The Shrinking Presence Of Black Head Coaches On NBA Sidelines

    The NBA has just six African-American coaches out of 30 teams and with three vacancies (Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic,) that number could increase this offseason. Four of those coaches of color currently have teams excelling in the 2018 NBA Playoffs. 

    Alvin Gentry and the New Orleans Pelicans have already advanced to the Western Conference semis by impressively sweeping the Portland Trailblazers off the map. 

    Alvin Gentry following series sweep of Blazers | Game 4 Pelicans vs. Blazers

    Alvin Gentry speaking with the media following the 131-123 New Orleans Pelicans win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Game 4 – April 21, 2018

    Tyronn Lue, the last African-American coach  to win an NBA championship, and LeBron James are working together to get past a tough Pacers team led by another African-American coach, former NBA guard Nate McMillan. Regardless of how each series pans out, when this one is over there will be one less Black coach in the playoffs.  

    James had another huge performance on Sunday night to help Cleveland knot the series at 2-2. Lue has been in this position before and has the experience and pedigree to get the job done. 

    President Barak Obama calls Tyronn Lue to congratulate him on 2016 NBA Championship

    Uploaded by Hoops Center on 2016-06-24.

    Dwane Casey led Toronto to the Eastern Conference top spot during the regular season. His Raptors are locked in a 2-2 brawl with John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards, but the Raptors are expected to pull through and advance. 

    In a league that is nearly 75 percent black, its still unacceptable that the head coaching ranks are comprised of just 20 percent African-Americans. The fact that four of those six coaches made the playoffs and are in a position to advance to the next round is indicative of the work these coaches can do when given an opportunity, and a more glaring example of the obvious inequities, racism, fundamental flaws and disparities in ownership and hiring at leadership positions within these pro corporations.  

    Speak For Yourself on Twitter

    There’s a cultural shift going on in the NBA as it relates to coaching and front offices that I think is creating a problem for black coaches.” – @WhitlockJason

    While coaches of color do the dirty work on the front line, white team execs and presidents pop champagne in the private suites and watch over their investments with an overseers posture, symbolizing the shortcomings the NBA still has with diversity at the leadership level.   

    Influence starts at the top and trickles down. Without a diverse brain trust influencing the highest levels of decision-making, certain groups of people can easily be eliminated from the process. The NBA has roughly 15 minority owners who own a very small percentage of franchises, including well known celebrities such as Will & Jada Smith (Philadelphia 76ers), Nelly (Charlotte Hornets) and TNT basketball analyst Grant Hill, who recently became a minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks.



    From 2001-2014, the NBA averaged 11 black head coaches per season, which was as diverse as the league has ever been. On opening night in 2012, half of the NBAs 30 head coaches were people of color, including 14 black coaches, an all-time high. 

    In 2015 there were a flurry of firings and a mass exodus that left the number of African-American coaches at seven. It was a 50 percent drop from three years prior and the lowest total in 16 years. 

    The league has never recovered. Three years later, despite an increased and obvious consciousness by the players in demanding a sensitivity to diversity and efforts by the league to show its willingness to diversify, there are even less Black head coaches. 

    This Raptors team may be the best squad that Toronto coach Dwane Casey has ever had in his nine-year coaching career. He has accumulated a 680-373 won-loss record with Minnesota and Toronto. He doesn’t think it’s intentional and has faith that the number will go back up.  

    If anything, I trust that the league is fair, said Casey in a 2015 Bleacher Report article. So I trust that this is probably going to be a blip on the radar, and youll see that number go back up again, hopefully in the next couple years.

    Eli on Twitter

    Four black coaches in the @NBA playoffs is not talked about enough

    Maybe Casey is right, but in the meantime you can’t help but root for the four coaches of color competing in these playoffs, hoping that their success will provide more faith in white GMs and owners to put an African-American in a position of leadership as a head coach for their organization.  

    JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.