Transformative year: Black coaches now lead 50% of NBA teams

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — It’s an annual event in the NBA. Teams change head coaches and the list of candidates who should get those jobs is beginning to be discussed, and especially in recent years, those lists almost always included black candidates.

Case in point: Ime Udoka, of Nigerian descent.

For five years, he was one of those must-see candidates, but he never got hired. That is, until the Boston Celtics gave him the opportunity. And all Udoka did in Year 1 was make it to the NBA Finals.

“To be honest, I don’t understand why it took so long,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said.

Udoka’s signing by the Eastern Conference champion Celtics, who open the NBA Finals on Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors, was part of a transformative year for the league when it came to diversity. within the ranks of coaches. In the past 12 months, eight coaching jobs have been filled by black candidates and, for the first time, half of the league’s franchises — 15 of the 30 — have black head coaches.

“It means a lot,” said Golden State assistant Mike Brown, one of eight recent black hires; he will take over the Sacramento Kings when this series is over. “When my son and oldest son are about to have their first child, when they turn on the TV and see people who look like them leading an NBA team on the sidelines, it can be inspiring.

“For me, carrying the torch and then passing it on to the next generation is something that I think about often, not only for my family, but also for others.”

Detroit’s Dwane Casey, Phoenix’s Monty Williams, Cleveland’s JB Bickerstaff, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyronn Lue, Houston’s Stephen Silas and Atlanta’s Nate McMillan are the seven black coaches who filled their current positions last season. They were joined last year by Udoka, Brown, Portland’s Chauncey Billups, Dallas’ Jason Kidd, Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley, Washington’s Wes Unseld Jr., New Orleans’ Willie Green and last week, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Darvin Ham.

Mosley interviewed for nine jobs before being hired in Orlando. Ham, like Udoka, had been a must-see name for years, but he never got the chance until now.

“Darvin is the coolest guy you’ll see, a great competitor,” Boston’s Al Horford said. “Extreme competitor. The Lakers are very lucky to have a guy like him. He’s the kind of person you want.”

It’s been nearly 60 years since Bill Russell broke the NBA coaching color barrier when he became the first black man to coach a team; he accepted the role of player-coach for the Celtics starting in the 1966-67 season and won a championship in his second season.

Al Attles and Lenny Wilkens were the next two black coaches to get opportunities; they would eventually become champions as well. There have been roughly 260 different coaches in the NBA, excluding short-term interim backups, since Russell was hired, and 1 in 3 of those coaches have been black. But most of those black coaches have lasted no more than three years in their first job or haven’t had a second chance to lead a team.

Players wanted that to change. Evidently, so did other coaches.

“For many years, qualified young coaches of color like Ime Udoka, Jamahl Mosley, Willie Green, Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham and Stephen Silas, to name just a few, did not have consistent opportunities to interview for head coaching positions in the NBA”. said Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “The last two years changed everything. The league office has tirelessly made franchises more aware of the qualifications and travel of these talented young coaches. This increased awareness has led to more interview opportunities for qualified coaches of all backgrounds and the numbers speak for themselves.”

Part of that awareness came from a meeting three league officials — commissioner Adam Silver, chief people and inclusion officer Oris Stuart and president of social responsibility and player programs Kathy Behrens — had with Carlisle, representing the NBCA. , in February 2019.

From that meeting was born the NBA Coaches Equality Initiative. The NBCA worked with the league in many ways to get it started, including creating a database; In a couple of clicks, teams in need of coaches can get information, including qualifications, experience, and even an on-camera interview in some cases, about all available candidates.

“You have to talk about these things all the time,” Silver said Thursday. “If you care about diversity and inclusion in your workplace…it has to become a focus.”

There are still areas where the NBA can improve in terms of diversity. Most front office positions are not filled by people of color and Michael Jordan is the only primary black owner of a franchise; Jordan leads the Charlotte Hornets, the only team that has a coaching vacancy right now.

It’s a problem, and while there have been improvements in some areas, Silver wants more.

“There is more work to be done,” Silver said.

That said, the numbers in the NBA far outstrip the other major US professional leagues.

There are three black coaches in the NFL: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Houston’s Lovie Smith and Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles. That doesn’t include Miami’s Mike McDaniel; his father is black, but McDaniel identifies as biracial. The person McDaniel replaced in Miami, former coach Brian Flores, is suing the Dolphins and the NFL for what he says is racial discrimination in hiring practices.

“Our league is leading the charge,” said Mike Brown. “Hopefully other leagues will follow suit.”

But he also notes that he longs for the day when 50% of the coaches in a league are black doesn’t seem like a milestone, saying that’s “the dream.” And Silver echoed those sentiments.

“I’m particularly proud of the numbers and about 50% of our head coaches are black now, the goal is for that not to be newsworthy,” Silver said. “And when people are hired, the first reaction is not the color of their skin.”


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