Not only does NBA commissioner Adam Silver “definitely” think his league will feature a female head coach someday — a concept New York sports talk radio host Mike Francesa and other like-minded regressive folks find “impossible” — he would like to “ensure that it happens sooner rather than later.”
As part of the NBA’s partnership with LeanIn.org to promote gender equality, Silver spoke with ESPN.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk candidly about the future of women in the league. In addition to taking steps toward increasing the number of females “in the pipeline” for both coaching and officiating jobs, the commissioner didn’t mince words when asked about the potential of a woman head coach.
“There definitely will,” Silver told ESPN.com. “And I think it is on me to sort of ensure that it happens sooner rather than later.”
Now, there will be those who might counter Silver’s statement with something like, Well, how can you “ensure” there will be a female head coach? Shouldn’t the job just go to the best possible candidate? That would be a fine sentiment in a world where women were given equal opportunity to land such a role, but the landscape of coaching men’s professional sports hasn’t historically been such a place, and the NBA is an arena in which Kurt Rambis gets three kicks at the can while others get none.
What Silver seems to be saying is that he’d like the NBA to be an environment where it’s possible.
“It is just a question of insuring that we have more women in the pipeline, that is one of the critically important issues,” the commissioner added in his interview with ESPN.com. “In the old days, almost virtually all of our head coaches were former NBA players and that’s obviously no longer the case now. That used to be another barrier to entry.”
More than half the NBA’s current crop of head coaches never played in the NBA, and the league’s coaching staffs are littered with dozens more brilliant basketball minds with absolutely no NBA playing experience. Two of them are assistant coaches Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman.
Hammon is a WNBA legend who became the NBA’s first paid female assistant when she joined Gregg Popovich’s staff on the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, and she led the team to a Summer League championship a year later. She recently turned down an offer from the University of Florida to become head women’s basketball coach, in part “because she has been determined to stay on course to become the NBA’s first female head coach.” Lieberman is a former WNBA player and coach who joined the Sacramento Kings staff after a successful stint as head coach of the D-League’s Texas Legends.
Two others “in the pipeline” are L.A. Clippers assistant video coordinator Natalie Nakase, who, like Hammon, has dreams of breaking the NBA’s female coaching barrier, and Nicki Gross, who followed Stephanie Ready and Lieberman as the D-League’s lone female coach when she joined the Iowa Energy as an assistant in July 2015. She’s now an assistant for the Toronto Raptors’ D-League affiliate.
The possibility is there for a woman to one day take over the reins of an NBA bench, but the more females who are featured on staffs around the league, the greater the opportunity for advancement.
So, there is more to be done. “I do think there are things that the league can and should be doing to accelerate the move toward a woman being a head coach in the league,” Silver told ESPN.com. What the steps are remain to be seen. The commissioner suggested the NBA will look to increase the pool of officials from which the league recruits to include an equal number of men and women, and he could certainly take a similar tack with coaches. Likewise, Silver noted that training sessions designed to help teams facilitate the careers of coaches and front office personnel should be rooted in equality.
These seem like natural steps to take in an effort to create equal opportunity, and yet there are those, like Francesa, who still believe a female head coach in a men’s league “is not even something that would make sense to aspire to,” and, “do you know how difficult it would be on a female to manage 25 men? Or 50 men? Do you know how impossible it would be? It wouldn’t be tough; it’d be impossible!”
Mike Francesa with an unfathomable display of sexism. Women shouldn't be anywhere near men's sports!
(Except for cheerleaders, presumably.) pic.twitter.com/2n2plZMLIF
— Sports Funhouse (@SportsFunhouse) March 2, 2017
Credit to Silver, who recognizes the physical differences between men and women necessitate an NBA and WNBA for equal playing time — but those differences have no bearing on becoming an NBA coach.
“When it comes to coaching, when there is absolutely no physical requirement, when it is not a function of how high you can jump or how strong you are, there is no physical litmus test to being a head coach in the league, there is absolutely no reason why a woman will not ascend to be a head coach in this league,” Silver told ESPN. “We are very focused in on it.”
But full credit doesn’t come until the NBA realizes that focus with its first female head coach.
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