NBA coaches began their own battle against potential biased hiring practices long before the latest cry for equality began after the George Floyd murder.
It was more than a year ago – February, 2019 – that Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle met in his office at American Airlines Center with NBA commissioner Adam Silver to plant the seed that would become the NBA Coaches’ Equality Initiative.
Carlisle and Silver chatted for about 20 minutes with a couple of other NBA front-office staffers. The message was clear and, most importantly, well-received by the commissioner and his staff.
“I talked to Adam about the fact that we had a problem, that a lot of our African-American coaches felt they were not getting the opportunity to get interviews for head coaching positions,” Carlisle said recently. “Some of our female coaches were concerned that they weren’t getting the same kinds of opportunities. Some of our older coaches were concerned that they were being overlooked at times.
“So I talked to him about the need to have an initiative to address these things. And so, on the spot, he agreed that we would partner on an initiative that would begin to point things in a better direction.”
And with that, the coaches’ Equality Initiative began. It centers on two aspects – awareness and development.
The development side is focused on all coaches getting the chance to improve their skills and become better at what they do. The goal is for them to put themselves in a position to be a head coach in the league – if that’s their ultimate aspiration. Carlisle acknowledged that some coaches aren’t looking for that.
During the NBA summer league in Las Vegas, the group had its first summit with panels and guest speakers, including owners talking about what they look for in a head coach when they are searching for one.
They also had first-time head coaches talking about what their journey to get there was like.
This year’s summit was interrupted by COVID-19. But Carlisle said there was virtual teaching points along the way.
“We had (head coach) Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers as a guest,” he said. “I basically moderated the session with him. And I think Mike Tomlin is one of the greatest examples of an African-American coach that got an opportunity and really showed how great he can be – 13 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, never had a losing record. One Super Bowl under his belt. The guy has been one of the best coaches in all of sports and he’s headed to the hall of fame.
“And he’s a great example to all coaches, but particularly our younger African-American coaches.”
Another session featured Phil Jackson in June.
The other side of the Equality Initiative is development. The group now has a database like no other sport, Carlisle said. Coaches hoping to rise up the ranks can input their information into the website, which every owner, general manager and president of basketball operations has access to.
Coaches can put their story in the database and make sure that the league’s hiring managers can see it.
“This is unprecedented,” Carlisle said. “We want to create a situation where there’s equal opportunity for development and equal opportunity for awareness.
“If you’re an assistant coach making the climb, it was so interesting to hear the kinds of things that they look for and how to come into an interview and stuff like that. And we had great diversity in our panels, too.”