The NBA, leading sports in diversity, still falls short

Picasa Mark Jackson as Warriors coach in 2012.

The pandemic has unfortunately put Dr. Richard Lapchick and his team a little behind in their annual work of releasing diversity report cards on pro sports. 

“We usually start with baseball,” said The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) director to the MSR of his annual Racial and Gender Report Cards (RGRC). “But baseball hadn’t started yet, so we started with the NBA.”

The NBA last week restarted its 2019-20 season, put on hold since March due to COVID-19. The league has for several years been a diversity and inclusion leader among U.S. pro sports, and this year’s NBA RGRC, released last month, showed this as well: A-plus (in racial hiring), B (in gender hiring), and an overall A- grade.

Eight of nine head coaches of color who started the season last fall were Black. One later got fired, and two Blacks were hired just before the NBA shut things down in March. Of 155 assistant coaches, 58 are Black, and four of the nine women assistant coaches are Black.

The racial breakdown numbers in front office positions are as follows:

  • 21 Black vice-presidents, 10 are Black females in the NBA League Office
  • Nine teams have a woman or person of color as majority owners, three are Black females
  • Five Black team general managers
  • Four Blacks are team CEO or president

As impressive these numbers are, others have been quick to note that the NBA could do much more regarding diversity and inclusion. “The NBA represents corporate America for me,” said former NBA player and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose.

He calls for more diversity “in the contractors that the league deals with. More diversity in positions of power within the teams. More exposure to jobs within the teams that so many people that look like me and watch the game say they want to do what we do for a living.”

Added fellow analyst and former NBA player Paul Pierce, “I want to see more Black people in positions of power. This is stuff that we shouldn’t even be talking about with the NBA, a predominately Black league.”

Not often talked about is the cold, hard fact that Blacks getting hired as head coaches in a league where 70% of its players are Black still seems to be an exception and not the rule. Couple this with Blacks not getting as many second-chance opportunities as their White counterparts, another problem not as often discussed as it should be.

An example is current NBA analyst Mark Jackson, who coached Golden State (2011-14), had a 121-109 record, and took the Warriors to consecutive playoff berths before being fired and replaced by Steve Kerr, who won the first of three NBA titles in his first year as coach. 

“What I saw in Golden State was a truly remarkable job of reconstructing a team’s fragile confidence,” recalled fellow NBA analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy of Jackson’s tenure. “I think Mark did an incredible job in Golden State, bringing them from awful to good. If I was a general manager right now, I would be really smart if I hired Mark.”

Said Jackson, “I had a blast doing it at Golden State. I truly look forward to one day having the opportunity to coach again.”      

Lapchick reaffirmed the importance of the annual TIDES reports. “People realize it is a tool that can help them achieve what they may have thought about [diversity] and move toward it. We can help them make it happen.”