Las Vegas Aces President Nikki Fargas and General Manager Natalie Williams, both Black women, were instrumental in the Aces winning their first WNBA championship. They are also examples of what can happen when talent and opportunity meet up.
Euphoric jubilation took center stage following the Las Vegas Ace’s WNBA title-clinching win over the Connecticut Sun earlier this month.
In the aftermath, there were plenty of folks deserving praise.
Few drew more attention to the Aces’ title run than head coach Becky Hammon who did so in her first year on the job.
To see the former NBA assistant coach find success so quickly was a great look for the Aces, the WNBA and all those super-talented women out there whose merit has earned them opportunities that for too many reasons to get into now, were far too long in coming.
But the Aces’ championship run was monumental for other reasons. Among them?
The fact that the top two decision-makers on the basketball side of the organization are Black women.
In a league where recent data shows 74.5 percent of the players are Black women, the lack of leadership in front-office positions, sadly, is consistent with the lack of diversity in front-office roles throughout the professional sports landscape.
They are the change that so many want to see in professional sports when it comes to who makes the final decisions.
Because as we have seen not only in the WNBA but in other professional sports and organizations, those in the rooms where decisions are made are usually white males. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the numbers we see on the playing field or the changing demographics of fanbases.
But for change to come, there has to be that spark.
That’s exactly what we have seen with the Aces, owned by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, whose organization has never shied away from being a trailblazer when it comes to diversity.
● In 1979, former Raiders player Tom Flores became pro football’s first Latino Head coach and first minority coach to win a Super Bowl with the Raiders (he coached the Raiders to wins in Super Bowl XV and XVIII).
● Art Shell, hired by the Raiders, was the NFL’s first African-American head coach in 1989.
● Amy Trask was the NFL’s first female CEO when she was hired by the Raiders in 1997.So having the Aces’ Nikki Fargas and Natalie Williams in roles that Black women seldom are given an opportunity to hold, let alone at the same time, isn’t all that shocking.“This was a very important step for the organization,” Davis said at a press conference announcing Fargas’ hiring, in 2021. “To find somebody who could help bring us into the future. Nikki definitely checked all the boxes.”
Fargas, a successful women’s basketball coach at LSU and UCLA, was a founding member of Advancement of Blacks in Sports (ABIS) and has made diversity a hallmark of her leadership.
So it’s no surprise that intentionality extended to her position in the front office with the hiring of Williams.
“When you have two Black women in executive roles, you always talk about, they will be what they see,” Fargas told ESPN’s Andscape. “When you think about this game being heavily populated by Black and Brown faces, but then there’s not the representation of what the league looks like and there’s not that representation outside of you just being a player.”
She added, “We have to change that narrative.”
But hiring is just part of the calculus involved in bringing about long-lasting, substantive change.
The WNBA is no different than any other professional sports league when it comes to the ultimate bottom line: winning.
But to win on the floor, Fargas had to first put together a winning team in the front office that would best reflect the organization’s commitment to building an inclusive culture.
“I think there are so many qualified people out there that may not look like you or just come from a different background,” Fargas said. “You can find them, it’s just, are you looking for them. I’m always looking, but I also believe that we should have diversity within our organization and that’s what we’ve done.”
That’s why the hiring of Williams was such an important move for the Aces.
An Olympic gold medalist and WNBA All-Star, Williams was also a two-sport All-American (basketball and volleyball) at UCLA and spent the bulk of herWNBA career with the Utah, Starzz which was the first home of the Aces (the team was relocated from Salt Lake City to San Antonio, and has been in Las Vegas since 2018).
The importance of finding success is not lost on Williams who was hired by Fargas in April 2022.
“You always want to set a good example,” Williams told ESPN’s Andscape. “I think that for me, you’re never going to go through any job making the right decisions all the time. It’s just learning how to handle things with grace and learning from your mistakes. For me, it’s always just been do the best you can and good things will happen.”
But that means little if there’s no opportunity to showcase those talents, which is why the Aces have shown us all what a winning hand in front office diversity looks like.