Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, citing the NBA as a model for uniting a cross-section of people and cultures, says he wants to use his position as the league's first Hispanic head coach "to be an inspiration for young men and women, to show you can be anything you want to be."
Borrego, hired by the Hornets in May to replace the fired Steve Clifford, said in an essay he wrote for Sports Illustrated that he was long motivated by the disappointments of early-career dead ends but that the pride he feels in his ancestry, background and upbringing has driven much of his success.
"It doesn't matter where you're from, how you were brought up, the color of your skin," Borrego, who is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote in the 652-word essay. "That's the lens I look at this through."
Borrego joined the Hornets on a four-year contract with Charlotte holding a team option on the fourth year, league sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski after the coach's hiring.
The Hornets were sold on Borrego's strong credentials as one of Gregg Popovich's longtime assistants with the San Antonio Spurs, including his abilities in player development, devising game plans on the offensive and defensive ends, and building relationships with players.
"I'd been disappointed a couple times before. Not getting the Orlando job, getting close on the Houston job, getting close on the Memphis job," Borrego wrote in the essay. "All that disappointment really fueled me. Until the moment happens, until you hear the words, 'You're our guy,' it's just not real."
Borrego said in his introductory news conference that it was up to him to develop the players on the Hornets roster, including Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, who saw limited playing time last season as rookies. Borrego also pointed toward getting more out of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the No. 2 pick in 2012, and Frank Kaminsky, also a first-round draft pick.
Borrego will also have the leadership of former veteran Spurs guard and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker, who signed with the Hornets as a free agent in July.
"I really don't think about myself as the league's first Hispanic coach," Borrego wrote. "As I climbed the coaching ranks, my focus was always just on getting better. I never thought about my heritage, my last name or where I'm from. I've never really sat back to think about how this all happened. I'm proud, but I don't want to be satisfied with where I am now. I want to be a valuable part of the community in Charlotte. I want to lead this group. And most of all, I want to win games."
And Borrego knows what it's like to win. The 40-year-old spent 15 seasons as an assistant coach in the NBA, including 10 with the Spurs working under Popovich, a stop where he won two NBA championships and went to four Western Conference finals. Borrego has been a part of staffs that have led teams to the playoffs 11 times with stints in San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando.
"Our game has become such a global game," Borrego said in the essay. "There's nothing like sports to unite people. Nations look to the NBA as an example. We're a league with a voice, leading the charge on inclusion and diversity. I'm an example of the NBA opening up to more people. I'm proud to be a part of that."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.