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NBA Leads Men's Leagues in Diversity Hiring

Major League Baseball and the NHL have made some progress, study of six leagues says, but the NFL has declined significantly.

June 05, 2003|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

When Paul Silas was fired as coach of the New Orleans Hornets recently, there was barely a ripple of indignation about an African American losing his job.

That's not surprising in today's NBA. Because the league has established such high standards for diversity in the workplace, it appears immune from the type of racial discord that affected the NFL this off-season after several teams passed over minority candidates and hired white head coaches.

"It's not even news," NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said, "and that's the way it should be."

A recent study on racial and gender equity in sports found other professional men's leagues lagging behind the NBA in providing jobs for minorities and women.

The NBA had 14 black head coaches in the 2001-2002 season -- 48% of the total -- the highest in the history of any sport, according to the "Racial and Gender Report Card" published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

Currently, the NBA has 11 black head coaches. That includes Silas, who was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers to mentor a young team that will include No. 1 draft pick LeBron James.

The NBA also was singled out for its employment of minorities in administrative positions, and for having the best record for employing women of any men's league.

Among the minorities and women holding high-level positions with the Lakers are Magic Johnson, co-owner and vice president; Jeannie Buss, executive vice president in charge of business operations; Ronnie Lester, assistant general manager; Jim Cleamons, assistant coach; Eugenia Chow, director of community relations; and Joan McLaughlin, director of human resources.

The Sacramento Kings, located in what Time magazine recently called the nation's most diverse big city, has one of the league's most diverse work forces. Of the 62 employees holding key management positions in the organization, about 60% are minorities or women.

"The age-old excuse for all-male, all-white organizations has been that we just can't find qualified women and minority candidates for the job," said Joe Maloof, King co-owner. "But Sacramento is loaded with qualified minorities and women.

"We have every intention of making sure that in the Kings' organization, there is no majority and no minority."

The NBA's emphasis on diversity starts with Commissioner David Stern, who said he made it a priority to "suggest to owners at times that maybe their management wasn't getting access to a wide enough group of candidates."

Sports sociologist Richard Lapchick, author of the racial and gender report card, said Stern was prompted to take a course of action in 1997, after then-New Jersey Net coach John Calipari called a Latino reporter a "Mexican idiot."

Stern fined Calipari $25,000 and contacted Lapchick for advice on handling the matter. Lapchick suggested turning an ugly episode into a learning experience for the league.

At Stern's instruction, employees of the NBA's league offices and individual teams underwent diversity management training. Lapchick conducted the classes and, at Stern's request, addressed the topic of race at league meetings.

"You can change the [racial] numbers, but unless there is an understanding of diversity issues, the ability of minorities to move up in an organization is limited," Lapchick said. "You have to ease the fears of white people that they are going to lose jobs and break some of the stereotypical images that linger out there."

Said Stern: "A key day is when a coach gets hired and another gets fired and there's no comment on their race. It's just about this guy could win and this guy couldn't."

Blacks have made inroads as head coaches in the NBA since Bill Russell became player-coach of the Boston Celtics in 1966. Among the former players who have quickly ascended to head coaching positions are Byron Scott of the Nets, Isiah Thomas of the Indiana Pacers, Maurice Cheeks of the Portland Trail Blazers and Nate McMillan of the Seattle SuperSonics.

Scott, a former Laker and Inglewood Morningside High standout, credits the diversity throughout the league for helping provide employment opportunities for minorities.

"People sometimes think the character of a league comes from the players on the court, and it does, but it also comes from above, from small things like cultural references that get slipped in here and there, to big decisions that are made with a different perspective," Scott told the Washington Post.

Dean Bonham, chief executive of the Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports marketing company, said the NBA's diversity plays a role in the popularity of the league.

"There is a broad cross-section of demographic America that follows the game," Bonham said. "You've got African American [players], you've got a lot of Europeans now, and some Latinos. If nothing else, there's a subliminal feeling that the cross-section of players in the NBA represents a broader cross-section of our population.

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