If you are a Canadian basketball fan, you know exactly who Akil Augustine is. If something big happens in Raptor-Land, he is the first one there bringing the fans at home the information they need. During the season, Akil and a group of knowledgeable basketball fanatics are analyzing exactly what they see going on all on a show he started from scratch.
Akil has the demeanor and style of someone who has been in the business for 50 years, but the 31-year old has only recently begun “growing up”. Born in Trinidad in 1982, Akil’s father served as a “Wharfman”, someone who worked at the docks. He spent years saving every penny to move his family to the United States to live what some considered to be the “American Dream.”
By 1988, the Augustine family was able to pack their bags and move to Brooklyn, New York. For those who know American history, you would know that the 80s was not a good time for New York. Crime rates spiked as the crack epidemic hit the city. Gangs from Los Angeles arrived, gaining notoriety when they appeared in Rikers Island early in the 90s. It was not easy for residents of what is now a beautiful city. Akil and his family were no different. They had no money, no friends and no papers, living as illegal immigrants for the first part of their American life. It was then that his parents decided to send him and his sister, Ayanna, to live with their aunt in Toronto.
Toronto was no easier for him. To add to his social troubles, Akil went from living in all black communities his whole life, to being the only black kid in his grade, and one of five in his school. Like one could imagine, he struggled to fit in. Claiming to be “loud and obnoxious”, he lacked the basic social skills it would take to make it in today’s world. He credits his sister Ayanna for teaching him everything he knows and for giving him the personality he has today.
Upon arrival to Canada, Akil’s cousin Sean would bring him to Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute, a public high school in Toronto. There he had the chance to watch Mark Hunt, Jamaal Magloire and Simeon Mars every day. He grew up around what was considered to be one of the best basketball programs the city has ever seen. Top Gun consisted of a group of local talent who would tour the province’s roughest neighborhoods taking on the city kids in pickup basketball games. They always won.
“It is where I get both my love for the game and my intensity”, Akil told me, as he praised the group.
By the time he was 13, his cousin had picked up DIRECTV satellite, and Akil was able to tune in to one of the best sports stations in the world, ESPN. One of the first faces he saw was Stuart Scott, a sportscaster and anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter. He immediately said “That’s me!” He knew right away that was who he wanted to be and what he wanted to become, a sports anchor. His opinion was strong, he was confident, and he loved the game. All in all, it was a perfect combination and the exact recipe for a successful sports reporter.
He was able to get into basketball journalism during the summer of the 2nd Annual Battlegrounds Tournament, where close friend and former Canadian standout Vidal Massiah claimed he was going to win Nike’s 1-on-1-basketball tournament, crowning Toronto’s #1 “streetball” player. Massiah was so confident he would win, he told Akil to film his journey to the championship to later be used as as his final grad project for Seneca at York’s Journalism program.
He borrowed his friend’s camera and followed Vidal for two days as the tournament proceeded. Sure enough, Massiah earned himself the victory. Augustine was able to turn his video clips into a short documentary, which not only earned him an “A” but was also the video that led him to become the youngest person ever to be accepted in to the Upcoming Documentary Filmmakers Program. After realizing this was not the career path for him, he dropped out, but states that the experience gained is exactly what gave him the confidence he needed.
From there, Akil’s career took off. He worked as an intern for Sportsnet under the wings of one of the most accredited sports personalities in Canada, Cabral Richards, better known as Cabbie, giving him the opportunity to move closer to his dream of covering basketball full time. He was awarded a position as a freelance producer for the hit-show NBAXL, a fun and outgoing series that covered all-things NBA. After about 3-5 years of freelance work, Akil earned the position as an interactive producer and host for all of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE) properties.
With the help of the BasketballBuzz team, Akil developed a web series entitled CouchLife, which consisted of short videos covering all things basketball. This included everything from local Canadian talent to the NBA. It was simple. A group of fans sitting on the couch and enjoying the game got to talk about what they saw. Quick, two-minute videos that did not have anyone rambling on and going-off topic.
“CouchLife was the result of me realizing that there were a lot of other people around me who knew and did a lot for the game, and they all possess interesting perspectives that needed to be shared publicly”
Akil does not have children, but as I sat there and worked with him on this project I can truthfully say that this was his baby. He took pride in making the only true, Canadian basketball show. He spent every penny he had on equipment and rearranging his downtown apartment to make the perfect set.
“CouchLife was the best three months of my life. Every night my place was filled with love and people. My sister even came once.”
After a successful three months, NBATV Canada wanted to move this series to the big screen. CouchLife became The Hangout and it blew up. The NBATV Canada office on the corner of Parliament and Lakeshore had built a full set for the show, consisting of couches and jerseys hanging from the wall. The two-minute videos became 30-minute time slots.
“The dream I have for this is so huge that I don’t think we will ever reach it, but I am interested in seeing how far we can take it. The fact that we got this far is amazing and the act of actually doing the show is probably my favourite part of the whole thing!” Dream hard, work harder. Break Barriers!