NBA receives an A for racial and gender hiring practices

USA Today Sports

Editor's note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality, expert on sports issues, scholar and author.

When I started publishing the Racial and Gender Report Cards in 1988, the NBA was the best professional sports league for hiring women and people of color by a significant margin. Thirty-five years later, it is still the best among men's pro leagues and trails slightly behind the WNBA, which had its inaugural season in 1997. In the latest NBA Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC), released Tuesday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida (UCF), the NBA received an A-plus for racial hiring practices and a B-plus for gender hiring practices. The NBA earned a combined grade of an A.

The NBA received an A-plus for racial hiring practices with a score of 96.5 points (down slightly from 97.0 in 2022) and a B-plus for gender hiring practices with 86.8 points (up from 86.0 in 2022). The NBA showed increases in most categories solidifying its position as an example for the other men's leagues. The overall grade was an A with 91.6 representing a slight decrease from 91.8 points in the 2022 NBA report card.

Our team at TIDES analyzed 2023 season data provided in aggregate by the NBA league office.

"Commissioner Adam Silver has been a dear friend and tremendous supporter over the years. We have enjoyed working with him and joining forces with the NBA to foster diversity, opportunity, community engagement, and social impact," The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and long-time leader of Rainbow/PUSH, said after reviewing the report card. "They have been very intentional about improving conditions throughout the league in their hiring practices, ownership, management and coaching ranks. As Dr. Lapchick's report confirms, the NBA has led the way, set the standard, and they continue to do a stellar job which is to be commended. I look forward to continuing to be both a fan and a partner with the league moving forward."

Jackson, who is retiring as president of Rainbow PUSH, said the organization's sports director, Joseph Bryant, would continue to lead collaborations around education, technology, the business of sports and career development programs, especially among at-risk students and HBCU's, to help prepare the next generation to be successful.

In the 2022-23 season, there were 16 head coaches of color, the same as the NBA's all-time high of 16 in the 2011-12 season. People of color represented 53.3% of all NBA head coaches. African Americans represented 50% and Asians represented 3.3%. There were 13 general managers of color, one more than in the previous year.

The NBA has consistently led men's professional sports leagues when it comes to diverse and inclusive hiring. The league's progressive commitment to diversity and inclusion and social justice advocacy is well established and has significantly narrowed the disparities in hiring practices.

There was once again a positive trend for women at the team level and the league office. The NBA league office reached its highest percentage of women in professional staff roles in more than a decade, with 43.3%. Team vice president and team senior management reached 30.0% and 39.3%, respectively.

Danette Leighton, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, noted the NBA made positive strides toward equity in coaching, front offices and beyond. She said she hoped the league's progress would encourage all teams, leagues and institutions to examine their hiring practices and to strive for a future where leadership reflects the diversity of this country and those playing the game.

The NBA started an NBA HBCU Fellowship program, which is in its second year, providing career development opportunities in the business of basketball for undergraduate and graduate students from HBCUs. After a rigorous application process, 74 fellows representing 29 HBCUs will work with NBA teams and the league office for a 10-week period over the summer. For the first time, all 30 NBA teams are participating in the program. Since its inaugural cohort, 13 fellowship alumni have secured full-time employment or seasonal opportunities within the league.

In the 2022-23 season, 82.5% of players were people of color, a slight decrease of 0.1 percentage points; 70.4% of all NBA players were African American (a decrease of 1.5 percentage points). The percentage of white NBA players was 17.5%, a slight increase of 0.1 percentage point.

In addition to the milestone hires for head coaches and general managers, the percentage of people of color in team C-suite positions was 30.0% in 2022-23, significantly up from 26.7% last year. The percentage of people of color in team vice president positions slightly improved to 26.6%, up from 26.1% in 2021-22. In the team senior management category, the percentage of people of color increased from 32.5% to 34.6% and remained the same in the team professional staff category at 45.7%.

Some highlights from the report include:

• In June 2023, the NBA G League Stockton Kings named Lindsey Harding as their head coach and Anjali Ranadivé as the team's general manager. It's the first time in NBA G League history that two women will lead a team.

• In January 2023, the NBA hired Sabrina Ellis (chief people officer) and Lesley Slaton Brown (chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer) to senior leadership positions.

• The NBA continues to make significant gender initiatives. An example is NBA ASCEND (Access, Support, Coaching, Exposure, Networking and Development) which is a formalized sponsorship program launched in partnership with Korn Ferry. NBA ASCEND matches talented women across the organization with executive sponsors. The initiative, which targets senior women with a focus on women of color, is designed to cultivate a culture of sponsorship across the NBA that will benefit not only the program participants, but underrepresented talent across the organization more broadly.

• There were six women who were assistant coaches in 2022-23, a decrease from seven last year. Nonetheless, it was the fourth highest number in league history. These women included Jenny Boucek (Indiana), Brittni Donaldson (Atlanta), Lindsey Harding (Sacramento), Sonia Raman (Memphis), Krista Toliver (Dallas) and Teresa Weatherspoon (New Orleans).

• The NBA continued to have two women who serve as presidents in its league office. Kathy Behrens is president of Social Responsibility and Player Programs. Amy Brooks is the president of team marketing and business operations and is the chief innovation officer. No other league has two women serving in the league office as presidents.

• Mark Tatum is the NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer. When he was appointed in 2014, he became the highest ranked African American in the league office of any of the major American professional sports. Byron Spruell is the president of NBA League Operations. Shareef Abdur-Rahim is the president of the NBA G League. Amadou Gallo Fall is the president of the Basketball Africa League. No other league has four people of color serving in the league office as presidents.

• At the NBA league office, 44.0% of professional staff positions were held by people of color, an increase of 0.3 percentage points from 43.7% recorded at the end of the 2021-22 regular season. This marked the highest ever percentage of people of color in these positions for the fourth consecutive year.

• Women held 43.34% of all professional positions in the NBA league office, a slight decrease from last year's 43.4%, which was the highest percentage since the 2009-10 report card.

• For the second consecutive year, three NBA teams had a woman as the majority team governor: the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers. Also, for the second consecutive year, four NBA teams had a person of color as the majority team governor: the Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.

• There were five Black chief executive officers and/or presidents for NBA teams: Fred Whitfield (Charlotte), Koby Altman (Cleveland), Cynthia Marshall (Dallas), James Jones (Phoenix) and Masai Ujiri (Toronto).

• Seven women held the role of either president or CEO for NBA franchises: Matina Kolokotronis (Sacramento), Jeanie Buss (Los Angeles Lakers), Gillian Zucker (LA Clippers), and Cynthia Marshall (Dallas), Mel Raines (Indiana), and Gretchen Sheirr (Houston), and Cynthia Devine (Toronto).

• Women held 30.0% of team vice president positions and 30.7% of team C-suite positions at the beginning of the 2022-23 season.

• People of color held 26.6% of team vice president positions and 29.9% of team C-suite positions at the beginning of the 2022-23 season.

• There was an increase for people of color and a decrease for women at the team level in professional staff positions. For the second consecutive year, during the 2022-23 season, people of color held 45.7% of team professional staff positions for NBA teams. The percentage of women holding team professional staff positions decreased by 0.5 percentage points, from 34.2% in 2021-22 to 33.7% in 2022-23.

• As of May 1, 2023, 55.8% of NBA referees were people of color, a 1.9 percentage point decrease from the previous report, with 57.7%.

• Women comprised 26.8% of referees, an increase of 7.8 percentage points from the 2021-22 season. Today, the NBA has a total of 40 women referees -- more than their all-time high of 36 in the 2020-21 season. It should be noted that as recently as the 2016-17 season, women represented only 1.6% of all NBA referees.

"Leading on any issue requires dogged determination and focus on the goal. It is clear from the 2023 RGRC that the NBA is the leader among men's professional sports when it comes to commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging," said Jeff O'Brien, CEO of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. "They provide a true north direction for how to foster diverse and inclusive workplaces. They are attracting the best and brightest because of their practiced values. I hope other leagues look to the NBA's example."

I believe the NBA will continue to lead men's leagues in expanding inclusive hiring practices that have consistently made the league the model for diversity in men's professional sports.

Richard E. Lapchick recently retired as director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. He 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.