It’s an annual event in the NBA. Teams are changing head coaches and the list of candidates who should get those jobs is starting to come up, and especially in recent years those lists have almost always included black candidates.
Example: Ime Udoka, of Nigerian origin.
For five years, he was one of those essential candidates but was never hired. That is, until the Boston Celtics gave him the chance. And all Udoka did in Year 1 was reach the NBA Finals.
“I don’t understand what took so long, to be honest,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said.
Udoka’s hiring by the Eastern Conference champion Celtics, who open Thursday night’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, was part of a transformative year for the league when it comes to diversity. within the coaching ranks. In the past 12 months, eight coaching positions have been filled by black candidates – and for the first time, half of the league’s franchises, 15 of 30, have black head coaches.
“It means a lot,” said Golden State assistant Mike Brown, one of the last eight black recruits; he takes over the Sacramento Kings at the end of this series. “When my son and my eldest son are about to have their first son, when they turn on the television 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 I think about often – not just for my family, but for others.”
Dwane Casey of Detroit, Monty Williams of Phoenix, JB Bickerstaff of Cleveland, Doc Rivers of Philadelphia, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers, Stephen Silas of Houston and Nate McMillan of Atlanta are the seven black coaches who have served in their current positions this season last. They were joined last year by Udoka, Brown, Chauncey Billups of Portland, Jason Kidd of Dallas, Jamahl Mosley of Orlando, Wes Unseld Jr. of Washington, Willie Green of New Orleans and last week the Lakers of Los Angeles have hired Darvin Ham.
Mosley had nine interviews before being hired in Orlando. Ham, like Udoka, had been a hot name for years, but had never had a chance until now.
“Darvin is about as good a guy as you’re going to see, a great competitor,” Boston’s Al Horford said. “Extreme competitor. The Lakers are really lucky to have a guy like him. This is the kind of guy 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 player-coach role for the Celtics beginning in the 1966–67 season and won a championship in his second season.
Al Attles and Lenny Wilkens were the next two black coaches with opportunities; they would eventually become champions as well. There have been approximately 260 different coaches in the NBA, excluding short-term interim replacements, since Russell was hired, and 1 in 3 of those coaches have been black. But most of those black coaches didn’t last more than three years in their first job or get a second chance to lead a team.
Players wanted that to change. Of course, the other coaches too.
“For many years, skilled young coaches of color like Ime Udoka, Jamahl Mosley, Willie Green, Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham and Stephen Silas, to name a few, have not had a job. constant opportunities to interview for NBA head coaching positions,” said Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “The last two years have changed everything. The league office has tirelessly educated franchises on the qualifications and backgrounds of these talented young coaches. This heightened awareness has allowed qualified coaches from all walks of life to have more opportunities to interview and the numbers speak for themselves.
Part of that realization came from a meeting that three league officials – Commissioner Adam Silver, Head of Human Resources and Inclusion Oris Stuart and President of Social Responsibility and Player Programs Kathy Behrens – had with Carlisle, representing the NBCA, in February 2019.
From this meeting was born the NBA Coaches Equality Initiative. The NBCA worked with the league in several ways to get it started, including creating a database; With just a few clicks, teams in need of coaches could obtain information, including qualifications, experience and even an on-camera interview in some cases, on each available candidate.
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 black primary owner of a franchise; Jordan leads the Charlotte Hornets, the only team that currently has a vacant coaching position.
“In terms of diversity, we talk about it all the time,” Silver said at All-Star weekend in February. “We have made more progress in other areas. And in terms of CEOs on the business side of teams, we would absolutely love to see more progress there. … Without a doubt, this is an area where we can do a better job.
That said, the NBA’s numbers far exceed other major American professional leagues.
There are three black coaches in the NFL – Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh, Lovie Smith of Houston and Todd Bowles of Tampa Bay. That doesn’t include Miami’s Mike McDaniel; her 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 calls racial discrimination in hiring practices.
“Our league is leading the charge,” said Mike Brown. “I hope other leagues will follow.”
But he also points out that he aspires to a day when 50% of a league’s coaches being black won’t seem like a big step.
“It’s the dream,” he said.
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