MIAMI — “Let me take the tag off the bottom of your shoe,” a Mile 44 photography team member says, and everyone relaxes while Hanna Cavinder lifts an UGG bootie to oblige. It’s a Saturday behind the glass-brick windows of Grove Studios, and this is the third station for the fourth look of a holiday campaign shoot that began two and a half hours ago. Hanna wears a black Cozi-branded sweatshirt over a beige Cozi tank top. Her twin sister, Haley, is ensconced in pink Nike sweats. Once the stray tag is gone, the Cavinders pose while a lead camera clicks away and a video camera tracks the action and a pair of iPhones record clips and stills from the fringes.
The all-white backdrop is as unspectacular as it gets today. A few minutes earlier, for example, a photographer stood on a ladder while the Cavinders vamped amid gift boxes in the bed of a monstrous Jeep Gladiator.
On the other end of the Jeep, a decal spans the windshield. It spells out a word: APOCALYPSE.
Champs Sports’ shoot director then wants to add some boxes into the mix, so Hanna and Haley can open them and look surprised. The agreed-upon strategy is to stack boxes on boxes, with a blue Champs box on top. There are more poses but no more interruptions. The Cavinders are good basketball players for a major-conference program three miles away, but in the studio, their efficiency is off the charts. At 12:48 p.m., everyone is happy with the results.
On to the GymShark look.
After an eight-minute round trip to the dressing room, the twins re-emerge and check their phones. “You guys want to be in my BeReal?” Haley exclaims. Evidently, the social media app has signaled it is the daily time to share a photo, wherever you are. Mile 44 staffers huddle up as Haley lifts the phone, counts down from three and flashes a sideways peace sign.
“So cute!” she says, and out into the world the selfie goes. On to the penultimate round of photos. This time, it will be a TikTok in front of a blue screen, then stills in front of a small mountain of boxes, then shots of the sisters flexing muscles with a black gym bag at their feet. Hanna and Haley Cavinder are avatars for a new age of college athletics, and they may take over the world someday, and good luck trying to stop them. In a little bit, they can be two college kids again. They’ll be finished here. But to be perfectly clear: They’re only getting started.
“Haley, Hanna — you guys ready?” a Mile 44 staffer asks.
“Let’s get it,” Hanna replies.
Some numbers, to start.
In three seasons of college basketball, the Cavinder twins have 3,040 points, 1,009 rebounds, 722 assists, five appearances on various all-league teams and one conference player of the year award between them. They have zero NCAA Tournament appearances — though they’d argue a 25-win Fresno State team had a shot at an at-large invite in 2020, before the world fell apart — and they transferred to Miami for the 2022-23 season to remedy that. They’ve gone from passed over as 5-foot-6 prospects to, in theory, two pieces a major-conference program needs to cause a stir in March. Their ability and ambition are real.
The Cavinders also have 4.1 million followers on TikTok. They have 990,000 followers across three Instagram accounts, 221,000 combined on Snapchat, 79,000-plus on their YouTube channel and another 23,000-plus combined on Twitter. At last count, thanks to the wild new world of Name, Image and Likeness freedom, they’ve executed partnerships with more than 40 brands, from Champs Sports to Campbell Soup, from The Cheesecake Factory to the WWE. Their Boost Mobile deal got them on a billboard in Times Square. In July, Forbes reported the twins had, in sum, $1.7 million worth of NIL deals. They are currently shifting toward more long-term relationships, with an eye to a future that is … well, not even the Cavinders are sure what it looks like.
They don’t have to be. They’re 21. After seeing the whole operation up close over a few days in South Florida, though, the plan is something like wringing every convertible molecule out of every opportunity, as legions watch along. The ambition is real.
Now for the most notable number of all: 24. This is the amount of hours in a day. It is not subject to change by people hitting “like.” During this fixed cycle, over and over, Haley and Hanna Cavinder have to be very good at basketball and very good at being Cavinder Inc., in order to get what they want. Shed no tears — and they’re not asking anyone to — but it turns out pursuing the double life of Division I athlete and NIL megastar is damn hard work. “Yeah, it’s not no 9-to-5,” Hanna says, sitting on a long couch in Grove Studios’ second-floor loft. “It’s 24-7. But it’s my dream job. I would never complain.”
And all it took to get here was a reality-altering convergence.
The Cavinders were bored at home in Arizona during a pandemic. TikTok was the latest social media comet in the sky. The twins started to kill time by dancing and performing basketball tricks on the app. They were savants. Their audience didn’t grow as much as detonate; within a year, the Cavinders’ TikTok had 3 million followers. Big-money opportunities didn’t gush in, in part because that wasn’t the point early on, anyway.
Once NCAA rules changed and the NIL free-for-all began, the twins and their father, Tom, a former Division II basketball player and founder and CEO of Southwest Elevator, discussed how to monetize the following. They first called Darren Heitner, a well-known attorney on the spear tip of all things NIL. Heitner then connected the family with Everett Sports Marketing (ESM), a global sports management firm headquartered in Greenville, S.C., that counted professional athletes like Jonathan Taylor, Mac Jones and Jalen Hurts among its clients. It was a convergence within the convergence, actually; ESM already had begun to discuss NIL opportunities with collegiate athletes as another business funnel.
“What they presented is actually pretty unique in the influence world,” says Jeff Hoffman, a partner at ESM. “It’s almost a triad that is very rare — to have a significant media following, to be accomplished Division I athletes, and then have a kind of unique personality appeal from being twins. It’s a trifecta.”
And now it’s November of 2022, and the origin story is over, less than three years after the first shoot poked through extremely fertile ground. “It happened so quick,” Haley says. “It’s just crazy. It still hasn’t really hit me, being able to do this stuff. I just am like, whoa. Like really: Whoa.” A jarring time jump, maybe, but it’s just the way it is: The Cavinders inhabit a world in which they already are a few steps ahead of everyone else. And not just due to a stacked portfolio.
As part of a deal with Bulletproof Coffee, the Cavinders filmed a 30-second TikTok in which they explained how they liked their coffee while brewing coffee in their kitchen. HBO’s “Real Sports,” meanwhile, had an entire crew on hand to film the filming for a show segment. The whole thing turned into a brilliant meta exercise of advertising the advertisement.
Also: Did you know that if you follow the Cavinders on social media, you are 2.57 times more likely to like accessory brands? Did you know that Oakley fans are 3.39 times more likely to like the Cavinders? Well, the Cavinders and ESM, and now Oakley, know that, as it was spelled out on a slide in a presentation to the company. And it all works, as Hoffman sees it, because the Cavinders can transparently hawk a good or service without trying hard. “The twins present that in a way that’s OK,” Hoffman says. “It’s OK to see them making Bulletproof Coffee and it’s an ad in your TikTok, because it doesn’t feel that way. I hate to overuse words like ‘authentic’ or ‘genuine,’ but I think that’s what brands gravitate towards.”
Life at the leading edge of NIL is about sussing out the master plan, too, at the grand old age of 21, while maintaining the athletic success underpinning the entire enterprise. It’s a lot. “Time management, making sure we’re planning, is something that has improved incredibly this last year,” Hanna says. Some players try to find a minute to, say, nap. The Cavinders map out time to produce content or brainstorm on what they’d do when the next trend hits, while weighing in on potential partnerships in a group chat with ESM. It’s an exploration of every moment, in the moment. Where it takes them is a sentence without a punctuation mark.
“We’ve been very vocal about partnering with companies that align with Hanna and I,” Haley says. “I don’t think you have to jump at everything. Especially in the position we’re in, gratefully, we don’t need to do that. In the beginning, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, yes, let’s do it.’ But as time goes on now, we’re seeking long-term partnerships, having equity in businesses and companies. It’s approaching it with a different mindset.”
Translated: The hold-up-a-product-and-say-it’s-great days are (mostly) over. The Cavinders can go global.
Consider the deal with World Wrestling Entertainment. It’s not shilling anything. The company created its “Next In Line” program as an enhanced recruiting tool once NIL rules loosened; the idea is to expose college athletes to the wrestling business while providing resources those athletes can use in real time, such as media training or social media storytelling. When WWE began to piece together its first “Next In Line” class, the Cavinders were a priority target, not least because they’d demonstrated they could comfortably transition from a scrimmage to a photo shoot.
“Once you become a WWE superstar, those types of requirements and expectations are standard,” says James Kimball, WWE’s senior vice president/head of talent strategy. “That was part of the appeal for us. We say this often in terms of how we evaluate talent and their potential — a talent’s biggest ability, in our eyes, is their marketability. They clearly have demonstrated that in spades. They have connected and built a meaningful fan base across multiple platforms. They check a lot of boxes.”
As fortune had it, the Cavinders were amenable to WWE’s approach. They grew up tuned into the success of the Bella Twins — identical twin sisters Brie and Nikki Bella, who parlayed a loyal WWE following into their own reality television show, beauty product line, wine label and baby clothing line, among other endeavors. “I love being able to blend the audiences,” Hanna says. “It’s something we’re excited about.” Full immersion came at WWE’s tentpole SummerSlam event in Nashville, Tenn., in July. The Cavinders attended VIP and sponsorship meet-and-greets, received a backstage tour, watched rehearsals and spoke with WWE talent such as Austin Theory, a contemporary at 25 years old. (“He was really cool,” Haley says.) The object, as Kimball puts it, was to “pull back the curtain and (show) them what the machine is, and how it operates, at a large scale.”
They’ll also visit the WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Fla. — a training ground for prospects — after the basketball season. They fit every archetype for female WWE performers: They’re 5-6, which is relatively short for hoops but ideal for pro wrestling; they’re twins, which means potential for in-ring, on-television stories abound; and, for sure, they can connect with the masses. “We see high-potential talent,” Kimball says. “And we’ve expressed that to them.”
But the point is not committing to a career path. The point is the opportunity to consider the career path — a less-transactional nuance to NIL that many don’t necessarily grasp.
It’s another way in which the Cavinders are simply beyond the moment in general. “It’s just something that aligns with our audience — it’s fitness, it’s entertainment, it’s fun,” Haley says. “And you never know. We could be a tag team.”
Some long-range partnerships, of course, involve immediate returns. The Champs Sports deal, in which the Cavinders became the first female athletes to partner with the brand, was a jolt. A double pupil dilation, letting a whole lot of light in while also requiring a bit of effort to refocus. They’d shopped at Champs stores growing up, and now their faces were on the walls, with family and friends texting them photos of store displays in Michigan and Chicago. The Times Square billboard was no small triumph. But the Champs deal meant the Cavinders were, suddenly, everywhere.
And being everywhere takes work.
Preparing for a holiday shoot isn’t necessarily like preparing for tipoff — “Woke up, did our hair and makeup, that’s it,” is how Haley puts it — but at 10 a.m. they’re greeted by a dozen-plus people who are deeply invested in what happens over the next few hours. It’s time to deliver.
Past the makeup stations and trays of hair bands, past the six pairs of sneakers and Crocs aligned on a table, past two rolling racks of clothes for the shoot, the main stage of Grove Studios is a scene from another planet. Coffee, breakfast noshes and a fruit tray on one table, the Cavinders’ holiday wish list items on another: TheraGun massagers, two basketballs, four HydroFlasks, a SKLZ jump rope, a yoga mat and a vat of whey protein, among other items available, naturally, at your local Champs. In the far back corner, there’s a pyramid of variously brown and white and blue Champs-branded boxes about 10 feet high, because, well, ‘tis the season.
And Haley and Hanna Cavinder are in the truck bed of a Jeep Gladiator, while “Rags 2 Riches 2” by Rod Wave plays over the sound system.
They do have fun with this. They curl their biceps when told it’s their chance to flex while in the GymShark gear. Hanna puts her foot on a box while holding a basketball and laughs after she almost loses balance and keels over. They ask Alexi Hecht, the ESM rep on hand, for Miami football score updates. They call everyone together at the end so Haley can count down from three and the group can shout “Champs fam!” as they throw their arms into the air.
The Cavinders also intermittently walk over to review the stills loading into a laptop a few feet away, to make sure they’re getting it right. They lock into the choreography dictated by the photographers. “I got the vision,” Haley says more than once. They execute what’s seemingly an infinite catalog of poses reflexively and, even a good four hours in, don’t betray fatigue. They do their job. And any fair-minded person in the room would recognize it as that: a job.
With perks, yes. But a job nonetheless.
“Even if you have to call this work,” Haley says, “have fun with it.”
“Just tell us the mood,” Hanna says, “and we can figure it out.”
Fewer and fewer people doubt they can. Including another group counting on the twins to do very good work in a very different space.
It’s around 9 a.m. on a Monday and Katie Meier’s phone buzzes. A text from her two-for-one transfer guards. The Cavinders want to schedule time to watch film with their head coach, before an afternoon scrimmage at Watsco Arena. “Today they were a little late with it,” Miami’s head coach says. Usually, the Cavinders make that request the night before, and now they’ll have to share a 10:30 a.m. slot with a teammate. But Meier might have known to expect their request. It comes every day.
“They’re so stubborn about making sure they know what I want,” Meier says. “They’re good basketball players. Like, it is fun to talk basketball with them.”
The first question Meier had when the Cavinders hit the transfer portal and the recruiting process began was simple: Is basketball the priority? A coach does have to win games, after all, so it was a practical ask. Before that first conversation ended, Meier understood the issue was no issue at all. The Cavinders watched the Hurricanes during the ACC tournament and the NCAA Tournament. They examined style of play and how they’d fit into the following season’s roster, and what that meant for their playing time. In short, they’d done more research on Katie Meier and Miami women’s basketball than Meier had done on them.
And, in the end, the Hurricanes signed two pretty good players. “Just because they took their opportunities with NIL, that doesn’t mean their primary focus isn’t basketball,” senior guard Karla Erjavec says. “That’s where people have to switch up their perspective. When we were recruiting them, I talked to them and the only thing they talked about was basketball. They just want to win.”
Before they were anything, the Cavinders were athletes. They played soccer. They did gymnastics. They dabbled in hockey, as an offshoot of their love for ice skating (and hot chocolate treats after). “Only girls on the team,” Hanna says, “but it was fun.” Basketball became their passion, though. In grade-school games, Tom Cavinder wouldn’t start his twins together, to keep it fair to the other team. Asked for their earliest hoops memory, the Cavinders recall a rec-league championship loss during which Haley kicked a chair. They received their first Division I offers in the summer before their freshman year of high school, while playing up at a University of San Diego team camp. “It was really, really special,” Haley says. “I was like, let’s just take it.” They ended up at Fresno State because they could play right away and play together, and also because they didn’t cut the physical profile of major-conference guards.
“It’s like, do you fit the look?” Haley says, with detectable residual ire. “We would go against these high-rated five-stars and I’m right there with them. I’m never going to think I’m not. It is what it is. A lot of people go to the five-star school and they sit the bench and don’t do much.”
The Cavinders did plenty. Fresno State won 25 games in their first year, and the twins were the first freshmen in four years to make the All-Mountain West team. Haley won conference player of the year honors as a sophomore and, as a junior, became the third player in Mountain West history to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding. Hanna averaged double digits in each of her three seasons and made two all-league team appearances. But the roster flipped and the results did likewise in 2021-22. Fresno won 11 games. Hard decisions had to be made. “The ball is in my hand, I get all the shots and all the minutes, but we’re not winning,” Haley says. “Is that fun? Is that really fun to do this? But it taught me how to grow up and be a leader even when things are tough. At the end, we talked about: For our senior year, do we want something different?”
“I love Fresno State,” Hanna says. “I don’t regret leaving — I just wish we didn’t leave after that season, because I don’t want people to think, oh, we left because we lost. No. I love those people. I still talk to them every day. I’m not kidding.”
The potential basketball impact was apparent quickly. On visits before summer workouts began, the twins asked if Miami’s gym was open so they could shoot. “They have elevated the work ethic in our program,” Meier says. “And if you’re someone who’s played against Miami, and you’re saying Miami is playing harder, that’s going to raise your eyebrows.” (Meier spoke with The Athletic before the university announced she’d serve a three-game suspension to start the season as the school cooperates on an undisclosed NCAA “enforcement matter.”) Nor did they tiptoe around their new teammates on the floor. “I’m not really feel-it-out,” Haley says. “I compete every day as hard as I can.” In other words, whatever must be done, basketball-wise, was and is done. Everyone’s priorities align, or get out of the way.
Which sets the twins up to be, potentially, differentiating elements for their new team. Miami won 21 games in 2021-22, reached the ACC tournament final and bowed out to eventual national champion South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes then lost to graduation leading scorer Kelsey Marshall, a player who took nearly twice as many shots as anyone else. To avoid a step back, the program needed offensively reliable guards. It got two of a kind.
T-minus 2⃣ hours until tip-off! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/UyopU7SUET
— Canes Women’s BBall (@CanesWBB) November 7, 2022
Both Cavinders, who saw limited action in Miami ‘s season-opening blowout against Maryland Eastern Shore, provide shooting for a team that hit 30.3 percent of its looks from 3-point range. Both are rugged rebounders and willing defenders. Haley likely slots in as an immediate go-to scoring option — an “instigator,” as Meier puts it — while Hanna might be a steadying force off the bench. But both play with their eyes up, all the time, searching for the open teammate and best play. “Last year there were times I felt I was the only one creating,” Erjavec says. “Now I don’t have to worry about that as much. Because I have the two of them next to me.” In turn, Miami has helped the Cavinders evolve; after three years of playing primarily zone at Fresno, they’ve had to develop as legitimate man-to-man defenders. (For those still wondering about their dedication to the craft: The Cavinders designed summertime workouts with their trainer specifically to prepare them for more one-on-one assignments.)
This fit doesn’t come on a clothing rack, but it’s high-end nonetheless. The Cavinders evidently are as curious about how fellow senior Kenza Salgues celebrates Christmas in her native France as they are about scouting ACC teams. “People around them treat them different,” Salgues says. “But them? They are like the most normal people. I told them this weekend, actually: I didn’t realize who you are, for real.”
There is no concerted effort to be regular basketball players. It’s not an effort in the first place. “I was very big on going to a school where I could go and be happy without basketball,” Haley says. “I don’t think I would’ve gone to Fresno if it wasn’t for basketball. I think I’d still come to Miami without basketball.”
But they are here for that, explicitly, and over the course of a late October scrimmage you see the ways in which the twins might be the right women for this job, too.
Nearly three minutes pass before Haley takes a shot; her most eye-grabbing sequence early on is chasing down an errant inbounds pass and fluidly hitting senior forward Destiny Harden for an easy bucket. Midway through the second quarter, Haley passes up a clean look from the wing and Meier reminds her that scoring is why she’s here. “Telling Haley she should shoot — didn’t think that would be a problem,” the Hurricanes coach says with a grin as she passes the scorer’s table. Haley ultimately hoists nine shots in 25 minutes, finding her spots; with her team holding a tenuous three-point lead in the final 30 seconds of the final quarter, she aggressively seizes initiative and drives for a clinching score.
Hanna, meanwhile, comes off the bench midway through the first quarter and primarily concerns herself with creating for others; she hits two of six shots overall, but the four misses comprise heavily guarded attempts and heaves at the shot-clock buzzer. Her two open looks? She cashes both, a glimpse of deadeye accuracy for a team that needs it. “They’re just big-shot makers,” Erjavec says.
As the twins make their way through the team room following the scrimmage, they bid adieu to Salgues. Good job today, boo, Hanna says. You killed it. Salgues casts a sideways glance. She notes that she played only four minutes, and would’ve played more if she actually killed it. Hanna then reminds Salgues that she hit a 3-pointer. She got a steal. She snagged a big rebound. She did her job.
The Cavinders could slip into indifference for millions of reasons. But caring, and making certain they care, is the point. Basketball is arguably their last medium to conquer. Haley and Hanna Cavinder are good players, no justification necessary. And for all they’ve done when everyone is watching, they haven’t done much when everyone is watching this.
Four months until March. Tick-tock. “Our team is very eager to win and prove something,” Haley says. “I love that. I love that mindset.”
When the Cavinder twins walk into Miami’s film room after the weekend, they are fresh off a day off. Quarantine of a different kind. No basketball. No world-conquering. “I needed Sunday to completely free my mind,” Hanna says, and there’s a toll collected. Sometimes it’s all too much even for a set of twins who ask for it all.
They reset while they lay by the pool or journal or listen to country music. They counter their bad days by cooking for each other, choosing from go-tos including cottage cheese pancakes or chicken and rice or protein-overloaded pizzas, among others. They talk about an endgame of having Sunday dinners with their families. “You have to find things that fill your cup,” Hanna says. “You have to find things you’ll fall back on. You can’t put your whole identity into a number. You can’t put your whole identity into how you play on the basketball court. There’s way more to life than that.”
They have their hands on the lever of the machine they created, and they can bring it to a halt.
And someone, at some point, always wants more.
And the Cavinders probably will provide it. They want more, too.
Just two days earlier, they’d completed five rotations of a holiday shoot and snapped stills for their forthcoming podcast when the Champs Sports shoot director asked for one … more … take. The twins, shooting a gift into the basketball hoop atop the stack of boxes in the corner. They oblige. Haley’s shot comes up short of the rim, while Hanna’s flies wildly off-course and into the wall. “I’m in heels!” she says with a laugh. “I’m sorry!”
“It’s OK,” Haley tells her sister. “Practice makes perfect.”
The debut episode of their podcast, “Twin Talk,” drops Dec. 8, with LSU gymnast and fellow social media star Livvy Dunne as the first guest. They’re in discussions with NASCAR. They have a germ of an idea for an airbnb-like enterprise called Cavinder Cabins. The list goes on.
Once upon a time, Haley and Hanna Cavinder wanted to be professional basketball players when they grew up. Years later, sitting on a couch in a photography studio loft, they say they’re not sure what they want to be. So they might as well start with everything.
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Courtesy of University of Miami, Alexi Hecht / Everett Sports Marketing)