NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN he believes there will be a female head coach in his league, and he wants it to happen "sooner rather than later."
"There definitely will," Silver said when asked about a woman becoming an NBA head coach. "And I think it is on me to sort of ensure that it happens sooner rather than later."
In an interview promoting the NBA and Leanin.org's launch of a gender equality public awareness campaign Tuesday, Silver also said there will be more women officiating in the NBA as early as next season. The NBA recently announced some new initiatives to improve officiating, including the expanding of its officiating roster by 25 percent over the next three seasons.
Lauren Holtkamp currently is the only woman officiating in the NBA, following Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner. Silver would like to see the NBA add more women and even an international referee.
"It would be my goal as we look to increase that pool of officials that we recruit equally from pools of potential women as we do from men. ... We will be looking very hard at dramatically increasing the representation of women in our officiating ranks," Silver said.
"I would make all the same points in terms of being a head coach in the NBA that there is no physical reason why women can't officiate in the NBA. I think it is more a function of the fact that they haven't been in the pipeline to become NBA officials."
Silver disputed recent comments made by WFAN radio host Mike Francesa, who sparked controversy when he stated that a woman has no shot at being a head coach of a pro men's team.
"First of all, let me say that I disagree that there will not be a woman head coach in the NBA," Silver said. "It is hard to say exactly when [it will happen]. There are three women currently in the pipeline, and I think like we have seen in all other aspects of life, while there are certain cases for example, the athletes that participate in the NBA, there are obvious physical differences between men and women and those differences are why we have a men's league and a women's league.
"But on the other hand 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. We are very focused in on it."
San Antonio's Becky Hammon and Sacramento's Nancy Lieberman are currently assistant coaches in the NBA. Natalie Nakase also serves as the Clippers' assistant video coordinator with aspirations of becoming an NBA head coach.
Hammon turned down an offer to become the head coach of the University of Florida women's basketball team, sources confirmed to ESPN's Michael C. Wright. The decision by Hammon to continue to focus on becoming the first female head coach in the NBA was first reported by SB Nation's Swish Appeal.
"It is just a question of ensuring that we have more women in the pipeline, that is one of the critically important issues," Silver said. "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.
"Long before people asked about women being head coaches, people said would it be possible for someone who hadn't played in the NBA to be a head coach. Of course we are seeing that, so we have broken another barrier there. 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 pointed out that league training programs for men and women geared toward grooming assistant coaches, referees and front office candidates will help.
Silver and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of Leanin.org, have teamed up for a third year to promote the crucial role that men play in helping achieve gender equality. This year, Toronto's Kyle Lowry, Phoenix's Devin Booker and New Orleans' Jrue Holiday shared their stories about the importance of gender equality from parent, husband and brother standpoints in the latest #LeanInTogether campaign.
"I think it's never been a more important time for equality because in many ways we are stuck," Sandberg said. "When I published 'Lean In' four years ago, there were 19 women running countries. Today it is 11. Women have been basically at less than 6 percent of Fortune 500 jobs and their equivalent all over the world for 12 years ... we are flatlining."
"I think our aspirations are really for women to be in half the leadership roles and men to be doing half the work of parenting," Sandberg added. "That would be a better world and I think it has never been a more important time to hold onto that belief and know that it is only possible if we can believe that it can happen and work toward it happening."