Dating back to 1966 when then-Boston Celtics General Manager Red Auerbach picked Hall of Famer Bill Russell to become the NBA’s first Black head coach, the NBA has been a trailblazer when it comes to diversity. But there is plenty of work to still be done on the diversity front when it comes to NBA head coaches.
A handful of teams (Boston, Indiana, Orlando and Portland) will get that opportunity this offseason, with at least a couple more head coaching jobs likely to open up once the playoffs are over and an NBA champion is crowned.
While the NBA has shown itself to be one of the more diverse professional leagues, that diversity has not translated to the head coaching ranks which, percentage-wise, are in stark contrast to what we see on the court. According to the most recent Racial and Gender Report Card by Richard Lapchick, those NBA players who identify as Black or African-American made up 74.2 percent of all NBA players.
But the numbers, at least when it comes to Black NBA head coaches, tell a much different story. Of the 30 NBA coaches leading teams at the end of the 2020-2021 regular season, seven are Black, or 23.3 percent. And those Black head coaches in the NBA now, have more than proven their worth in comparison to their non-Black counterparts.
To put that in perspective, there are just as many Black coaches (4) as non-Black coaches (4) still in the playoffs despite the season beginning with more than three times (23) as many non-Black coaches in the NBA compared to Black ones (7).
Of course there is more to being an NBA head coach than race which is why so many questions are being raised about the lack of diversity among the head coaching ranks despite what appears to be a large pool of Black candidates who have positioned themselves for a shot at a head coaching job and yet still find themselves on the outside, looking in.
Earlier this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves fired head coach Ryan Sanders. When an NBA head coach gets fired midway through the season, usually the team’s lead assistant assumes the head coaching duties on an interim basis. For Minnesota, that would have meant David Vanterpool, one of the more promising assistant coaches in the NBA, would have been the team’s interim head coach.
Instead of shifting Vanterpool, who is Black, over to being the interim head coach, the Timberwolves went out and hired Toronto assistant coach Chris Finch who had never been an NBA coach previously, just like Vanterpool. Even the NBA’s Coaches Association cringed at the Timberwolves’ bypassing of Vanterpool with a statement in which they expressed, “a deeper concern and level of disappointment with the Minnesota head coach hiring process.”
“The NBCA understands and respects each organization’s right to hire and fire whomever and whenever it chooses,” read the statement. “But it is also our responsibility to point out when an organization fails to conduct a thorough and transparent search of candidates from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.
During this past off-season, we saw many NBA head coaching vacancies where teams led searches that were both diverse and transparent. This must be the standard. We must establish a level playing field and equal access to opportunity for all coaching candidates.”
And it is that level playing field that more than anything else, is what so many are concerned with when they see the dwindling number of Black head coaches in the NBA which peaked at 14, during the 2012-2013 season.
While no one expects the NBA head coaching ranks to be a direct reflection of the players on the court, the success of recent Black coaches as a backdrop to the paltry numbers, speaks to how the need for increased diversity has to become more of a priority when it comes to hiring head coaches.
Here are some of the Black head coaching candidates expected to be under consideration for most if not all, of the upcoming coaching searches. (In alphabetical order)
- CHAUNCEY BILLUPS: NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP (2004), former five-time All-Star currently an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers.
- SAM CASSELL: Three-time NBA champion, Cassell is currently an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers after having been in a similar role with the Washington Wizards (2009-2014) and Los Angeles Clippers (2014-2020).
- DARVIN HAM: Veteran NBA player, Ham is currently an assistant in Milwaukee after having served in similar roles in Atlanta (2013-2018) and with the Los Angeles Lakers (2011-2013).
- MARK JACKSON: former NBA All-Star and Rookie of the Year, Jackson spent three seasons as head coach of the Golden State Warriors (2011-2014).
- JASON KIDD: a 10-time All-Star and NBA champion, Kidd is a Los Angeles Lakers assistant after having spent a year as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets (2013-2014) and four seasons as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks (2014-2018).
- KARA LAWSON: Duke women’s basketball coach, former Boston Celtics assistant coach and former WNBA champion (2005) and All-Star (2007).
- JAMAHL MOSLEY: Dallas Mavericks assistant coach since 2014, Mosley has held similar positions in Denver and Cleveland.
- LLOYD PIERCE: Former Atlanta Hawks coach (2018-2021), Pierce has been an assistant coach in Philadelphia; Memphis; Golden State and Cleveland.
- IME UDOKA: Current Brooklyn Nets assistant coach, former assistant coach in Philadelphia (2019-2020) and San Antonio (2012-2019).
- DAVID VANTERPOOL: Veteran NBA assistant coach in Minnesota (2019-2020) and Portland (2012-2019).