Awenate Cobbina is a catalyst for change on and off the court.

Trading White House politics for sports politics, he is courting Detroit big time. Cobbina is the Vice President of Public and Business Affairs for the Detroit Pistons as well as the Executive Director of the Detroit Pistons Foundation.

Awenate Cobbina
VP of Public and Business Affairs for the Detroit Pistons

EXP: How did you go from working at the NFL to working at The White House during the Obama administration?

AC: It’s a long story, but during law school I realized I had a passion for politics, sports, and business and resolved to work in one of those industries. While I was in school I interned at the NFL and ultimately later found myself interning at the White House reading mail that was sent to the president. As unorthodox as it may seem, the transition was relatively seamless because I approach every job the same way, work as hard as I can, meet everyone that I can, and learn the language.

EXP: Now you’re back in sports working with the Pistons – how did you land in Detroit?

AC: The great thing about working at the White House is that you get to meet people from all over the country. To be honest, Detroit wasn’t on the list at the time. However, when I met Arn and Nancy Tellem and became more familiar with his and Tom Gores’ vision for the Pistons future, I quickly became excited about a new adventure in an unfamiliar city.

EXP: How are politics and sports similar and different?

AC: Politics and sports are two of the industries that most Americans have a strong opinion on. Given their profile, they are important to communities, and have the ability to inspire and bring people together. They are also very different substantively. Entertaining fans and dealing with public policy couldn’t be more different. The interesting thing to me is where it intersects.

Plum Market, New Center

EXP: In your role as Executive Director of the Detroit Pistons Foundation you recently launched the “Basketball for All” program – can you tell us more about this initiative?

AC: The initiative launched during the summer of 2018 and runs concurrently with our organization’s six-year court refurbishment project.  Elements of the program include providing basketballs to Detroit youth, encouraging participation and usage of refurbished courts and teaching the benefits of basketball. Over 10,000 basketballs were distributed last year as part of the first year of activation with mandate to give-away 125,000 basketballs over the next five years.

EXP:  The Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center is a big deal for Detroit! How will it impact the community?

AC: It’s the first NBA facility to introduce publicly accessible retail spaces.  Plum Market provides food service for the team and opened its second Detroit location – a café and retail store right inside our main lobby. The vision for the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center was to create a facility that is publicly accessible and engaging to the community in a way that serves as an asset for everyone in Detroit.

Karl’s inside the Siren Hotel

EXP: What are your favorite coffee shops, diners or cocktail bar in the city for a quick meeting?

AC: I try not to break up the day too much so it’s generally The Clique for a breakfast meeting or Central Kitchen after work.

EXP: Drink of choice and where are you going to get it?

AC: It all depends! I like to experiment with bartenders that I know so if I see my friends at The Skip (Katrell), Leila (Bear), Grey Ghost (Will and Rudy), or Standby then I will generally try a whiskey, tequila or rum cocktail. For wine, it’s always The Royce.

EXP: It’s a Saturday night in Detroit- what are you doing, and where are you going?

AC: The ideal Saturday night starts with a gallery opening at the Library Street Collective, or a show at the MOCAD or Fisher Theater. Next, I would stop at Selden Standard, SheWolf, or Caper’s for a bite depending on my mood. What’s better than good music to end the night?! For that, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Standby, and Raven Lounge hit the spot. Most importantly, Sunday brunch is usually at Lady of the House or Karl’s. Those pancakes…

The Skip and Standby