ASU Law grad takes sports dreams to the legal field

A man in a maroon suit smiles for the camera.

Kurt "KJ" Russell Jr. is the Spring 2024 University Outstanding Graduate from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Kurt “KJ” Russell Jr. had big dreams of playing in the NBA for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, genetics had other plans for him. 

“Reality served up its own twist — leaving me at a height about as tall as a garden gnome and barely tipping the scales at 125 pounds,” he said, laughing. 

But watching his uncle work as an entertainment lawyer and hearing his stories turned Russell onto a new path — one that led him to law school after graduating from Ohio University in 2021.

He will graduate in May from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University as the school’s Spring 2024 University Outstanding Graduate with concurrent JD and Master of Sports Law and Business degrees, putting those sports dreams of his youth to use in the legal field. 

The dual degree option drew him to ASU Law, but the program’s interdisciplinary approach and countless externship options solidified for him that he had made the right decision, he said. 

“My undergraduate experience in sports management, business pre-law and marketing instilled in me a passion for the intricacies of the connected sports and legal industries,” Russell said. “I was eager to go to a university that could deepen my understanding and expertise in this field. For me, that was ASU.” 

Russell found a lifelong community at ASU Law and he encouraged fellow students to seek out and find the people that will make their three years just as meaningful — in and out of the classroom.

“Find your people. Know what brings you peace and figure out your safe space,” he said. “Most importantly, never lose confidence in yourself due to the inevitable struggles that you will face; but also don’t lose confidence in yourself due to the certain successes of your classmates. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy; no one is running the same race. You are not an imposter. You belong here.” 

Russell will join Fennemore as a transactional associate in Phoenix after spending his final semester in an externship for a leading sports law firm in Los Angeles, leveraging ASU Law’s location in California.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU Law — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: During my time at ASU Law, one of the most profound lessons I learned was the paramount importance of relationships with classmates, mentors and sponsors. While I anticipated the academic rigor and legal knowledge gained in the classroom, what truly surprised me was the transformative impact of forging meaningful connections with my peers and mentors. In the classroom, collaborating with classmates on group projects and engaging in discussions opened my eyes to diverse perspectives and approaches to legal issues. I realized that these relationships with my fellow students weren't just about studying together; they were about cultivating a network of future colleagues and industry mates. As we shared ideas, debated legal theories and supported each other through the challenges of law school, I came to understand the invaluable role that these relationships would play in my future career. These classmates would be my coworkers and potential collaborators, referral sources and lifelong friends within the legal profession.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The professor who taught me the most crucial lesson during my tenure at ASU Law is Stephanie Jarvis, renowned for her expertise in sports law. Beyond her adeptness in teaching the intricacies of sports law, Stephanie served as more than just an educator; she became a mentor and a supporter. Her teachings extended far beyond the realm of sports law textbooks. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The advice that I would give to those still in school is derived from two of my favorite sayings that my high school basketball coach, Jordan Beard, used to preach: “Keep the main thing the main thing” and “Always control the things that you can control."

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: By no means is $40 million enough to fix a national or global issue, but if awarded $40 million to address an issue, my primary focus would be on education and economic empowerment for Black and underrepresented communities. These two pillars are fundamental in breaking cycles of disadvantage and fostering long-term positive change.

Q: What does graduating mean to you and your loved ones?

A: Graduating holds immense significance both for me and my loved ones, symbolizing the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and perseverance. The journey to this milestone has been particularly poignant, shaped by my family's diverse backgrounds and experiences.

On one side, my family hails from Trinidad and Tobago, embodying the immigrant spirit of resilience, ambition and determination to forge a better future. As teenagers, their journey to the United States was marked by sacrifice and perseverance as they sought opportunities for education, prosperity and a brighter tomorrow.

On the other side, my family's roots trace back to Alabama, a region steeped in history and characterized by its challenges and triumphs. Their migration from the Deep South to seek a better life up north reflects a similar quest for opportunity and advancement, driven by a desire to escape the constraints of segregation and discrimination. Their journey, like that of many others, embodies the American dream of upward mobility and the pursuit of a better life for future generations.

For me, graduating represents not only the fulfillment of my aspirations but also a tribute to the sacrifices and dreams of those who came before me. 

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