Think you know the TikTok-famous Cavinder twins? Think again
8: 00 AM ET
- Covers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
- Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
- Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Haley and Hanna Cavinder arrive at a photo shoot in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, sliding out of a black Chevy Suburban. It’s a sunny Saturday two weeks before the start of their senior season with the University of Miami women’s basketball team, and officially an off-day after a demanding week of practice. But the twins — among the top beneficiaries from laws enacted last summer allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness — have a packed day and are at the studio by 10 a.m.
The four-hour shoot — which also features filming a number of videos for TikTok, where the Cavinders boast 4.1 million followers on their joint account — is for a Champs holiday campaign. Over 200 boxes arranged in a “gift mountain” and a massive black and white Jeep Apocalypse, a play off Santa’s sleigh, fill the space. The twins request Taylor Swift’s “Midnights”, to play in the background. They don six outfits from different brands, including Champs’ Cozi line and Nike, Gymshark and Puma, but their favorite is a pair Oakley shades. They pose on the Jeep, on the ground in front the gift mountain, and in front a blank wall. Some poses are more serious than others, while others are more playful. They change the music to A Boogie wit da Hoodie and ask for a score update on Miami’s football game (the Hurricanes have lost to Duke).
By 2 p.m., Champs has 652 photos of the Cavinders, not including others taken with film, Polaroids and disposable cameras the 21-year-old twins have to be shown how to use. A marketing representative from the twins agency is on hand to capture content for their YouTube channel and social media pages. The Instagram posts are uploaded live after the shoot, or within hours if the twins approve. Two days later, the YouTube vlog, edited and uploaded by an older sister, is available for viewing.
Forbes estimates Haley and Hanna Cavinder have pocketed $1.7 million, a number their agent said is “close [and] we’ll far surpass this year.” According to the CEO of NIL marketplace Opendorse, the twins are top five in NIL earnings for women’s sports and “safely” in the top 10 across all sports in the company’s data set featuring student-athletes from 800 schools. The twins have been anticipating this shoot for some time. They would choose to be far away from Miami if they didn’t have NIL or basketball responsibilities. They explain that they would be in Watervliet in Michigan, which is in the southwestern corner of the state, not far from Indiana’s border, if they didn’t have to shoot the Champs and produce a podcast called “Twin Talk”. Population 1,735. Internet availability? Katie Cavinder, Katie’s mom, said that “Barely” none.
Watervliet, where Katie’s extended family lives, is the sort of place with dirt roads and no Starbucks in sight, where everyone around town knows each other and the twins are so in the moment they’ll go hours without picking up their phones. The Cavinders try to visit every Fourth of July and Labor Day, and they estimate as many as 25 family members show up for Sunday dinners. It’s not what we do every day,” Haley stated. “It’s a special spot where you don’t need to worry about what to wear, just a break away from what we have with being influencers everyday. “
Haley said she would be at her grandma’s house, eating Aunt B’s delicious oatmeal butterscotch cookies. Hanna would be on Paw Paw Lake listening to country music or at Uncle Bob’s backyard parties with food, dogs, and a pool.
Two decades after their viral debut on TikTok, and one since the dawning of the NIL era have passed and the Cavinder twins still struggle to navigate the complexities and realities that accompany such rapid rise into fame. Haley and Hanna have proven to their coaches and teammates that they are dedicated basketball players over the past five months.
But, they hear the “haters”, who don’t believe they take basketball seriously and dismiss them as “Instagram models” and “TikTokers”. They know those rumblings got even louder this past spring when the 5-foot-6 guards announced their transfer from Fresno State, a move they say was motivated by basketball and their desire to play in the NCAA tournament.
Haley and Hanna continue their stoicism when their motives and priorities are questioned by strangers and on social media.
“[ The NIL fame] took place a year ago,” Haley stated. “I’ve been playing basketball since the age of 6. “
It’s almost impossible to tune out criticisms and criticisms completely, but the twins do their best. Their determination is what’s often overlooked in their TikToks, Instagrams and NIL deals. This is not only what the twins say, but also what their circle says.
” They don’t view them as basketball players,” said Shenise Johnson, a Miami assistant who was a Hurricanes player before joining the WNBA. “They see them TikTok celebrities or some other thing. … But that’s not their identity. They’re F’ing ballers, hoopers, and probably some of the most competitive I’ve been around. They are good people. They are great teammates. They care about one another. They work. I don’t know if they really know this about them. “
THE TWINS COMPETED with each other from the beginning, even with walking and crawling. Haley, who was a minute older than Hanna and a pound heavier at birth, was the one who took off first. Hanna followed closely. Both were brave and fearless. Katie Cavinder recalls the twins doing backflips off a rock wall in their new pool, shortly after they moved from South Bend, Indiana to Arizona. They were 3.
All five Cavinder children played sports, but the twins’ drive and advanced athleticism set them apart. They were soon playing basketball against older age groups, and by fifth grade they were participating in all-boys leagues. Tom Cavinder recalls that other parents would complain about how unfair it was that their daughters had to face them.
The sport became a shared passion between the twins from AAU to junior school when they decided to play together long-term, to their years at Gilbert High School. The twins, who were often overlooked because of their size, were ranked by ESPN HoopGurlz as three-star recruits straight out of high school. The Cavinders’ first three college seasons were played at Fresno State. This mid-major school was a part of one Mountain West Conference tournament championship. The league’s 2020-21 Player of the Year, Haley set a single-season NCAA record for free throw percentage (. 973, 109 of 112) last season, and Hanna was a two-time all-conference selection. They shot 36.0% and 34.9% from the 3-point line, respectively, as juniors. Haley’s three triple doubles last season were second only to Caitlin Clark, the national player of year candidate.
When she was younger, Haley recalls asking Katie to stay at school to watch the NCAA tournament. The twins wanted to play on March Madness, the sport’s most prestigious stage. They figured that transferring would give them the best chance.
” We put so much into the game, we wanted to get in the March Madness Tournament,” Haley stated. It’s difficult at the mid-major level. It’s really, really difficult, and we tried for three year. I thought, “Let’s try to reach that goal.” ‘”
Transferring to a Power 5 would be an adjustment, and after starting and averaging north of 34 minutes per game each of their first three seasons, they would likely no longer be the go-to players for their team. This was not a major concern when it came to next steps.
” You can have all the stuff you want, but if your goal is to lose, what’s the point? Haley said. “I want to be part in something special, a more balanced group, and just find my role and what I can bring to the team every day. While the Cavinders were looking for a new home the Hurricanes were looking for someone to fill that role.
MIAMI COACH Katie Meier held a meeting with her staff not long after the team’s loss to eventual national champion South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament this past March. The Hurricanes held the Gamecocks to a season-low 49 points but managed just 33 of their own on 23.9% shooting. After two upsets and a run at the championship game of the ACC tournament, it was a disappointing defeat.
Meier suggested that the team needed players who could shoot over opposing defences. However, someone on her staff replied, “It might just be 2-for-1.” The transfer portal was used by the Cavinder twins.
When Meier first met them, they asked a lot of questions, including what system she uses, their potential roles and her coaching style. They also wanted to know if she is tough on her players. Meier was immediately sold when she heard their passion for basketball and their offensive prowess.
” I was truly taken aback at how intense they were,” Meier stated. “They are very aggressive about basketball, so I was like, “Well, this is amazing. I could have talked with them for hours. “
“We’re gonna punch a lot of people in the mouth, and people are gonna have to eat their words. It’s a great idea.
Miami assistant coach Shenise Johnson, who was asked if ‘those Instagram models’ can ‘actually play basketball’ after signing the Cavinders
After visiting Arizona State, Miami and USC, the twins kept comparing everything to what they found in Coral Gables. It was just what they were looking for basketball-wise, as the Hurricanes have been to nine of the past 12 NCAA tournaments. Meier, a former coach with USA Basketball youth teams that won a gold medal, isn’t known for being easy on her players. But the twins weren’t afraid to challenge her.
“Coach Katie is clearly very competitive. We found it extremely attractive to come on campus and see how she interacted and interacted with her students,” Hanna stated.
It helped that their paternal grandparents lived two hours away in Naples and one of their sisters was four hours northwest in St. Petersburg.
Hoops was the primary role in the twins’ transfer. However, their agent Jeff Hoffman at Everett Sports Management said that the move allowed them to build a following on the East Coast, encouraging brands and agencies to invest more in them as national, or even global, stars. If you take two talented content creators and put them in front of a beach backdrop, you can see how you fit right into the ideal scenario for premium brands trying to market to a specific customer group,” Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence stated.
The twins announced their commitment to Miami on April 21, and a section of social media quickly reacted by saying the move was hardly surprising given the copious NIL opportunities in a major market like Miami. They don’t let on a lot but they get frustrated when everyone just wants to talk basketball instead of NIL,” Tom Cavinder stated. They were frustrated at first because they believed that South Beach was not for them. ‘”
” We love basketball, but do we think that I’m as well-known for playing basketball as all these famous female basketball stars? Haley stated that no. “But does this mean that I don’t enjoy basketball as much?” No. I love basketball. What works for me, is what works best for me. It doesn’t have to work just for you. “
While Johnson was out on the road recruiting, several coaches from other teams said, “You guys got those Instagram model looks, huh?” Can they play basketball? ‘”
She would often reply, “Yeah we got those Instagram model, don’t fret,” before walking off. Johnson didn’t realize what they were doing until she was able to get into the weeds later that summer with the twins.
“We are going to punch a lot people in the face, and people will have to eat our words,” Johnson stated. Johnson said, “I cannot wait for it. “
TWO DAYS BEFORE the Champs shoot, shortly after the team’s preseason media day, the Hurricanes are doing dynamic stretching to half court and back to warm up for practice. Sophomore Ja’Leah Williams breaks into song — Justin Bieber’s 2010 hit “Baby” — and the whole team joins in. Hanna moves along, clapping her arms with her teammates, while Haley turns to freshman Kyla Olsen next to her and makes a heart sign with both her hands.
Meier admits that she was unsure how the twins would adapt to the team. However, she says that it was largely due to the twins “social skill.” Johnson asks players to name their favorite teammates to play with. Everyone puts the twins at top of their list. Williams, another big TikToker, stated that they will all do TikToks together off the court and that the twins will ask Williams to teach them dance moves.
“Whatever they do, they involve their family, starting with us,” forward Destiny Harden said. “They don’t make us feel like we are outsiders. … They make us feel like our family, far from home. “
Added Williams: “They are my sisters, and they love me. “
From a basketball perspective, it is difficult for newcomers to adjust to Meier’s program. Meier uses unique on-court verbal communication and wants her players to understand why they’re running a certain play, not just the what. Meier stated that she has welcomed transfers throughout the years but that “we don’t want a newcomer to come here soft.”
It hasn’t been an issue with the Cavinders. Meier called Hanna “soft” because she failed to take a charge at practice one day. It rolled off her back.
“Miami is known to play our tails off,” Meier stated. “And they’re playing harder that a lot of their colleagues. … They are like, super-, super-, and uber-competitors. They thrive in this environment. “
” They want to be pushed. They want to be great. Johnson said that they want to be great. “You can shout at them, “No, that ain’t f—ing happening, Haley. Here’s why. She’ll be like, “I got you” and she’ll go out and rip off someone’s head to make it happen next time. This is what you want as coach. “
“Being a part of social media has made me realize how much I am not a fan of social media.”
In addition to film time with Johnson at least four times a week, typically at 7: 15 a.m., Haley and Hanna constantly text Meier to see if she can squeeze in 10-15 minutes before practice to watch more film.
When they are not practicing with the team or doing skill work with Johnson, they get in extra shots. Typically, they start their day as early as 6 a.m. They will text their team managers to request that they rebound for them if necessary.
” They push others to get in the gym like them,” Williams stated. “I don’t know when they get up, but it isn’t that early for me. “
Add Johnson: “We have culture and they raise it by their mindset and their unwavering work ethic. … They work harder than anyone I’ve seen in a long time. “
Johnson made it clear to the twins that people don’t take them seriously and that what they did at Fresno State wouldn’t work in the ACC where the athletes are faster, taller, and more powerful.
” They’re like, “What do we have to do?” Johnson stated. Johnson said, “They are so engaged because they want be great. “
MUSIC PUMPS LOUDLY from speakers. ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” Gimme!” After practicing the night before Champs shoot, the twins gather on the outdoor patio for dinner. Haley enjoys a filet, while Hanna has sashimi. Alexi Hecht, ESM’s director of communications, is also present. Champs representatives came in from Bradenton.
The Cavinder twins claim that they couldn’t have imagined being at such an event two years ago. They consider their TikTok fame to be accidental and sudden. The two were bored at home in Arizona during the pandemic summer of 2020, so Hanna prompted Haley to make dance videos with her. Their first viral video featured them doing synchronized dribbling to “The Chicken Wing Beat,” and it remains one of their most popular videos, with nearly 30 million views.
Hanna and Haley figured they’d ride the wave of popularity and see where it took them — keeping in mind that few women’s basketball players go pro and the ones who do aren’t generally paid much.
“Why not try to do both? Why shouldn’t we try and capitalize on it? Haley stated. “It would be foolish of us not be able to prepare ourselves for the future. “
With a total of 113 million likes on their shared TikTok account, nearly a combined million followers across three Instagram accounts and almost 80,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel, the pair believes people gravitate toward them because of the twin aspect, their status as Division I athletes, and their ability to connect with fans by showing both the similarities and differences of their personalities.
“Men’s basketball at both the professional and collegiate levels is heavily driven by personalities,” Lawrence, whose company has been working with the twins since their days as Fresno State athletes. “Hanna, Haley bring big personalities and storylines into women’s basketball. We are now in the social media era. The success of the Cavinders in NIL was partly due to being in the right place at a right time. Tom Cavinder points out that the twins got ahead of it, setting everything in place so they could be off and running as soon as NIL was officially permitted July 1, 2021. They signed deals just after midnight that day with Six Star Pro Nutrition and Boost Mobile, the latter of which, along with digital marketplace ICON Source, announced the deal with a massive billboard in Times Square.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2022, and their agent, Hoffman, says ESM has worked with the Cavinders on approximately 42 deals since August 2021, with their brand centering around athletics/basketball, health/wellness and fashion. Approximately 15-20% are long-term deals like Champs, WWE, LifeWallet and Baseline, an apparel company in which the twins have equity. To Lawrence, they’ve mastered the ability to have both quality deals and a large quantity of them; according to SponsorUnited research, they have more deals than any other athlete in the women’s basketball space at any level — allowing them to outearn their peers.
Tom claims that the twins have invested “every penny” of NIL money through their partnership with Goldman Sachs. Hoffman said that the goal is to make Cavinders work alongside brands and not just as a partner. This could include Cavinder protein powders, apparel, Cavinder Cabins through Airbnb, and Cavinder Cabins. In December, they will launch a podcast with iHeart Radio that will focus on the NIL discussion from student athletes’ perspectives. Olivia Dunne, a LSU gymnast, is their first guest.
HALEY AND HANNA find it surprising and cool when people ask to take pictures with them. It can be a bit strange, however, when they are confronted with their fame.
“I don’t like to think of myself in terms of being famous or well-known,” Haley said. “Not [to] little girls basketball — that’s something that all athletes can feel. Outside of that, being known and loved by people you don’t know, and strangers who know you, I try not to be too critical. “
I don’t believe we are that special in the world to be allowed to take pictures with. “
Haley and Hanna, both white women from a “privileged” background, recognize that not all basketball players are equally able to take advantage of the opportunities at the WNBA and NIL levels.
“Me, Haley were given so many things, but there are girls out there who weren’t given much and had to work hard to get to the top in their sport or in life in general. Hanna stated that it was a privilege. “So that’s why it’s why I won’t ever sit here and ever complain. Because I have been given so much and other girls haven’t, it is because their skin color. “
“I think it’s not talked about enough,” Haley says. “I think it’s been talked about in the women’s basketball community to a certain extent, but there’s still very little change. … It is true that it does help to look a certain way in this world. “
With ESM and their lawyer as their guides, the Cavinders have learned how to treat their social media like a business. The twins are grateful for the opportunities and have repeatedly called it a “dream job”, but they also avoid focusing on their identities in relation to what is posted on social networks.
“Everybody’s social media is highlights and butterflies,” Hanna said. “That’s not who you are. “
” You don’t know what people are going though, even if they post a photo and it looks cute,” Haley said. “Being part of social media has made my realize how much I don’t like social media. “
Vlogging on YouTube, the twins say, offers a better opportunity to showcase the ups and downs of life, at least compared with TikTok or Instagram. Katie states that their family has seen more “real” Cavinders on YouTube. While they plan to talk about more personal topics on their podcast, there are still some areas that the twins are reluctant to discuss online. Hanna in particular says that she has had to address mental health issues and has been affected by “hate remarks” comparing the twins.
The twins love to exercise, which is a main feature of their social media accounts and their partnership with brands. They also describe themselves as “girly”. They post selfies and photos where they feel confident and cute, proud of all the hard work they have put in to get the body they have. Hanna stated that if others judge them for it, it is more of a personal issue. The twins see their posts as similar to what other women, including influencers, are doing.
” I believe that women should be encouraging — not just women but men in general,” Hanna stated.
The twins claim their faith, which includes daily devotionals, has been a guiding force in their lives, and has helped them navigate the newfound fame and all that it brings. Their identities are more than basketball and social media.
After signing their first NIL contracts and seeing themselves on the billboard at Times Square, they returned home to Michigan.
“[ “It was a] breathe of fresh air because we landed and didn’t have to talk about everything that had happened,” Haley stated. They just love us because we are. “
THINGS ARE SHIFTING in Coral Gables. When they arrived in Miami, the twins chose to observe and not ask questions. The coaching staff was open to the idea, not wanting the twins to be overwhelmed as they learned Meier’s system.
But the twins are aware that they will be tested every night in ACC play and that Miami must be great. If they don’t open their eyes, they are yelled at. Throughout practice the week leading up to the Champs shoot, the staff was there to support them and encourage them to be leaders.
In one drill, one of Hanna’s teammates on the “orange” team kept making the same mental mistake, putting the team in a big hole. Hanna was the leader.
“Hanna! Don’t be hard on them!” Meier yelled. “If it happens again, I will make you run. “
“It won’t happen again,” Hanna assured Meier. It didn’t. Team Orange not only corrected the error but also overcame a double digit deficit to defeat Team Green.
Two days later, Haley made the right decision for what type of play to run in an end-of-shot-clock situation, showcasing that she understood the why and not just the what. After practice, Meier exclaimed that this was a play she would be thinking about for a long time.
Meier expects a punch from her bench, but she doesn’t know where the Cavinders fit in. She believes they will “be quite significant” and “[solve] my problems this year.” I know they will give me suggestions in the game. They are forward-thinking, problem-solving and have a great mind. “
Haley – who claims that if there are basketball opportunities after college, she will be the first to accept them — says she wants to prove that “what everyone is saying about me” is false. She also acknowledges that she cannot do it for others.
” I’m going to do it for me, and I’m doing it for my twin and for my family,” Haley stated. “Just show up every single day and take control of the things that you can. You may not get everything you want. My motto is to work hard, compete, and do the best I can. “
Hanna believes this could be the right decision for her and basketball. Both twins stated that it was “TBD” if they would use their fifth year of eligibility.
” I don’t want to live with regret,” Hanna stated. “So if I’m gonna be here, I’m gonna do it 100% to the best of my ability. “
Meier is confident in the determination that the twins will bring to this season, no matter what happens. That will be determined by their past experiences, not what they have to prove.
” I don’t know how often I can say this, but I am amazed at how driven they are.” Meier said. “If they don’t know something, or if they’re not skilled at something, they will find a way. It’s amazing. “
This report includes video by Lara Fox.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.