While the world freaked out about a minute and 57 seconds of more Antonio Brown insanity, the mind behind the mad-genius idea of incorporating Jon Gruden’s own secretly recorded words into a video about Brown sat in silence.
In a vast backyard somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alejandro Narciso sat with his feet dangling in a pool, head in his hands facing the water.
His phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.
On the other side of the glass door separating Narciso’s solitude, Brown was the same unbridled ball of energy he always is.
His bizarre offseason had officially bled into the regular season and his time with the Oakland Raiders was now down to its final hours. Narciso, a Christopher Columbus High School and 2015 Miami alumnus, found himself in the middle of — and, sort of, the cause of — one of the strangest moments in NFL history.
“I’m super anxious,” Narciso said, “because I’ve never made a video like that.”
No one had.
In the hours and days after Brown shared Narciso’s latest production, messages piled up. The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz brought him on for an interview, when he revealed he actually retroactively got Gruden’s permission. Death threats poured in from Raiders fans, but so did inquiries from New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette and even Miami Heat point forward Justise Winslow. All wanted to potentially work with him in the future.
“Saquon hit me up and DMed me,” Narciso said. “‘Oh, you’re cold with the camera. Let’s do something.’”
The Brown video wasn’t Narciso’s first. It wasn’t even the first to get some national attention. Narciso previously worked for the Miami Dolphins and forged a relationship with Jarvis Landry. When the Dolphins traded Landry to the Cleveland Browns, Narciso made the wide receiver a video to introduce himself to Cleveland. He called it “Welcome to the Dawg Pound” and then he made part two for Odell Beckham Jr. when the wide receiver was traded from the Giants to the Browns in May.
NBA players have been enlisting video production teams to serve as their mouthpieces for years. Narciso and Christian Diaz, collectively SDLN Creative, want to make this part of the fabric in the NFL, too.
“The thing, though, about basketball players is that they’re prominent than football players, so there’s more stars, you see their faces more and their voices are heard more,” Narciso said. “They have the biggest voice in their league, not the owners. In the NFL, it’s kind of the opposite because players are more replaceable and they’re in helmets, and there are 53 of them and not everyone’s voice is heard. And if it is then people out there are immediately going to bash on them.”
Brown, of course, is a complicated subject. In the days following the video’s release, Brown signed with the New England Patriots and was accused of rape in a Miami lawsuit. On Monday, Sports Illustrated detailed additional sexual misconduct accusations, multiple domestic incidents and a possible theft of a charity auction.
Diaz and Brown first met in 2015, when Diaz was studying sports management at Marist and went to shoot a Nike event in Hollywood. Brown, who went to Miami Norland Senior High School, was there and Diaz hit it off with the wide receiver. He spent the next year helping Brown with his social media, shooting photos and videos, and managing the receiver’s website before graduating in 2016.
The relationship between Diaz and Narciso coincidentally began a day before Diaz’s introduction to Brown. They were classmates at Christopher Columbus for two years and reunited at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Narciso was calling a baseball game for WVUM and Diaz started chatting with Narciso’s broadcast partner about a documentary he was working on, chronicling area players’ journeys from high school to the NFL. It piqued Narciso’s interest, so he sent a DM to Diaz after the game.
Diaz was running Miami Football Society, a high school sports blog, and Narciso joined the staff to make videos. The first one he made — from a game between Columbus and Charles W. Flanagan High School — got about 2,000 retweets. It was different than what he was taught in his classes and he liked it more.
Like any quintessential Miami football story, theirs began on Friday night sidelines and 7-on-7 fields.
“Our thing always was we wanted to change the game. We didn’t always do what everyone else is doing,” Diaz said. “We wanted to come in and disrupt the space that no one really had any handle over, and just do something different.”
Now the high school hype video is commonplace. Head out to the biggest high school game in the Miami metropolitan area any given weekend and it’s not unusual to see half a dozen photographers and videographers prowling, but one Narciso made one about Trajan Bandy while he was playing for the Explorers stood out. He likes to think it played at least a small part in getting the Hurricanes’ attention to start recruiting the cornerback.
“All those videos would go viral because it was new in fall 2016,” said Narciso, who finishes each video with his logo, a hybrid camera-gun silhouette with “Sticktalk” written inside the frame. “Now it’s the common thing, people are putting songs over videos. Then they were like, ‘Sick.’”
They might be everywhere, but they’re still Narciso’s signature. They sit somewhere between documentary, hype video and commercials. He calls his best “Sticktalk specials” and Brown asked him for a “Stick visual” when he wanted someone to help him give a welcome message to Oakland.
Diaz and Brown reconnected by serendipity in South Beach. Diaz ran into Brown while the wideout was working out on the beach and shot some photos. Brown circled back to ask Narciso to make him a “Stick visual” as his welcome message to his new city after he was traded the the Radiers by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“And then, ironically,” Narciso said, “I also shot his ‘Goodbye, Oakland’ video.”
“The funny thing is there was nothing in between,” Diaz added.
“Four days to do one. Four days to do the other,” Narciso said. “Hello and goodbye.”
His latest four-day stay in California ballooned his reputation. He went to shoot a video about how Brown was ready to recommit himself, but the Raiders fined Brown the day before Narciso was supposed to unveil it. He was up until 5 a.m. the day the video was released, tweaking the tone. He also had to get Gruden’s permission at the last minute after Narciso’s brother, a lawyer, reminded him California requires two-party consent.
It went out to the world and Narciso didn’t know how to process it. Less than 24 hours later, Oakland waived Brown and Narciso had one final video to make.
Narciso actually broke the news to the superstar. He got out of the pool to a text from his girlfriend, who told him Schefter had broken the news. Narciso wrapped a towel around his waist, grabbed his camera and told Brown he was being released. Brown’s sprinted around the backyard yelling about how he was free. Look close enough and it’s easy to spot Narciso’s reflection in the glass door as Brown reenters his home.
The videos he makes requires embedding himself with athletes for days at a time, and the story he found — the one Brown wanted to tell — was one of frustration.
Narciso and Diaz are keeping their eyes out for the next move now. They’ve heard Andre Iguodala is unhappy with the Memphis Grizzlies. Their mentions are filled with fans telling them it’s time to work with the wing.
“The most impactful thing about this video is that a lot of people may have hated it,” Narciso said, “but in terms of the athlete, they all loved it.”