"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair." -- Nelson Mandela
Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, has repeatedly shown a commitment to using the power of sport to effect change beyond the arena. He has demonstrated zero tolerance for racism and been committed to building a diverse and inclusive league for staff, players and fans alike.
His decisive action against former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014 provided the foundational precedent that allowed the Utah Jazz to permanently ban two fans from the stadium after subjecting the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook to racial and inappropriate comments this past season. Silver has been committed to having players express their opinions on important social issues. He created a culture in which Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade could freely express their opinions at The ESPYS in 2016, which ultimately set the stage for Kyle Korver's courageous stand on white privilege and racism in 2019. Silver's leadership has afforded players the unfettered opportunity to use their public status to give back and improve the communities that embrace them as a member of their family. James set a new standard for community engagement in 2018 when he opened his "I Promise" school that provides free tuition, free uniforms, free breakfast and lunch, free transportation and many other necessary benefits that allow families in underserved neighborhoods to send their children to school.
Wade retired this past season after an impressive 16-year professional basketball career. Aside from his championship rings, NBA Finals MVP award and Olympic gold medal, Wade humbly supported programs that promoted the education, health and social skills of children in at-risk situations, most through the Wade's World Foundation that he founded in 2003. He was also a large contributor with time and money in support of the disaster relief effort after the earthquake that leveled Haiti in 2010. He recently spoke at the commencement ceremonies for Stoneman Douglas High School. He is a prime example of how someone can use the power of sport to change the world, inspire our youth and create hope. The NBA has many Dwyane Wades making the world a better place.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released its annual National Basketball Association Racial and Gender Report Card. Despite slight decreases when compared to the 2018 report card, the NBA continues to be a leader in racial and gender hiring practices. The NBA again earned an A+ on the issue of racial hiring, a B for gender hiring practices, and an overall grade of an A in the 2019 report card.
The grades within the 2019 report card are representative of Silver's commitment to building the most diverse and inclusive environments among all of the professional sports leagues. The NBA continues to have the most owners of color and the most female majority owners when compared to the other professional sport leagues. Furthermore, the percentage of women serving as team chief executive officers/team presidents has increased three years in a row. In fact, the NBA has seven women serving in these leadership positions, more than all other professional sport leagues combined. The NBA has had the highest percentage of head coaches of color (33.3 percent) since 2014 and this has been trending upward over the past three years. Additionally, the NBA has three women serving as assistant coaches, the highest number in league history. A fourth was hired by the Cavs after the season.
The NBA league office continues to increase its racial and gender diversity with more than 37 percent people of color and more than 39 percent women. The latter was second only to Major League Soccer's 40.9 percent. The NBA and MLS have separated themselves from the other men's professional leagues in this category.
At the start of the 2018-2019 season, more than 33 percent of NBA teams had head coaches of color. Although the number of assistant head coaches of color decreased from the previous season, the total percentage is more than 42 percent. The NBA also saw the number of players of color increase from 80.7 percent to 81.9 percent this past season.
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse L Jackson told me, "I applaud commissioner Adam Silver's commitment to diversity and inclusion within the NBA. Mr. Silver has consistently shown great sensitivity to the players who produce on the court, while creating an atmosphere of fairness and equality that produces high levels of talent in coaching, management and leadership positions off the court. The NBA has proven that it is not a 'shut up and dribble' league, but reflects an attitude that depicts that we are always at our best when 'everyone can play' because when we all play 'everybody wins.' Dr. Lapchick's report card reflects the great example that the NBA has set, which should be viewed as a standard for all other leagues to 'keep hope alive' in sports."
In spite of the remarkable achievements in racial and gender hiring practices throughout the years, the NBA still has some work to do in a few key categories. Despite rating better than any other men's professional sports league, the NBA needs to increase its diversity among chief executive officers and presidents at the team level. The teams have only 10.7 percent people of color and 12.5 percent women in these positions. Probably the most disappointing fact in this report card is that the overall gender grade has decreased slightly for the fourth consecutive year.
"Diversity, inclusion and equality are central to every aspect of our game and our business," said Oris Stuart, the NBA's chief diversity and inclusion officer. "We're thrilled with the strides made at both the league and team levels this year, but as our commissioner has said, we have more work to do, and we are committed to driving further progress in all of these areas."
Delise O'Meally, executive director of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, drew a picture of the obstacles women have faced: "In many ways, sports continues to be one of the final frontiers where women are excluded from opportunities, not because of lack of interest or ability, but simply because they are women. Decades ago, there were many professions where it was perceived that women could not be successful, and therefore were not given the opportunity. We've cracked the glass ceiling in many formerly male-dominated fields. Women are present in growing numbers, at the highest levels of government, business and other industry, but somehow in sport a steel door has remained closed, and this myth that women cannot, or should not, coach or officiate in boys' and men's sports persists."
Based upon Adam Silver's recent commitment toward an admirable goal of having 50 percent of the NBA officials and coaches be female, I am confident that the NBA will continue to be a beacon for the other professional leagues to follow for years to come. He clearly understands the challenges this goal presents, but there is enough trust among the stakeholders that this goal will be met in the right manner and for the right reasons.
I hope that the other professional sports leagues will follow suit with Silver's vision. Imagine the possibilities if all of the professional sport leagues could collaborate on how to give women the confidence that they will be welcomed as coaches or referees in a men's sport. Imagine the impact this could have across the world in positions where women have been overtly and subtly excluded from realizing their dreams and aspirations. Imagine a young girl being inspired by seeing women coaching a men's team. Imagine the power of sport. Adam Silver and the NBA do.
Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education who now leads the Knight Commission, observed: "At a time when any commitment to diversity and inclusion is under attack at the federal level, it is more important than ever that others provide moral leadership. Professional sports teams have a unique obligation -- and opportunity -- to lead by example, and to demonstrate both to our country and the world what is possible."
Daniel Martin and David Zimmerman contributed to this column.
Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.