NBA isn’t where it needs to be, but it's making strides in elevating Black coaches and executives

Vincent Goodwill
·5 min read

The NBA has taken a hit in recent years as the number of Black coaches has alarmingly decreased, but there’s been slight improvement in this offseason cycle — with a twist.

The numbers haven’t gone up in a traditional sense, but the tandems of Black coaches and general managers have increased exponentially. Just two seasons ago, it was applauded when the New York Knicks had a Black president of basketball operations in Steve Mills and Black head coach in David Fizdale.

Now, there are five teams that can boast such a claim — the one caveat being the Philadelphia 76ers, who hired Doc Rivers as coach to go along with Elton Brand as general manager but will hire Daryl Morey to run basketball operations.

The Detroit Pistons have Troy Weaver as general manager and Dwane Casey as head coach, the Phoenix Suns have the combo of GM James Jones and Monty Williams, the Cleveland Cavaliers have GM Koby Altman and J.B. Bickerstaff, and the Houston Rockets have GM Rafael Stone and the recently hired Stephen Silas as head coach.

As a whole, there are just seven Black coaches in a 30-team league with Tyronn Lue and Lloyd Pierce rounding out the group, a far reach from the high-water mark of the 2012-13 season, which started with 14 Black head coaches.

The recent cycle was necessary after the firings of Alvin Gentry in New Orleans and Nate McMillan in Indiana. And with the NBA’s focus on racial justice in the Disney bubble in Orlando, it would look mighty hypocritical if so many qualified coaches were not getting opportunities to advance to the top seat.

DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 10:   Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks and assistant coach Stephen Silas at American Airlines Center on January 10, 2020 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Stephen Silas talks with Luka Doncic during a January game in Dallas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

There isn’t a lack of Black representation on the floor, in the locker room or even in scouting, but one could rightfully claim there’s a glass ceiling on positions of leadership. The NBA placed the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on playing courts in Orlando, but there’s at least some recognition that those values have to be reflected in its business practices.

Rivers had the social currency to lay the vulnerabilities of Black people on the world’s stage during the playoffs with a message that was actually quoted recently by presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’ve been hung. It’s amazing we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back,” Rivers said.

That doesn’t happen if Rivers isn’t respected, a champion who endured on and off the floor, and he’s long spoken about not wanting to be the exception but the rule. The NBA has positioned itself as a moral leader of sorts, and even if the visual messaging won’t carry into next season, having Black leaders who have the public’s trust could be beneficial.

The Biden-Rivers connection seems to contradict the billionaire statuses of most NBA owners, who tend to donate heavily to one side of the political aisle. But that doesn’t mean Black employees can’t progress in spite of it.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta wouldn’t be considered a blue-state guy by any stretch, but he doesn’t appear to be in a rush to tear down a James Harden-Russell Westbrook-led team, hoping Stone and Silas can keep them in contention and compete for championships.

Fertitta’s political views didn’t get in the way of him rewarding two Black men who came up through the ranks, especially in the case of Silas. Silas interviewed with the Rockets during their last opening and impressed, but they ultimately chose Mike D’Antoni in 2016. Silas helped engineer the Dallas Mavericks’ record-breaking offensive efficiency, unlocking Luka Doncic and maximizing supporting players Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry and Trey Burke.

Silas has been highly regarded for quite a while and should’ve been a head coach before now, but it should be noted Fertitta saw fit to take the leap with a Black coach who isn’t a former player — an unfortunate unicorn of sorts.

The coach-general manager combo doesn’t guarantee anything, but if connectivity and synergy mean something, the commonality could present better chances for Black coaches to reverse the trend of being last hired, first fired.

There isn’t much connective tissue between either of the hires aside from persistence and dedication, which actually shows the number of roads many future coaches and executives can travel to attain their goals. Assuming Brand stays onboard with Morey and has some level of say, only he and Rivers were high-level NBA players.

Jones and Williams were role players but widely respected in the locker room. Weaver, hired in Detroit over the summer, was a grinder before rising to second in command in Oklahoma City. Casey was a head coach in Toronto and Minnesota before landing in Detroit.

Casey, like Weaver, isn’t a former NBA player.

The NBA has yet to mandate a Rooney Rule of sorts, and commissioner Adam Silver has been hesitant on it, although all parties recognize the need for the numbers and quality of opportunities to increase.

The current situation is nowhere near where the league wants it to be, but it should be noted that in some ways, its actions have mirrored its sentiments.

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