By: Jacob Shindel, Columnist
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own
In a league where around 81% of players are Black, it would make sense that the percentage of Black coaches is a reflection of the percentage of players. However, for the NBA, this is not the case. Only 23% of head coaches are Black, compared to 70% of head coaches in the NBA who are white. On top of these staggering numbers, it seems as if white coaches are given much more leeway than Black coaches when it comes to tenure and team success.
After another poor season starter for the new-looking Washington Wizards, once again the question has risen of whether or not Scott Brooks should be their head coach. Brooks, who is white, has been on the so-called “hot seat” for the past few years. Since being hired by the Wizards, Brooks has gone 152-177 over five seasons, and has made the playoffs twice, but not since the 2017-2018 season.
Before being the coach of the Wizards, Brooks was the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, from the 2008-2009 season until the 2014-2015 season. In that time, Brooks only missed the playoffs twice. Despite having the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook, with future MVP James Harden on the team for a few of those years, the Thunder never won a championship with Brooks, and only made it to the finals once. Is Brooks truly a good coach, deserving of a head coaching job today, or has he always been gifted with super star level talent? And why, with a 60-105 record over the past three seasons, has Scott Brooks not been fired yet?
The answer could very well come down to race. White coaches are given much more time to prove their worth in the league, and therefore keep their jobs even while struggling to win. To the NBA’s credit, they do a much better job at hiring Black coaches compared to the NFL, who had only three Black coaches last year (plus one interim who is not going to be hired full time) out of 32 teams. While the NBA is doing a much better job than the NFL, it isn’t something to be proud of. It’s like trying to hit a qualifying time in a race, and you barely beat the person next to you, but you were both five minutes slower than the time you needed to hit.
Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton was thrust into the head coaching role for 43 games during the 2015-16 season for the Golden State Warriors, as head coach Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery. Walton went 39-4, but was gifted with one of the best lineups in the league. Because of Walton’s “success” during that run, the Lakers hired him, and he went 98-148 over three seasons, failing to make the playoffs and finishing with a losing record in all three campaigns. The Lakers fired him, but he was then hired by the Kings. In his second season with the team, they are sitting at 5-8, after going 31-41 last season and missing the playoffs. Walton has yet to prove himself as an NBA coach, and somehow still has a job in the NBA.
Now let’s see how Black coaches have fared while trying to retain coaching jobs. For starters, former Raptors coach Dwane Casey won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season after leading the Raptors to a 59-23 record, and then was fired a few days later. The team got swept by the Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs, but only the Warriors super team was able to stop Lebron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.
Former Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan was fired after the team, without Domantas Sabonis, got swept by the Miami Heat, who made it to the NBA Finals. The team battled injuries all season, with Sabonis missing eight games and Myles Turner missing 17 games. Even worse is that Victor Oladipo, the team’s best player, only suited up for seven games. Despite the battles against injury, the team still moved on from McMillan this past offseason.
The last Black coach to be discussed is a man who, according to Andre Igoudala, has been “Blackballed” by the NBA. Mark Jackson, who coached Igoudala for a year, also played a major part in developing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson into the top backcourts in the league. He led them to the playoffs in his last two seasons, and still got fired.
Jackson, a former point guard who spent the majority of his career with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, won the Rookie of the Year award, and was also an NBA All Star. His experience both as a player and a coach could be invaluable to a team, especially one like the aforementioned Wizards, who have an All-Star backcourt, but cannot seem to figure out how to play together under Brooks. How does Jackson not have a coaching job, while Brooks and Walton are both head coaches right now?
In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, which forced NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate when faced with a head coaching vacancy. In 2009, it was expanded to include general manager vacancies, and other front office jobs.
While the NBA does a much better job at hiring Black coaches and front office executives compared to other professional sports leagues in the U.S., there is still a lot of work to do. With only 23% of coaches being Black in the NBA, NBA commissioner Adam Silver should at least consider implementing the Rooney rule, and taking more steps to ensure that Black coaches and executives are given a fair shot in comparison to their white counterparts; because in today’s NBA, that balance is very skewed.