In a year that called for extraordinary service, the Dallas Mavericks answered the call and strived to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive sports company through various internal and external initiatives.

The inaugural 2021 Sports Inclusion Conference, hosted by the Sports Diversity Council, took place virtually this week and the event brought together hundreds of the top sports leaders from professional sports and entertainment.

Three members of the Dallas Mavericks took home top honors during the awards presentation Wednesday afternoon, headlined by Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall, who was selected as the 2021 CEO of the Year.

Meanwhile, Gail O’Bannon (Dallas Mavs VP of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) earned the 2021 Top Diversity Officer in Sports award, while McKenzie Watts (Dallas Mavs Diversity & Inclusion Manager) was selected as a 2021 DEI Champion.

“During times of societal change, the need for strong leadership within our organizations has never been greater,” said Dennis Kennedy, founder and chairman of the event. “Employees look to their workplaces to represent the values and culture where all individuals can bring their talents to thrive in their profession and purpose.”

In addition to her award, Marshall was also selected to serve as the keynote speaker at the 2021 Sports Inclusion Conference, and she encouraged the sports leaders to always strive for a more equitable and inclusive workspace.

The Mavs’ CEO said that she knew from an early age that she was called to serve, but she never imagined that she’d someday become CEO of a major sports franchise.

When asked what drives her toward success, Marshall shared that her faith and servanthood spirit is the foundation of everything she does.

“I am called to serve others and I’m inspired to help others,” said Marshall, who is the first Black woman CEO in the NBA and the mother of four adopted children, who are now grown. “When I leave this earth, I want my children to know that I gave them a good education and foundation in Christ. But above and beyond that, I want people to say that I truly made an impact. I’m inspired to take action every day to leave this world better than I found it.”

Marshall also told the audience that sports leaders and teams have a duty to not only serve their own organization, but the community as a whole. She said the Mavs are always striving to create champions both on and off the court.

She noted that O’Bannon and Watts are two individuals that have worked really hard to transform the culture at the Mavericks and she is proud of the pair, along with every other person at the Mavericks.

“I love the people at the Mavs,” Marshall said. “We are like the best sports organization on the planet and I work with some wonderful people. I love the fact that we have established a great culture. So I’m proud of the fact that we are an organization that stands on values and we’re an organization that seeks to set the global standard in the NBA for diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do it. I’ve been given a lot of credit for it, but I don’t deserve the credit. It’s a whole team of people. I’m proud of our diverse team and we represent all dimensions of diversity and I’m really thankful for the people at the Mavericks.”


Award: 2021 Top Diversity Officer in Sports

The Top Diversity Officers award recognizes the efforts of officers who have the leadership and counsel to maintain and further diversity and inclusion initiatives and provide innovative solutions to strategically prioritize the preservation and advocating for diverse talent. O’Bannon was also recently recognized by the Dallas Business Journal as a 2021 Leaders in Diversity honoree. spoke with O’Bannon about her and desire to create a more diverse workplace. The Mavericks earned three awards this year. What are you most proud of when you reflect back on the Mavs’ culture change and desire to make a sustainable impact in the DEI space?

O’Bannon: We are in this DEIB space (journey) together as an organization, with our corporate and community partners.  We acknowledge and understand the importance and value of having a diverse and inclusive workforce, where all voices are welcome at the table. McKenzie Watts was a recipient of the 2021 DEI Champions Award. Why do you think she’s worthy of this honor and what does she bring to the Mavericks? What makes her so special to our organization?

O’Bannon: McKenzie is an inclusive leader and an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. She has an authentic commitment to diversity and an open mindset to listen without judgement. I am so proud and EXCITED for McKenzie to be honored publicly for her efforts and commitment in this space. You were named as the Top Diversity Officer in Sports. You are a champion for people and a champion for change. How excited were you to win this award and what does it mean to you personally?

O’Bannon: I am truly humbled and honored to be recognized by the Sports Inclusion Conference committee. It validates my passion, gives me energy to keep moving the DEIB needle forward.

Sharing in this space with my colleagues around the NBA and other professional sports teams allows us to bring communities together. I wouldn’t be receiving this award if it wasn’t for Cynt, Tarsha LaCour and our Mavs family trusting me in this space and everyone’s willingness to put in the work.  It’s important to me that our employees are able to thrive and we are creating a culture where they feel included and can bring their authentic self to work.

Our workplace promise: Every voice matters, everybody belongs.


Award: 2021 Top Diversity Officer in Sports

The DEI Champions Award honors professionals who are passionate about creating an impact in the field of diversity and inclusion. Diversity champions continue to put DiversityFIRST through visionary leadership and commitment to fostering change for ages to come. Nominees should be leading advocates for cultural competency and awareness in medicine, as it pertains to an inclusive community. spoke with Watts about her desire to impact the culture at the Mavericks and passion for community outreach. The Mavericks earned three awards this year. What are you most proud of when you reflect back on the Mavs’ culture change and desire to make a sustainable impact in the DEI space?

Watts: These awards are really reflections of our entire staff and the Mavs as a whole. We have put in some hard work over the past few years to make the Dallas Mavericks a great place to work. We want everyone to be proud of where they work and feel like they can bring their authentic self to work every day. We want to set the standard for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. We are setting the bar for not only other sports teams but all workplaces. One of the things I am proud of would be the growth of our employee resources groups. These groups are great spaces for employees to have their voices heard, make changes and suggestions to company policies and have opportunities to be in leadership roles for groups they are passionate about. You received the DEI Champion Award. How excited were you to win this award and what does it mean to you personally?

Watts: I was ecstatic and proud about my nomination for this award! The DEI space is ever changing and you can never learn enough about it. I have spent a great deal of time participating in conferences, training, certifications and learning from colleagues, so receiving this award was a great reminder that I am putting in the work and I am making change not only for the Dallas Mavericks but for my community as well. I am so lucky to have tremendous leaders to look up to and learn from in Gail O’Bannon and Cynt Marshall who are the definitions of DEI Champions. For those that don’t know your story, where does your passion come from and what motivates you to put diversity and inclusion at the forefront of your career?

Watts: I love being involved in different activities and groups within the organization. I’m a social butterfly. I love socializing with my Mavs family and when we were working in the office, you would see me making my rounds and trying not to distract my co-workers.. But, more importantly, I want everyone to feel welcome, included, belonging and happy to be at work! Once we launched our employee resource groups, I jumped at the opportunity to join them all!

I also became co-chair for our Pride Parade committee where the Dallas Mavericks became the first sports team in the DFW area to walk in the Dallas Pride Parade! Thanks to Gail and Cynt, they recognized my passion for DEI before I really did! Gail sat me down, encouraged me to apply for the Diversity and Inclusion Manager role and I realized I was already doing a lot of this work and how fulfilling of a job it could be for me. It took me about a year to think about getting into the DEI realm and once I did, I realized how passionate I truly was when it came to diversity, equity and inclusion and how the Mavs could be one of the most diverse and inclusive places to work, as well as getting more involved in the DFW community. Being able to make changes not only in your workplace, but in your community as well, is very rewarding and an effort that is never ending.

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