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The Brooklyn Nets’ Newly Hired Coach Furthers Concerns About Opportunities For Black Coaches

Photo Courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets

By Toli Geshow, Staff Reporter

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has grown substantially since its inaugural season in 1946. From a league that initially struggled financially to a multi-billion-dollar business, the NBA have many people they can accredit for their success, including the Black community.

The league has grown from the likes of Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James who all can be considered some of the greatest basketball players of all time but more importantly advocates for their community.

Over the last 75 years, we have seen Black athletes make up most of the NBA with 75% of the players being Black.

Although the league continues to shine a light on the Black community and support their fight for racial justice, Black coaches have struggled to gain and maintain head coaching positions compared to white coaches.

Steve Nash was hired as the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets on Sept. 3, 2020 — a move that critics questioned since there were a plethora of far more experienced coaches of color to choose from.

Nash is a 19-year NBA veteran who won two league MVPs in 2005 and 2006, as well as racking several achievements in the league record books. 

The Brooklyn Nets are projected to be a contending team next season with their acquisitions of superstars: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Durant missed this season due to an Achilles injury he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals, while Irving only played 20 games due to issues with his shoulder.

As media outlets got word of Nash’s hire, ESPN Analyst Stephen A. Smith had a passionate take alongside analysts Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim-Rose that same day.

“This is white privilege —this does not happen for a Black man,” Smith stated. “No experience whatsoever on any level as a coach and you get the Brooklyn Nets job?”

Since Smith’s comments, there are some who highly disagree with Smith’s take, but when you look at the landscape of the NBA,  “privilege” and grace is rarely granted to Black head coaches.

Although Nash was a player development coach for the Golden State Warriors, he has no head coaching experience at all.

There are many Black coaches and assistants in the league, who are respected, such as Mark Jackson, Sam Cassell, Ty Lue, and David Fizdale, to name a few. What can be understood from Smith is the fact that they are waiting in line for an opportunity, and the Brooklyn Nets handed Nash one. 

Nash’s introductory press conference addressed white privilege that exists in America but does not explicitly address whether it was a factor in this decision, and he admits that he skipped the line in terms of the head coaching process.

“Well, I did skip the line, frankly, but at the same time, I think leading an NBA team for almost two decades is pretty unique,” Nash said. “So while I haven’t necessarily learned some of the skills that I’ll definitely seek to understand and learn as far as the technical aspects of coaching, I was never far from that.”

Although people may forget, there were situations like this with other Black men in the league. Isiah Thomas and Derek Fisher are two Black men who received head coaching positions with little to no experience. The difference, however, is that they were put in positions where they were unlikely to succeed in their roles.

Fizdale is an accomplished former assistant coach and a head coach, who was a part of many playoff seasons with the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, and Memphis Grizzlies.

Fizdale had to work with what he had – a team that was not built to win.

There were only eight Black coaches this season, and with the end of the season near, three head coaches were either fired or replaced including Alvin Gentry (fired by the Pelicans), Nate McMillan (fired the Pacers), and Jacque Vaughn (demoted by the Brooklyn Nets to an assistant coaching position).

The league had the fewest Black coaches in 16 seasons, in 2015, according to Bleacher Report. Today, this does not look any different than it did five years ago, with Members of the NBA Player’s Coalition: Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley, leading the forefront in advocating for the league to improve its hiring practices for Black coaches.

The league over a decade ago averaged 11 black coaches a season, but the number continues to decline.

“There is no doubt there is more we can do internally, the league and our teams and in terms of our hiring practices,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during a conference call

“The league needs to do a good job, in particular, when it comes to hiring African Americans at every level in the league. It’s something we have been focused on with our teams.”

The response that the NBA has recently shown when their players’ voiced concerns regarding racial and social injustice show that they want to move in the right direction and provide equal opportunities to everyone.