets and we’re getting it in. All of a sudden I’m all in my head: I do not know this guy’s name. My first one night stand and I don’t know this guy’s name! I started replaying the night with my blurry vision and still nothing!! I could no longer enjoy the D in peace. I pushed him off and rolled over in shame. I still wonder what he thought at that point. The awkwardness didn’t stop there. We woke up and he was still in my bed. Of course he’d be in my bed—we were at my place. And now I have to drop him off at his car. I start my car and 90’s R&B is blasting. No shock there. He didn’t say a word as I drove him back. I still don’t know his name.” #youdontknowmyname #mybasketballteam
What eureka moment led to you creating a digital storytelling platform?
It happened during the first couple weeks of South Africa’s lockdown. The lockdown here in the first two, strictest levels was pretty intense—all businesses closed except for grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks; only able to go outside from 6-9 am for exercise hours; no gatherings at all. I was having a conversation with a friend in New York who was probing me to be honest about how I wanted to use this unprecedented amount of free time and what impact I really wanted to have in the world. This friend is a therapist and a social worker so she knows exactly what questions to ask to make you say what you really feel. I ended up blurting out, “I want to talk about sex!” And my friend cracked up laughing and just responded, “So figure out a way to talk about sex!” It all flowed so organically after that—launching the page on Instagram and Facebook, sending out requests for stories, creating simple artwork and graphics, identifying companies for collaborations. When something is right, it just flows. It’s not that it all becomes easy, but it’s not work. For me, My Basketball Team simply is.
My Basketball Team is an intriguing name for a relationship, sex, and intimacy platform. What’s the concept behind the name?
Ha! Excellent question. There’s a saying in Black American/urban culture that anyone you’ve ever been intimate with is “on the team.” You might recall the Megan Thee Stallion line in her 2019 banger “Hot Girl Summer:”
“Handle me? Who gon’ handle me? Thinkin’ he’s a player he’s a member on the team. He put in all that work, he wanna be the MVP.”
The idea is that if you have multiple sexual partners who are active in your relationship rotation—maybe you see them every week or every month—they’re starting players on the team (based on basketball’s starting five). Other partners who you don’t see as often for whatever reason—maybe they live somewhere else or just seem to be too careless with your heart—they’re on the bench. So for us at My Basketball Team, we say that when you share a story from your team on our page, you join ours. Welcome to the team!
In the long run, what do you hope to see the platform becoming? What impact are you gunning for long term + conversation that you intend to bring to fore from here?
I see My Basketball Team in the future as a major distributor of sexual health information, and a safe space to openly discuss sex and sex adjacent content no matter who you are, where you are, or how you love. Books, articles, talks, workshops, merchandise—I’d love to continue to launch even more interactive content beyond the one story each and every day we drop on our Instagram page. I’m currently working on a video series called “Halftime” where my parents, who have been married for 39 years, review and give their feedback on individual stories published on the page. This is no small feat—the stories we’re receiving span sex with porn stars, finding toilet paper stuck in between a partner’s cheeks, parents hearing their kids in the act, orgies and group sex, the works! It strangely seems so unprecedented to have intergenerational discussions about sex, particularly within families. I hope My Basketball Team becomes the bridge to this sort of bold, public dialogue around intimacy—within families, with partners, with friends, with colleagues, with everyone. Communication is the key and we want to spark it through as many mediums as possible, always with our fun and sex-positive approach.
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“When I moved abroad for six months to do part of my studies, I was super eager to start dating in this whole new pond of fish. I installed @tinder and swiped away. One particular hot looking guy who worked as a human rights lawyer caught my eye and I swiped right. The next day we were a match! He was lovely—into the same sports as me and cheeky in his replies. He asked me on a date and sent me two (really fancy) restaurants to pick from. He arranged everything and even came to pick me up! Looking amazing in his designer jacket leaning against his flashy car. We went for dinner where he fed me oysters and champagne. It just seemed unreal. When he brought me home I took him upstairs. Hot kisses, undressing, hands everywhere… and that amazing moment of entering… it lasted for 10 whole seconds. WTF! I was a little thrown but I still thought he was great, so I gave him some time to recover. Maybe the build up was too high. But when we went at it again, the exact same thing happened and he did NOTHING to compensate, if you know what I mean. I look at my orgasm as a human right. I never saw him again.” #humanrights #mybasketballteam
What’s your creative process like? And what does a typical day look like for you?
So much has changed since COVID! I used to write, brainstorm, and create new content on planes. I’m based in Cape Town so to get anywhere in the region, I have to take a quick two-hour flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It’s only from Joburg that I can actually fly to Tanzania or Ghana or Zimbabwe or wherever I was going for my full-time job. In that two-hour slot, which I used to make numerous times a month, I would draft new articles, posts for social media, ideas for collaborations, emails to prospective partners, the works!
Now I wake up each morning, take a 2-hour social distancing walk along the ocean with a good friend, come home and sit on my balcony for the first couple hours of the day while the sunshine still hits it, and I use that time to be creative. I do research online, edit stories that have been submitted, and touch base with prospective partners and collaborators. I do everything on my phone, not my laptop. I even typed up my responses to this interview on my tiny phone screen! It’s an old habit from my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer when I didn’t have wifi, so it made more sense to scribe on my phone where I could at least use my data to upload articles, stories, etc. instead of trying to figure out some way to hotspot my computer. When my phone dies, only then will I finally post up inside, at my desk, and switch to my laptop to edit My Basketball Team’s graphics for posts and stories. Throw in a quick ab workout, a catch-up call with a friend somewhere around the world, and a home-cooked meal–that’s my day!
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“I met this beautiful dark chocolate surgeon on Tinder. After a couple chats, I invite him over for shisha on my porch. He’s exhausted and falling asleep, but insistent we continue. We go back to his and get into it. This fool lasted all of a minute then falls asleep on top of me. I chalk it up to him being a doctor and coming off of a 24 hour shift. But when we link up the next time, same shit. Lasted a minute, and I’m being generous. It’s unfortunate because he’s beautiful, but as a doctor, you should know something ain’t right. At least he bought me McDonald’s breakfast.” #whatsupdoc #notyou #mybasketballteam
Tell us about 3 women who inspire you.
Kimmy Yam is this absolute rockstar journalist who inspires me. She and I crossed paths at Georgetown and she now lives this radically unapologetic life where she balances writing thoughtful, captivating, and important articles about the AAPI community for major publications like HuffPost and CNBC; but then just completely slams racist and prejudice people on her Twitter, Instagram, and other social media pages where she’s speaking for herself and not her employers. It’s so refreshing to see her be totally honest in both spaces, laying it out differently for her unique audiences to digest in their own ways.
Suzy Fauria is a therapist, healer, and social worker in New York City who has the most earnest way of making people pause to reflect. Her Instagram page Wellness Dialogues has been a bright, beautiful light during the current Black Lives Matter movement in the United States because her thoughtful approach to anti-racism always passionately and patiently educates, whether you’re BIPOC or not. Suzy and I served as Peace Corps Volunteers together and to now see her speaking on podcasts, featured in articles, drawing huge crowds to her Instagram account, and making a difference in the lives of so many people as they authentically challenge their biases is nothing short of phenomenal.
Ru du Toit is this powerhouse business owner and marketing and communications expert here in Cape Town. After years of bouncing around the most prestigious agencies in South Africa, she ended up launching her own company called Fortaleza and to my knowledge, it’s the only female, POC-owned advertising agency in the whole country. As someone who has always worked within existing systems, the idea of leaving it all behind to launch my own thing is so intimidating until I see people like Ru do it with such finesse. She has clients all over the world ranging from small CBOs to major corporations; she can launch businesses, brands, and corporate identities without batting an eye; and she does it all with authenticity and a commitment to community empowerment.
Your favorite websites, tools, and resources.
I love love love the website Opportunity Desk. It’s a platform that shares all sorts of international fellowships, scholarships, and conference opportunities. Participating in professional fellowships, like the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Fellowship, have provided some of the most challenging and rewarding opportunities of my career. This site has all of them organized and easily laid out.
I also love the website Reconsidered, which shares jobs, articles, and information at the intersection of Corporate Social Responsibility. Corporations run so much of the world and we’ve got to keep integrating community voices and social good into their agendas.
From the sexual health side of things, check out The Vulva Gallery on Instagram. They post beautifully hand-drawn images of vulvas coupled with real stories people share about their relationships with their vulvas, as well as important menstruation and reproductive health info.
Any other project or theme you’d like to touch on briefly.
If you like to read, check out my page on Medium. I try to post at least once a month, twice a month when I’m feeling really inspired, and I share pieces on travel, lifestyle, my favorite brands, and sexual health. I recently started writing for Medium’s Sexography publication where I share stories and insights from my SRHR background and experiences, and my first story, 9 Steps for Correct Condom Usage, is a playful and anecdotal reminder that if you’re going to use condoms, use them the right way.