Basketball leagues offer excuses for poor diversity numbers

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Annually in all sport leagues, the commissioner gives his or her “state of the league” address leading up to their league championship series or game. It typically features back-patting themselves on how great their league is before taking reporters’ questions.

Adam Silver (NBA) and Cathy Engelbert (WNBA) last week separately addressed several topics with the media after their addresses, including the issue of coaching diversity. The 30-team NBA started the season with seven Black head coaches—now there are five.

Asked should the league adopt a Rooney Rule similar to the NFL in hiring Black coaches, Silver responded, “I don’t see a way to operate a league where the league office, the commissioner, is dictating to a team who they should or shouldn’t hire, or who she should or shouldn’t fire. We’ve looked at what might be an equivalent to a Rooney-type rule in the NBA, and I’m not sure it makes sense.

Courtesy of WNBA Cathy Engelbert

“I know we can do better, and I think we will do better,” promised the NBA commish.
The MSR asked a similar question during Engelbert’s conference call: Only two of the 12 WNBA coaches are Black males, and there are zero Black women head coaches.
“I don’t disagree with the numbers you threw out there,” she admitted. “I think it’s not a great watermark, but we’re probably better than some leagues or many leagues.

“I think this also was a focus well before the George Floyd situation, for us as a league and for many sports leagues to get more executives, diverse executives into leadership positions at our teams,” continued the W commish. “We are increasing the number of Black league office employees as well.”

According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ latest data, 40% of the WNBA league office personnel in 2019 were Black.

Admitted Engelbert, “We need to work with the teams more on when there are openings like a general manager or head coaches, that we’re making sure they’re looking at all diverse candidates, all candidates, in a very constructive way. We know the pipeline is there in the coaching and GM ranks because it’s a lot of our former players and college players, and college coaches and college administrators.”

On yet another media call last week, we asked NBA Analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy about the dwindling number of Black head coaches.

“I don’t want to put in something similar to the Rooney Rule and have teams go through the motions just with a fake interview, just to make it sound like or seem like they interviewed a person, a minority,” said Jackson. “There’re so many qualified individuals out there that deserve an opportunity and deserve a chance.”

Added Van Gundy, “If we need to adopt procedures to ensure [more Blacks are hired], then we should. The problem is no matter what rules that you possibly adopt, it still goes to the people doing the hiring to truly consider them versus just interview them.

“I think we should be long past underestimating the greatness of so many Black coaches in our league… “We need to make sure that these candidates are given a platform to truly be considered,” Van Gundy said.

Engelbert added, “We’ve got to make this top-of-mind even before positions come open, because it’s not when the position becomes open, it’s in the lead-up, and experiences and development of individuals that, when an opening comes up, that’s how you then place somebody in that position.

“[That is] what I’m really focused on right now,” she said.