ORLANDO, Fla. -- A new study shows that 43 percent of the professional positions in the NBA's league offices are held by women, giving the league its highest grade for gender.
The report issued Wednesday by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport showed an increase of 2 percent of women from last year in the league office. That's higher than any other men's pro league in any previous study. The annual study was first issued in 1998.
The highest marks came with 31 women in vice presidential positions during the 2008-09 season, an increase of eight from a year ago.
The NBA slipped slightly from its highest grade for race (96.2 to 94.9), although it again received men's pro sports' only A for a combined grade for race and gender.
Richard Lapchick, the director of the university's study, said the league has led on the diversity issue in large part because NBA commissioner David Stern has made race and gender a major priority since he entered office in 1984.
"On the issue of hiring women, the NBA has far surpassed the other major professional men's leagues," Lapchick said.
The study conducted an analysis of racial breakdowns from information provided by the NBA and its teams at the start of the season.
"The NBA has had a long commitment of hiring the best possible people available," league spokesman Brian McIntyre said.
Dave Czesniuk, the director of Northeastern University's Sport in Society program, said the NBA has continued to show an upward trend of diversity and gender at a rate that is unmatched among the other leagues.
"The NBA has really made diversity a concerted effort and probably something more professional leagues need to do," Czesniuk said.
The NBA had seven blacks in general manager-type positions last season but only three this year -- Charlotte's Rod Higgins, Detroit's Joe Dumars and Orlando's Otis Smith. That's the lowest percentage in more than 15 years, according to the study.
The NBA had seven black top executives among its 30 teams during the 2007-08 season, the highest percentage of minority presidents and CEOs in men's professional sports history.
There were one Asian and 11 black head coaches at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. At 40 percent, that continues to be the highest percentage of minority head coaches in pro sports.
While some coaches were fired, Lapchick said that's merely "a blip" and "always evens out" to start the next season.
The 59 black coaches in the history of the NBA are more than twice as many than any other men's pro sport, according to the study. Major League Baseball is second with 28 black managers in its history.
Almost 82 percent of the NBA players were black, increasing on last year's 80 percent. This is the highest percentage since the 1994-95 season.
Professional opportunities for blacks in the NBA league offices -- at 35 percent -- increased from 34 percent a year ago. That's the highest percentage in the league's history and the highest in the history of any professional sport.
At the end of the regular season, 56 percent of the NBA referees were white, 39 percent black and five percent Latino. Violet Palmer is the lone female ref out of 61.