Social initiatives and diversity in C-suite sports executive positions were graded for the first time in this year’s NBA Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC). The results show the league leading the way, though even they have room to improve.
The annual report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) released August 25 gave the NBA a B-plus overall grade, A for racial hiring and B for gender hiring. “Bonus points that impact the overall racial and gender grades…[are] based on crucial social initiatives and hiring milestones,” wrote TIDES Executive Director Richard Lapchick on ESPN.com.
He later told the MSR, “These reports coming out every year are like no other. The pandemic affected racial awakening and affected sports in America. The NBA has clearly taken the lead for that area in terms of social justice commitment.”
The NBA Foundation, the NBA Social Justice Coalition and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, all established after George Floyd’s death in May 2020, were given high marks by TIDES. “It not only honors my friend by calling it after him,” explained Lapchick of Abdul-Jabbar, a longtime friend and NBA legend, “but also it is a great honor to whoever accepts it.”
Carmelo Anthony, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, was the inaugural winner of the award that will be given annually to a current NBA player who pursues social justice, equality, respect, and inclusion.
“I happen to be on the [selection] committee that chose all of the finalists,” added Lapchick. “The level of players chosen [by their respective teams] was amazing. Any one of them could have been picked. Carmelo Anthony was a great pick.”
This year’s NBA RGRC, in addition to grading team owners for the first time, also graded C-suite executive positions and vice-president positions. The percentage of people of color in such positions was 24% at the team C-suite positions in 2020-21, and 25.5% team V-Ps. Team senior management saw a slight increase of people of color from 30.5% to 31.3%, but substantially increased from 35.9% to 41.9% in team professional staffs.
Tru Pettigrew and Sianneh Mulbah are the Minnesota Timberwolves Black C-suite members as chief diversity and inclusion officer and chief people officer respectively.
But the report also pointed out special achievements in racial hiring and ownership: Phoenix’s Monty Williams and James Jones became only the second Black head coach and general manager duo in NBA history to reach the Finals, and six Blacks own a minority stake—one in the Suns and five in the new champion Milwaukee Bucks.
“I’m not concerned about the NBA” in racial hiring, reaffirmed Lapchick. “They’re had the best record in diversity in terms of race by far.”
But the TIDES director and longtime diversity advocate considers the NBA no different from their fellow pro leagues in needing improvement, especially in gender hiring “at all levels. I think at the team level, they could work harder. I know they work hard but could improve.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.