By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Widely considered the most progressive men's sports league in North America, the NBA has its sights on the possibility of hiring a female head coach – a move that would cement its position as a leader in sporting diversity.
While it is impossible to determine a timeline for when a woman may hold an NBA head coaching position it appears to be closer than ever now that they are a bigger part of the league.
"We are right there. We are right there," Liliahn Majeed, the National Basketball Association's (NBA) vice president of diversity and inclusion, told Reuters. "None of us can tell the future but I believe that we're close. I have to believe it."
Four women are currently on NBA coaching staffs, including Becky Hammon, who broke convention in 2014 when the San Antonio Spurs made her the first full-time, female assistant in any of the four major North American pro sports leagues.
In addition to the coaching roles, there are 18 women in NBA front-office positions, two in "high level" league office basketball operations roles, three serving as referees and dozens in athletic training positions.
"We love to say that we are the tallest short man," said Majeed, who is responsible for providing best practices and leadership on inclusion to the league's offices and 30 teams.
"We by no means believe that our work is done and our main objective is to see women in higher percentages across the league and equal representatives at all levels."
Majeed, who last month joined The Female Quotient for its 'Equality Lounge' at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte where she moderated a panel called "Shooting for Greatness", said the league has identified strategies to address representation gaps.
Majeed said the strategies are designed to build what she called an inclusion instinct, or rather a state where being inclusive is second nature and not something that someone has to think about.
'BETTER FOR THE LEAGUE'
Majeed said the NBA is making deep connections with what she described as high-caliber, experienced women, and reinforcing across the league the importance of growing the number of women at every level and retaining that talent.
"We are very much focused on that at the league level and our teams are extremely focused on that as well," said Majeed.
"We are not having separate conversations. When we go in to spend time with teams our general managers are sitting in there as well as our presidents of operations."
When Hammon, a decorated former WNBA player, interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks' head coaching job last year it was the biggest sign yet as to how close the league could be to having a female head coach.
Still, when news surfaced that the Bucks were interested in Hammon there was push back online as some onlookers questioned the capability of a female head coach in the NBA.
Pau Gasol, a six-time NBA All-Star who played under Hammon in San Antonio, penned an open letter https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/pau-gasol-becky-hammon last year for The Players' Tribune about female coaches and said it would only be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.
Even commissioner Adam Silver, who last September sent a memo encouraging NBA team owners to increase the number of women at all levels, has said on numerous occasions that he hopes to see a woman ascend to the helm of one of the league's teams.
Majeed, who played a lead role in organizing the NBA's inaugural Women's Leadership Forum held last September in New York, stressed that as with any transformative effort, change requires awareness and commitment. She remains certain the time is right for a woman to become an NBA head coach.
"I absolutely believe the NBA, the world and North American sport is ready for a female GM and head coach," said Majeed.
"Being open to a diverse pool of candidates with varying perspectives, experience and background is better for the league and our game."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)