It was probably evident to most people who’d been to a few Charlotte Hornets games, and certainly to anyone who worked for the team, that Jacinda Garabito and Derrick “Fly Ty” Jacobs had strong chemistry.
As arena co-hosts – those purveyors of Hornets-related hype who frequently pop up on the Spectrum Center’s big screens, mics in hand – the duo wore irrepressible smiles around one another. They joked, they improv’d, they danced, they generally had a good time together – whether the cameras were rolling or not.
But up until last March, no one who had anything to do with the Hornets knew just how strong their chemistry really was.
“We didn’t tell our boss,” Fly Ty says, “until –”
“Two weeks before we walked down the aisle,” Jacinda says, cutting in. “I mean, I didn’t even –”
“She didn’t even wear the ring,” Fly Ty interjects. “She had one, but she didn’t wear it because –”
“We just wanted to be as professional as possible in this arena,” Jacinda continues. “And I thought – we both thought – that it could put a bad taste in someone’s mouth if they knew we were dating.”
Yes, they’re on the verge of cliché as they keep finishing each other’s sentences in this November courtside chat. But the more they talk, the more unique their relationship appears.
They yearn for opportunities to work together, and not just in one of the coolest NBA jobs available to people who can’t play top-level basketball. They also seek more spiritually meaningful partnerships: They’re co-executive directors of Stolen Lunches, a Bible Study community that recently earned 501c3 nonprofit status; she’s in the final stages of self-publishing a religious-themed inspirational book (“Uniquely Qualified,” coming this spring), and now he’s writing one, too (working title: “The Journey Is the Reward”).
Oh, and if you’re a local station looking to punch up your programming, Derrick and Jacinda Jacobs are ready to interview tomorrow. Just remember, they’re a package deal.
Fly Ty: “I would LOVE to do a show with her.”
Jacinda: “Yeah, we’d love to do that.”
Fly Ty: “I’m speakin’ that right now: We’re gonna do a show together.”
Jacinda: “Go ahead, preach it!”
But they are getting ahead of themselves – and so are we. Let’s start from the beginning.
Dawn of a dynamic duo
In this town, in their line of work, they were bound to run into each other at some point.
Derrick Jacobs – a native of Charlotte and 1990 Myers Park High graduate – started out as a barber but broke into radio in 1996 by networking with a customer who happened to work for Power 98. After being given a job (and the “Fly Ty” nickname) on the hip-hop station’s morning show, he spent about eight years there, about six on a morning show in Dallas, then came back to Charlotte and bounced around just about every urban station in town – from “Q” 92.7 to “Old School” 105.3 to “V” 101.9.
Meanwhile, Jacinda Garabito was also making a name for herself in Charlotte’s media scene. She arrived from Norfolk, Va., in 2007, and had done everything from radio jobs on “The Beat” 96.1 and WGIV-FM (103.3) to TV gigs on WBTV and WCCB.
But in 2014, as she neared 30, Garabito was looking to make a change, and wound up making two after leaving her full-time job at WCCB.
First, she threw herself into work with the Matthews-based ministry Proverbs 226, which connects prison inmates to their children.
Second, she scored a part-time job she’d pursued for years: arena host for the Hornets. In that capacity, she would lead all in-game entertainment and fan engagement, from the pre-game show (“Buzz City Live”) to sponsor mentions, prize giveaways, interviews and dance cams.
One of her first duties – before the 2014-15 season even started – was to emcee the team’s Buzz Fest, a two-day preseason fan festival at the Charlotte Convention Center to kick off the return of the Hornets brand. Unbeknownst to Garabito, a deal was brokered behind the scenes to pair her at Buzz Fest with a radio guy by the name of Fly Ty.
The two hit it off splendidly.
“They just got rave reviews about their chemistry,” recalls Jason Simon, Hornets senior director of event presentation. “We weren’t really looking for two in-arena hosts, but we were like, ‘Well, let’s see if we can capture that again at a Hornets game.’ ”
“When they first came to me (with the idea),” Jacinda says, “I said, ‘For what? We don’t need him.’... I mean, he’s alright and everything but...’ It’s that initial thing in this industry: You start to be competitive. But I remember praying that thing off of me. I told myself, ‘He’s extremely talented, and it’s a honor to work alongside him, so you need to stop thinking like that.’
“Those first few weekends, we had so much fun working together. ... The other games I would kind of sit there by myself with my own (scripts) and be like –” Jacinda yawns, stretches, sighs, as Fly Ty snickers. “It quickly got to the point that I wanted him at all the games. And we really quickly became great, great friends.”
‘He just ruined everything’
The lovers thing took a little bit longer. At least, longer than Fly Ty had hoped.
When they first started working together for the Hornets, they were both on the rebound – Jacinda from a breakup with her fiance, Ty from the end of his first marriage five years prior.
But a funny thing started happening. When Jacinda would get stuck on a boring date, she’d send a distress signal to Fly Ty, he’d come to the rescue and suddenly it was a party. When Ty would get stuck on a boring date, he’d start comparing the woman to Jacinda in his mind, and always came to the same conclusion: This woman is no Jacinda.
Ty reached the tipping point in March 2015. They had huddled together before a game to pray, as had become their custom, but in this instance, she led the prayer. And there was something about the way she took control, the resonance of the words she spoke, the feel of her hands in his ...
“I kind of open up one eye while she’s praying,” Fly Ty says, “and I knew in that instant ... there was something special about her. I had been saying a prayer for the type of woman that I wanted, and I realized everything that I asked for was right in front of me.”
So while the two were grabbing a drink together a few nights later, he went for it.
Ty: “ ‘I think I’m falling in love with you’ is basically what I said. And ... I wanted her to be like, ‘You know what? I’ve been feeling the same way!’ Didn’t get that.”
Jacinda: “I thought to myself, ‘He just ruined everything.’ ... The next day, we immediately sat down and had a talk about it.”
Ty: “I said, ‘I can contain my feelings. Don’t worry about me. I still want us to be friends.’ ”
Jacinda: “And I said, ‘Cool, we’re just gonna be friends.’ ”
In Jacinda’s mind, there were too many strikes against him: He’d been married before. He was 12 years older and had four kids, ages 10 to 23. And he was way too short.
But once again, a funny thing started happening. Early on, much of their social interaction had revolved around nightlife and drinking. As their friendship weathered Ty’s confession, though, they spent more time worshipping together at Elevation Church in University City; attended Bible Study together; volunteered together at places like The Harvest Center of Charlotte on Freedom Drive.
This was a side of Fly Ty that Jacinda found extremely appealing.
And on Memorial Day 2015, she reached a tipping point of her own. They met up for an impromptu dinner, as they’d done many times before; but in this instance, they both showed up in dressier clothes, he pulled her seat out for her, and the table was candlelit.
“He didn’t say beforehand, ‘I want to take you on a date.’ But suddenly, we were on one,” Jacinda says. “It was that eye-opening moment in my life. ... I just am grateful that God allowed me to stop for two seconds and notice and see: ‘He’s right there, you don’t need to look anymore.’ ”
Then came the tricky part.
A shocking secret – revealed
From the moment they started officially dating to the day they were married (last March 18), Jacinda and Ty kept their relationship from everyone in the Hornets’ organization... with the exception of their boss – and he didn’t find out till the 11th hour.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh no, what news are they about to drop on me?’ ” says Jason Simon, who’d feared they might be leaving for new jobs. “You could have given me a million guesses and I don’t think I would have guessed that they were gonna be getting married in two weeks.”
Here’s more proof that the couple is good at keeping a secret: The night of the wedding, Eryn Gradwell, the Hornets’ social media manager, was flipping through her phone when she came across a photo of Jacinda in a wedding dress.
“ ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize she was getting married!’ ” Gradwell remembers saying to her boyfriend.
“So I probably spent five minutes looking at all of these pictures trying to figure out who the groom was, and I thought to myself, ‘This is crazy, I can’t find the groom, but Fly Ty is in all of these pictures,’ ” she says, laughing.
To this day, the couple has never made overt mention of their relationship to fans while on the job. There are still a lot of fans who have no idea, they say.
“Yeah, we wear our rings,” Jacinda says, “but people probably think we’re married to other people.”
“And fans always wanna flirt,” Ty says, laughing. “They’re like, ‘Hook me up!’ And I’ll say, ‘Go talk to her... You might have a chance!’ ”
‘Going on a journey together’
Jacinda and Ty want to hang onto their arena-hosting gigs as long as they can.
“Every Hornets game is a date night for us,” Jacinda says. “We both love the mic, we both love people, we love the Hornets, we love each other, so why not do it all together? It doesn’t even feel like work to us. We love it.”
Plus, Jacinda, 32, still works as a fill-in reporter, weather forecaster and morning co-host at WCCB, and two days a week as communications director for Nations Ford Community Church. And Ty, 44, still cuts hair; serves as emcee of the Charlotte Hornets Foundation’s Book Bus (a literacy program for schoolchildren); and is back in the radio business, on the air with V101.9 and behind the scenes as producer of “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.”
But those are jobs they’ve found that they happen to love. Their true calling, they’ve come to realize, is service to God.
The Stolen Lunches idea – which she conceived in 2014 for women facing challenges – has grown from informal lunchtime prayer groups to separate monthly bible studies for men and women (Ty heads up the men’s); a weekly bible study open to all; a weekend-long retreat in Oak Island (set this year for Aug. 19-20); and daily devotions on Jacinda’s Instagram page.
“We’re not trying to reach a specific destination,” Ty says, explaining why they’re doing everything they’re doing. “But it’s the journey that we –”
“We’re going on a journey together,” Jacinda says. Uh-oh. Here they go again.
Fly Ty: “Many people don’t even know what their purpose is. We know, and we get to do it every day. We believe that the number of people we will help empower is eventually gonna climb to – well, I say hundreds of thousands, and she says –”
Jacinda: “I say a million.”
Jacinda and Ty grab each other by the hand and squeeze.
“We’re gonna do something big, though,” Jacinda says, smiling at her husband. “God brought us together more than just to love each other and to have kids. I believe we have work to do.”
“Yeah,” Ty says, smiling right back at his wife. “We’ve got work to do.”