Editor’s note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality, expert on sports issues, scholar and author.
The NBA received an A+ for racial hiring practices and a B+ for gender hiring practices, scoring an overall A as reported in the 2022 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card released Wednesday. All three scores were significant increases from the 2021 report card.
There was a positive trend for women at both the team and league office levels, as well. The NBA league office reached its highest percentage of women in professional staff roles in more than a decade with 43.4%. Both team vice president and team senior management categories saw increases as well, reaching 30% and 39%, respectively. Room to grow, but better.
In the 2021-22 season, 82.4% of players were people of color — the highest by a wide margin over any other sport. There were milestone hires for head coaches and general managers. These are the two positions on NBA teams under the greatest scrutiny. They are the public faces of teams locally and nationally. They are often the focus of any scrutiny about whether a position is occupied by a white person or a person of color.
The percentage of people of color among general managers increased from 40% in the 2020-21 season to 50% this past season. As of the beginning of 2021 season, there were 12 general managers of color.
The most notable turnaround was that people of color also held 50% of the head coaching positions after seven of the eight head coaching vacancies during this past off-season were filled by Black or African American men.
Darvin Ham and Mike Brown, both African American coaches, were hired by the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, respectively. As of the publication of the report card, there were 16 head coaches of color. The 15 Black head coaches surpassed the leagues’ 2011-12 record high of 14 Black or African American head coaches.
“While there is still work to be done to advance equity for women and people of color, it’s exciting to see the progress that’s being made, both at the team and league levels, across the NBA,” said Brian Wright, general manager of the San Antonio Spurs. “Projects like the Racial and Gender Report Card allow us to continue to move the conversation forward, inspiring future change and growth. As an NBA community, we must remain focused on finding ways to bring that change to fruition. We all share in the duty to build upon this foundation.”
Perhaps the next most public position is the chief executive officer and/or a president for NBA teams. There were four Black individuals in one of these positions: Fred Whitfield (president, vice chairman, Charlotte Hornets), Cynthia Marshall (CEO, Dallas Mavericks), Koby Altman (president of basketball operations, Cleveland Cavaliers) and Masai Ujiri (president and vice chairman, Toronto Raptors). And there were six women in one of these positions: Matina Kolokotronis (chief operating officer, Sacramento Kings), Jeanie Buss (CEO, Los Angeles Lakers), Gillian Zucker (president of business operations, LA Clippers), Marshall (Dallas), Mel Raines (executive vice president of corporate communications, community engagement and facility operations, Indiana Pacers), and Gretchen Sheirr (president of business operations, Houston Rockets).
Adam Silver has provided the call for action for hiring more women and people of color both in the league office and on teams. It starts at home.
The NBA has two women who serve as presidents in its league office. Kathy Behrens is president of social responsibility and player programs. Amy Brooks is president of team marketing and business operations and is chief innovation officer. No other league has two women serving in the league office as presidents.
Byron Spruell is president of NBA league operations. Shareef Abdur-Rahim is president of the NBA G-League. No other league has two people of color serving in the league office as presidents.
Mark Tatum has been the NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer since 2014. When named, he became the highest ranked Black person in the league office of any of the major American men’s professional sports.
The best category for the representation of women is in the NBA league office with professional employees at 43.4%, an increase of 1.4 percentage points from the previous year. This was the highest percentage since the 2009-10 report card when the percentage of women was 43.6%.
The NBA league office set a record for people of color for the third consecutive year with 43.7% of professional staff positions being held by people of color, an increase of 2.1 percentage points from the 41.6% recorded at the end of the 2020-2021 regular season.
“I have had numerous conversations with commissioner Adam Silver, and he has always had an open ear to the dialogue around diversity,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of Rainbow PUSH and a longtime civil rights leader. “I am impressed and encouraged by the progress that the NBA continues to make on and off the court as reflected in Dr. Lapchick’s annual report. Their commitment to social justice throughout these past two years in particular is also significant, with players being given the opportunity to peacefully protest various injustices within our world. At the same time, the NBA has directly expanded diversity and inclusion at the top of its ranks with significant hires in the league office. Several teams have also added women and men of color in executive roles, and we see a record number of minority coaches on the sideline. The league is truly setting a standard not only within sports but within the business world and our culture at large. Kudos to the NBA.”
While there was improvement at the team level, there was lots of room for improvement beyond the head coach and GM positions. Perhaps first is the makeup of team governors. The NBA was the first league to change the title of team “owners” to “governors” because of the historical implications of the term “owner” as it relates to individuals. As of this publication, no other league has made this change.
Across the league, there were four majority governors of color. Michael Jordan is the majority governor and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets. Vivek Ranadive, who is from India, is chairman, CEO and governor of the Sacramento Kings. Joe Tsai, who was born in Taiwan, is the majority governor and chairman of the Brooklyn Nets. Marc Lasry, who was born in Morocco, is a team governor for the Milwaukee Bucks. This is the third season in which four team governors of color have run their organizations simultaneously. No other professional league has such representation.
There are three women who are primary team governors. Jeanie Buss is the controlling team governor and CEO of the Lakers. Gayle Benson is the principal governor of the New Orleans Pelicans. Jody Allen is the majority team governor of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, who faced each other in the 2022 NBA Finals, had four minority investor governors who were people of color. James Cash and Mark Wan own a minority stake in the Celtics, and Chamath Palihapitiya and Brigette Lau own a minority stake in the Warriors.
There were 37 people of color and 12 women who were minority team governors in the 2021-22 season.
The three scores for the NBA — an A+ for racial hiring practices, a B+ for gender hiring practices and an overall A — were significant increases from the 2021 report card in spite of the fact that we used a higher standard of measurement for race because we switched to reflect the 2020 census for the first time. TIDES recognizes that teams are now worth billions of dollars and that the percentage of the population of that fits into the billionaire category is not the same as the racial groups represented in the U.S. Census. Nonetheless, that is the criteria we are using in the racial and gender report cards.
People of color in team C-suite positions was 26.7% in 2021-2022, up from 24% last year. The percentage of people of color in team vice president positions was slightly higher at 26.1%, up from 25.5% in 2020-21. In the team senior management category, the percentage of people of color increased from 31.3% to 32.5%. Not an A grade in sight.
Teams did do much better and increased substantially, from 41.9% to 45.7% in the team professional staff category.
In spite of these areas where there is room to grow, I congratulate the NBA on its marked improvements on an already great record for hiring women and people of color in leadership positions. The NBA stands above the other men’s professional sports leagues. While we often read about the increased TV viewership for the regular season, the playoffs and in the NBA Finals, it is also striking that the NBA had a record $10 billion in revenue this past season. The game seems more popular than ever and the NBA emerged once again as a great brand even in the past two years of COVID-19 and the racial reckoning. A great fan base, huge revenue generation, and ethical leadership. Congratulations to Adam Silver and his team.
Richard E. Lapchick is the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. He is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card and is the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.