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How the NBA’s intentional push for diverse signings resulted in black coaches leading half the teams in the league

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SAN FRANCISCO — Every time there’s an NBA head-coaching vacancy, team presidents and owners get calls from Commissioner Adam Silver, Assistant Commissioner Mark Tatum or Executive Vice President Oris Stuart offering resources to make sure the process goes smoothly. recruitment is diverse.

And after years of internal and external criticism, the league has turned things around, particularly in the area of ​​black coaches. Half of the NBA’s head coaches are black, after reaching a low of six less than two years ago.

Tatum has been at the forefront of this initiative with teams around the league, having always suggested the numbers were cyclical but knowing something had to be done. The NBA has a database containing the names of nearly 400 assistant coaches at all levels of the league and the G League that teams have access to.

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“The presidents, the general managers, the people in charge of making those decisions have access to that database, so they can look, go in and say, ‘Hmm, I never would have known about this candidate, but now I have access to them. ‘” Tatum told Yahoo Sports before Game 5 of the NBA Finals at the Chase Center. “Here is a list of candidates. So now there’s a culture where it’s just part of the process and it’s just an expectation. And I think we’re seeing that it really, really pays off.”

Some have seen “diversity” as a dirty word, as if a wider net prevents an organization from hiring the best candidate. And it’s certainly true that the margins are often slim in these cases, especially when it’s easy to hire someone they’re familiar with or have a sixth-degree connection with.

The league still has a lot of work to do when it comes to team presidents and business-side personnel, as too many qualified executives and basketball players have been passed over for numerous jobs over the years, which the league privately acknowledges. But his progress in the training space must be noted.

Tatum says the NBA is on the cusp of a female coach, citing legitimate interviews that have occurred over the years. It’s a matter of time, she said.

The NBA had to be intentional and sometimes forceful down to the minute number of teams resisting such suggestions. He has always resented the idea of ​​implementing an NFL-style “Rooney Rule” requiring interviews for non-white male candidates. The main reasons are: it hasn’t worked and you felt you could organically change the processes around your teams.

Watching Ime Udoka lead the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first year after watching Monty Williams do it in Phoenix in his second season should have at least created a copycat effect, and maybe it did.

Celtics assistant and former Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire joined Udoka and now has a sense of optimism that he can take the top seat when an opportunity presents itself.

“When Ime wins, you win. When Monty wins, you win,” Stoudamire told Yahoo Sports. “I applaud the NBA and the owners, first for acknowledging it and then for doing something about it, and then for the guys who got the jobs, for being ready for the job.”

Boston Celtics shooting guard Marcus Smart (left), assistant coach Damon Stoudamire (center) and forward Grant Williams (right) speak during media day for the 2022 NBA Finals at the Chase Center in San Francisco on June 1, 2022. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

The two iconic NBA franchises will be led by black coaches, Udoka in Boston and Darvin Ham taking over from the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s not just about coaching jobs for the sake of, it’s the quality of the opportunities and the chance to grow from previous experiences.

I look at the boys [Jason] Kidd, this is his third chance, in Dallas,” Stoudamire said. “And he did a great job, he’s not getting enough credit for the work that he did. I see this evolve. For me, I am very encouraged.”

Black coaches rarely get a third chance, and perhaps Kidd was a special case given his relationship with the Mavericks. Regardless, he has put his stamp on it from the moment he arrived. Coaches had to be mindful of which opportunities they were selecting because some were environments that were not conducive to winning. But they also couldn’t afford to turn down an opportunity.

There was a sense of desperation from veteran coaches and assistants knocking on the door alike. The evidence was clear: the last hired, the first fired. The number was seven in the 2015-16 season and seven in the 2020-21 season, a year in which four black coaches made it to the second round of the playoffs (Doc Rivers, Williams, Ty Lue and Nate McMillan).

The reasons were myriad, from not having the exposure to the game shifting towards using more analytics, an area that routinely excludes diversity, sometimes on purpose, to team ownership hands changing at a faster rate over the last decade. than at any other time in league history. .

And it’s no surprise that some people weren’t comfortable hiring black men in positions of leadership and power. The micro in every situation is sometimes justifiable, but the macro picture was not pretty. In addition, the coaches often felt that they could not speak if they did not have the opportunity, for fear of being excluded from other opportunities.

No defenders, no tracks.

Trainers like Rivers or Dwane Casey have been left to drum for the entire industry, almost an unfair burden on the deans.

“I think some black coaches, maybe in the past, were put down, but you didn’t say too much,” Stoudamire said. “As if you are the one complaining and you don’t have anyone to speak for you, it seems you are unhappy.”

Stoudamire was in the college ranks for years, at Memphis and then Arizona, where he shone as a collegiate before being the inaugural pick for the Toronto Raptors in 1995. During his playing days, he didn’t see much of a connection between team ownership and assistant coaches. , a trend he says has changed, at least in Boston.

“It’s amazing when you know that you [team] owners by first name. The owners break bread with us,” Stoudamire said. “The dynamic is totally different. It is not uncommon to see our owners looking at the practice and they are not looking at the practice to criticize it, but looking at the practice just to look at the practice.

“Before, when the owners and the president of the team arrived, a move was about to be made. Someone is going to be changed. My coach is on the bench, but no, it’s not like that”.

There’s a personal touch that exists, Stoudamire says, that can’t be measured in a two-hour interview. Still, the NBA has been more active in grooming potential coaches for opportunities.

“We’re doing mock interviews, we’re going through those processes with these assistant coaches, former players who haven’t gone through the process yet,” Tatum said. “And really advise them, here’s what you can expect going into those interviews. Not just having the pipeline but also the preparation.”

More tools, no excuses, for teams.

With that human connection, the NBA has fostered more opportunities for coaches to be in informal settings to build familiarity. Unfortunately, the network of old people will exist forever, and it is impossible to know what is being said behind closed doors.

“What remains very true in this business is that when you make hiring decisions, you want to make sure you feel comfortable, like there has to be a good relationship,” Tatum said. “We’ve been building a lot of programs around that, around the Summer League where governors, heads of basketball operations engage, interact and socialize with potential candidates.”

Tatum again acknowledges how cyclical things are, but believes the league’s processes will consistently produce results he can be proud of.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces a selection during the 2021 NBA Draft. Tatum has been instrumental in helping the NBA diversify its coaching ranks.  (Arthur Holmes/Getty Images)

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces a selection during the 2021 NBA Draft. Tatum has been instrumental in helping the NBA diversify its coaching ranks. (Arthur Holmes/Getty Images)

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