LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – On paper, the NBA had a nearly perfect report card.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released its annual NBA Racial and Gender Report card, generating high marks in racial hiring (A+), gender hiring (B) and an overall grade (A-).
“The NBA continues to be the leader it’s been since we started doing the report card,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study, which was released by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida.
In reality, though, the league believes it can still perform better. The league received ‘F’ grades for both its racial and gender hiring practices for NBA team presidents and CEOs. The league has four majority owners who are minorities, including the Charlotte Bobcats’ Michael Jordan, the Sacramento Kings’ Vivek Ranadive, the Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Tsai and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Marc Lasry. The NBA has four women who have team ownership positions, including the Utah Jazz’s Gail Miller, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, the San Antonio Spurs’ Julianna Hawn Holt and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Jody Allen.
“Leadership at the top is of concern,” Lapchick said. “I expect they will place bigger emphasis on that at the team level.”
That explains why the NBA had recent Board of Governors meetings about how to improve its hiring practices. In a conference call with reporters last month, Commissioner Adam Silver said “the league needs to do a good job, in particular, when it comes to hiring African Americans at every level in the league.”
The NBA has eight head coaches who are Black, a decrease from the 10 the league had at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. The league has nine Black general managers, which included three hiring or promotions during the halted season with the Chicago Bulls (Marc Eversley), the Denver Nuggets (Calvin Booth) and the Detroit Pistons (Troy Weaver). The NBA has not hired any women yet as head coaches. But there are nine women assistant coaches, an increase from three last year.
Doc Rivers and Kawhi Leonard (Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports)
Lapchick said the “emphasis of the league office led to that change and improvement” regarding gender hirings. Still, those in NBA circles believe more work needs to be done.
“It would take owners hiring more. I don't think it's that complicated,” said Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is one of the league’s eight Black head coaches. “You hire who you know. You hire who you're comfortable with. I think if we could improve one thing, it would be doing something where owners can be more comfortable with people that aren't in their circle. I don't know how to do that, but I think it has to be done.”
That explains why Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA), spoke with Silver following a regular-season game on Feb. 6, 2018. For about 20 minutes in his office, Carlisle met with Silver, the league’s president of social responsibility and player programs (Kathy Behrens) and the league’s chief diversity and inclusion officer (Oris Stuart) about a troubling trend.
“A lot of our African American coaches felt they were not getting the opportunity to get interviews for head coaching positions,” Carlisle said. “Some of our female coaches weren’t getting the same kinds of opportunities. And some of our older coaches were concerned that they were being overlooked at times. So I talked to him about the need to have an initiative about the need to address these things.”
Soon enough, the NBA partnered with the league’s coaches to create the “NBA Coaches Equality Initiative.”
At Vegas Summer League in 2019, the league hosted a two-day summit that featured a series of panels and guest speakers dedicated to this issue. Minority coaches spoke about their struggles breaking into the industry. Owners and general managers spoke about their hiring process and what they look for in job interviews. An accomplished former NBA coach (Phil Jackson) and a current Black NFL coach (Mike Tomlin) also spoke.
Since then, Carlisle said the NBCA and the league has collaborated on putting together a database on every coach, which includes details about their beliefs, past roles, who they worked for and links to previous interviews.
“We want to create a situation where there’s an equal opportunity for development, and an equal opportunity for awareness,” Carlisle said. “We decided not to go the route of trying to set up a quota system. It’s been proven in other sports that quota systems are very flawed. They really don’t work in a lot of situations. They have an effect that is a negative effect.”
Silver also has said NBA officials has talked with the G-League to create more opportunities for women and people of color so that they can develop into entry-level roles that will prepare them for the NBA.
Those in NBA circles have often talked about the need for aspiring coaches and front-office members to enthusiastically pursue entry-level jobs (video coordinator, scouting) and networking events so they can sharpen their skills, increase their exposure and improve their job-interviewing presentations. But they also have often stressed that team owners need to proactively get to know and pursue candidates outside of their familiar work and social circle.
“This has been as good as the NBA has been,” Lapchick said. “They’ve been the best since I’ve been doing this in the late 1980’s.”
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