Widely considered the most progressive men’s sports league in North America, the NBA has its sights on the possibility of hiring a woman as head coach — a move that would cement its position as a leader in sporting diversity.
While it is impossible to determine a timeline for when a woman might hold a head coaching position, it appears to be closer than ever now that they are a bigger part of the league.
“We are right there. We are right there,” NBA vice president of diversity and inclusion Liliahn Majeed told reporters. “None of us can tell the future, but I believe that we’re close. I have to believe it.”
Four women are on NBA coaching staffs, including Becky Hammon, who broke convention in 2014 when the San Antonio Spurs made her the first full-time, female assistant in any of the four major North American pro sports leagues.
In addition to the coaching roles, there are 18 women in NBA front-office positions, two in “high-level” league office basketball operations roles, three serving as referees and dozens in athletic training positions.
“We love to say that we are the tallest short man,” said Majeed, who is responsible for providing best practices and leadership on inclusion to the league’s offices and 30 teams.
“We by no means believe that our work is done and our main objective is to see women in higher percentages across the league and equal representatives at all levels,” she said.
Majeed, who last month joined The Female Quotient for its “Equality Lounge” at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she moderated a panel called “Shooting for Greatness,” said that the league has identified strategies to address representation gaps.
Majeed said that the strategies are designed to build an “inclusion instinct,” or a state in which being inclusive is second nature.
The NBA is making deep connections with high-caliber, experienced women, and reinforcing across the league the importance of growing the number of women at every level and retaining that talent, she said.
“We are very much focused on that at the league level and our teams are extremely focused on that as well,” Majeed said. “We are not having separate conversations. When we go in to spend time with teams, our general managers are sitting in there as well as our presidents of operations.”
When Hammon, a decorated former WNBA player, last year interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching job, it was the biggest sign yet as to how close the league could be to having a female head coach.
Still, when news surfaced that the Bucks were interested in Hammon, there was pushback online as some questioned the capability of a female head coach in the NBA.
Pau Gasol, a six-time NBA All-Star who played under Hammon in San Antonio, penned an open letter last year for the Players’ Tribune about female coaches and said that it would only be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.
Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who in September last year sent a memo encouraging NBA team owners to increase the number of women at all levels, has said on numerous occasions that he hopes to see a woman ascend to the helm of one of the league’s teams.
Majeed, who played a lead role in organizing the NBA’s inaugural Women’s Leadership Forum in September last year, said that as with any transformative effort, change requires awareness and commitment.
“I absolutely believe the NBA, the world and North American sport is ready for a female GM [general manager] and head coach,” Majeed said. “Being open to a diverse pool of candidates with varying perspectives, experience and background is better for the league and our game.”
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