A collection of illustrations line John Nichols’ walls in Los Angeles, and clusters of books he describes as strange fill his shelves.
The items serve as the creative mastermind’s many sources of inspiration. But despite his strategic design, the University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus never really knows when inspiration will strike. And that’s precisely how he likes it.
“If I go places I haven’t gone before or see things I haven’t seen before it will draw things out of me,” he said. “I try to experience life in a way that’s not monotonous so that I can change. People are scared of change, but I feel like it’s important for me to grow. Change is unavoidable, so I might as well embrace it.”
But Nichols, the humorous, pointed voice of Yahoo!’s NBA social media platforms, hasn’t always felt this way.
Before he was evangelizing for LeBron James and fanning the flames of the drama that surrounds NBA players full time, Nichols was sitting around wishing that he could.
A witty sense of humor and a longtime love of basketball has made Nichols – or rather his online alter ego, LaJethro Jenkins – a known social media personality among NBA fans. His hot takes on games, athletes and life in general have attracted an audience on Twitter that now stands at 31,000. But for many years, he fueled that following on the side as he focused on building a more traditional career.
Nichols began working at UMSL in 2008 directly after graduating from the College of Business Administration with an emphasis in finance. He spent the next eight years in the Office of Admissions helping recruit new students to his alma mater – a place that shaped him, brought lifelong friends and helped him “become a man.”
“Coming to UMSL was the best decision for me. I had a great experience,” Nichols said. “When I was a student, my momma said, ‘I think you’re starting to figure it out.’ I had a great cast of people helping me. I didn’t feel like I was alone.”
Throughout his years as a recruiter, Nichols was passionate about connecting prospective students to their dreams of graduating from college. But he couldn’t shake this feeling that he was putting his own ambitions on hold.
Witnessing his UMSL mentors Yolanda Weathersby and Alan Byrd excel in their roles pushed Nichols to explore his own passions.
“Seeing somebody that was exactly where they needed to be inspired me to find what I was passionate about,” he said. “It helped me to progress to where I’m at now.”
With a loving yet forceful nudge from his sister, Nichols left UMSL and moved to Atlanta in 2016 for art school. His fear of failure was real, but his anxiety about living with regret was far more powerful.
“There is one thing that I’ve been really afraid of in my life. The only thing I really fear is being old and life passing by with regret. I cannot exist like that,” he said. “The things that I loved as a kid – drawing, creating, basketball – I still enjoy. Those things don’t go anywhere. I think there is a reason you have that. It would be shameful not to follow it. It’s a shame not to follow what you’ve been led to do.”
Within a year of moving south, Nichols was preparing for another shift – this time to LA. His social media platforms and creative content caught the attention of a digital firm that hired him as a producer.
Then, in October, he got the call from Yahoo! to bring a fresh voice to the company’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts dedicated to the NBA.
In the months following, he’s been covering games, commenting on antics that take place off the court, creating viral content and helping Yahoo! market itself to a younger audience.
The work doesn’t stop.
“It’s 24/7,” he said. “They say with jobs you’re passionate about you never work a day in your life. That’s a lie. You work all the time because you don’t know how to balance it. You’ll probably work too much, but that’s what I signed up for.”
As he continues to establish his career and social media footing, Nichols isn’t sure where his creative talents and candidness might appear next. But he does know what inspirations will guide his path.
“Ever since moving to Atlanta, I’ve been following my gut, and it’s been working,” he said. “I think people tend to push that off. We get older, have responsibilities, get scared, get comfortable. We shut down our gut and stop listening to it.
“We become risk-averse the older we get. I think that’s unfortunate. We are missing out on bigger things for ourselves. I had to give myself a chance, and I’m glad I did. Give yourself a chance to do the things you love.”