NBA—including Timberwolves—steps up workplace diversity

Tru Pettigrew
David A. Sherman

All 30 NBA teams are engaged in diversity and inclusion-related programming both internally and externally, says the 2022 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card released earlier this month by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES).

These efforts helped the league this year earn an A overall grade. “The NBA really stepped up more this year,” declared TIDES Director Richard Lapchick to the MSR.

“I was really proud and excited for the league and all of the teams,” added Minnesota Timberwolves Chief Diversity and Inclusion Vice President Tru Pettigrew. He is among the 19 percent of team C-suite positions now held by Blacks. People of color in C-suite executive jobs are up nearly three percent (26.7%) from 2020-21 (24%). The Wolves have 12 POC and women as team vice presidents and above.

“Some of the things that we are doing locally that I’m really proud of are the focus on diversifying the workforce in every form of diversity,” said Pettigrew in a recent MSR phone interview. He joined the Wolves organization in 2020.

“Being intentional” is crucial for diversity and inclusion to be a reality, he stressed. “We’ve been doing internal workshops and trainings across the entire organization.”

Pettigrew pointed out that the Wolves also are working with other local teams, such as the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, in their DEI efforts. “We have also taken initiative to develop an alliance with leaders in the [corporate] diversity, equity and inclusion space across the region.

“I’m excited about all of the opportunity that Ethan [Casson, chief executive officer] has given me to lead the charge in this space.”

The Timberwolves last week announced the hiring of Jonathan Wallace as the team’s player personnel director and the general manager of the team’s Iowa Wolves in the G-League. He formerly worked in the Denver Nuggets front office for three seasons.

Minnesota also hired its first Black television play-by-play announcer since Gus Johnson in 1996-97. Michael Grady will team up with analyst Jim Petersen to call Wolves games on Bally Sports North. He began his broadcasting career in Indiana in 2003 and has worked the last six years with the YES Network in New York.

Asked what’s the easiest to measure when it comes to diversity progress, Pettigrew said, “Workforce diversity.” The dozen POC in key leadership roles is another example. But Pettigrew quickly points out that there’s so much work in this area to be done.

“One of the biggest obstacles that we all experienced…when it comes to diversity,” he said, is “we still have so much bias that exists, and unconscious bias. If you had to ask yourself, why aren’t there more people of color in organizations, particularly in leadership and ownership?  Why aren’t there more women in leadership and ownership? Why aren’t there more members of LGBTQ plus in leadership and ownership?

“When you ask yourself why, and it’s because maybe people unconsciously are not creating the opportunities,” said Pettigrew. “That I believe will continue to be an obstacle as to why we don’t see more diversity in the areas that we’re talking about.”

Other report card highlights: Nearly 47% of all NBA head coaches are Black. Four NBA teams—Charlotte, Sacramento, Brooklyn and Milwaukee—have a POC as the majority team governor. 

The NBA is involved in several HBCU initiatives such as a summer fellowship program for 24 Black college students who would work with NBA teams and the league office for 10 weeks during the summer, and a six-month leadership development program (Power of Choice) for mid-career Black women.