Black NBA Players are Doing Black Coaches and Executives a Disservice

As I usually do with pieces like this, before I get into the meat of the matter let me clear something up right now. Since I know some colonizer is going to look at this and say, “SEE!!! I told you it wasn’t our fault they can’t get jobs.” Let me stop you in your white ass tracks. It is absolutely, unequivocally, 100% white people’s fault Black people aren’t getting head coaching jobs and front office positions in the NBA. Systemic racism and unfair hiring practices are the exact reason Black players need to advocate for their counterparts to get more equitable treatment. If they would just hire the best person for the job instead of intentionally being exclusionary then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Now that I’ve robbed white people of the opportunity to absolve themselves from any wrongdoing and accountability (this has brought me great joy by the way), let’s talk about what we came here to talk about.

It’s obvious the NBA has an issue with getting Black faces in leadership positions. And when they do decide to hire a minority in one of these coveted roles, it’s usually in a less than desirable situation. This can definitely be solved rather easily by people being ya know, not racist but I have about 400 years of evidence as to why that’s not going to happen. What could help move the needle in this regard is if the league’s most valuable commodities demanded it. Should the Black players have to extend themselves to make sure the guys who look like them get a fair shake? Absolutely not. But we can’t be oblivious to the world we’re living in. And if we’re going to laud these guys as champions of social reform and continue to bang the player empowerment drum, then at some point we should expect them to use their powers for good. Just like guys stroll into the front office with roster demands, they can use that same leverage to say, “I want *insert deserving Black head coach candidate who has yet to get an opportunity here* to lead this team.” Sending out a tweet about it just isn’t going to cut it. Speaking out is cool and all but when you’re in a position to directly affect the issue that you’re speaking on then action should follow. With great power comes great responsibility. And by no means am I saying this should be in the job description, but if we’re being honest the players put themselves in this space. If you’re going to be vocal about worldly issues, the least you can do is address the inequalities that are happening in your own league.

There are two recent incidents that inspired this post: Lloyd Pierce’s departure from the Atlanta Hawks last season and James Harden forcing his way out of Houston. Frankly, both of these situations rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s start with Lloyd Pierce. Not sure what the issue was here but whatever it was, it was serious enough for the players to sneak up the back steps to upper management and complain enough to get Pierce removed. If you’re thinking “What does this have to do with the topic?” then let me explain. If you think Kevin Huerter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari yield enough influence within the organization to force a move like this then I have some magic beans and an enchanted talking donkey for sale. Interested? But seriously no matter what the issue is, you don’t backdoor your coach like that. And this is what I mean by Black players not protecting these guys. If there is a disconnect between the coach and the players that is impacting winning then by all means make a change. But a couple of things about this, starting with the obvious. These opportunities don’t come around often for Black coaches. Second, the way you leave an organization can impact your potential future employment. Their success after Nate McMillan took over didn’t help his case either. Here’s where I have the biggest problem, they didn’t magically learn how to play winning basketball after Lloyd Pierce was fired. So you don’t give your full effort because you have an attitude then you organize a mutiny? No bueno. Now I have no issue with wanting to make a coaching change. But if you’re going to throw the dude out the plane at least pretty up the parachute. He’s already got a strike against him being Black. Now owners and GMs can rely on the “Well he doesn’t get along with players” trope as means to never give him another opportunity. Like I said before, the responsibility to ensure minority coaches are treated fairly does not rest on the shoulders of the players. But if these players are indeed the most outspoken and socially aware generation of NBA players people have proclaimed them to be (news flash-they most definitely are not but still…..) then they should take these things into account when handling their business. On the flip side, if they just came out and said “Aye man, I don’t care about improving this situation. I’m just here to hoop.” then those are the parameters then I’d expect them to operate under.

Now this Harden debacle. He wants out of Houston. No problem. But again, there’s a way to do things. The way he plotted his exit was unprofessional at best and selfish, entitled, spoiled brat behavior at worst. Getting fat, showing up to camp out of shape and pouting your way out of town is bad enough. But you know what makes it even worse, doing it when the team hires a Black first-time head coach. The least you can do is express your concerns to play elsewhere and handle your departure like a grown man. Leaving a young team with a first-time coach in complete disarray and dysfunction is scumbag behavior if I’m just keeping it real. And what kind of position does that leave Stephen Silas in? Luckily for him, he’s got some young guys who want to hoop. I’m sure they will eventually figure it out. But goddamn if he didn’t get started behind the 8 ball due, in part, to Harden’s foolishness. Was it too much to expect for Harden to say, “Hey, I don’t want to be here any more. But I will make this transition as seamless as possible.” Personally speaking, I think that’s a much better option than wreaking havoc on the locker room and leaving a dumpster fire behind. Sabotaging a coach like that is bush league. Sabotaging a Black coach like that is damn near traitorous. So if Silas can’t right the ship in two years he gets fired and this “stain” on his resume is weaponized against him for the rest of his career. Harden certainly wasn’t obligated to protect Silas but it would have been nice if he did.

If we are going to continue to push the narrative that NBA players, and athletes in general, are using their platforms more than ever to invoke change then we should actually hold them accountable to that praise. But if I can be on my “old man yelling at clouds” for a minute, that narrative is completely false. And honestly, I find it disrespectful to the previous generations of NBA players that sacrificed and fought to make the league better for the guys that followed them. Guys like Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor literally reshaped the league with a temporary boycott ahead of the 1964 All Star Game. The player’s pension was birthed out of this act of defiance, each team was assigned an athletic trainer and modifications to the schedule were made to help them perform at their highest level and take care of their bodies. If y’all want to compare being able to create superteams to those types of monumental changes then be my guest. The man who is responsible for players being able to enter the draft early has been reduced to the guy who didn’t get in on the ground floor with Nike before they struck it big (SN: based on how this is discussed, I’m sure folks don’t know the dynamics of the situation but that’s a discussion for another day). Spencer Haywood beat the NBA in court for his right to earn a living. Every underclassman and high schooler who was able to enter the league owes him a debt of gratitude. And if we’re being honest, he was the catalyst to the success of Nike Basketball. Of course we all know that Michael Jordan catapulted the brand to unforeseen heights, but Haywood was the first NBA player Phil Knight chose to represent the swoosh on the hardwood.

If we are going to keep heralding these new guys as agents of change then we need to see some results. Plain and simple. Tweeting isn’t going to cut it. And I’m not even into telling people what to do. If dudes are just here to play basketball then I have no problem with that. But what we’re not gonna do is tweet “Donald Trump is a bum” but go radio silent on issues at your workplace and act like you’re Martin Luther King, Jr. in a basketball jersey. Use those voices man. Things need to be addressed. Troy Weaver has long been acknowledged as one of the best front office executives in the league. It could be a coincidence that when he gets a promotion he ends up with one of the worst franchises. I’m fairly certain more desirable jobs had presented themselves. Now if he genuinely wanted that job, conversation over. But if he didn’t, it would have been nice to see someone go to bat for him. Dwayne Casey fired after winning coach of the year. Cause some ruckus. Masai Ujiri was harassed on the court after the Raptors won the championship. Although this wasn’t a league issue per se, if these guys are the freedom fighters people are labeling them to be then noise should have been made.

Here’s another thing to think about in regards to this topic, any impact the players are able to have on the league now will benefit them in the future. A lot of players go into coaching, scouting, operations, etc. once they hang up their sneakers. Why would they want to walk into the same combative environment that they are currently witnessing? And when they feel like they’re not getting a fair shake, I’m sure they would want people advocating for them. Lead by example now so people will know how to help you later on. All the benefits that players enjoy today are the result of the sacrifices that were made by those who came before them. The goal should be to leave the league in a better place than you found it. That involves taking some risks. Might even involve losing some money. These are not decisions that are easy to make. If dudes want to just come in, do their job and go home, that’s cool. But man would it be a beautiful sight to see these guys putting pressure on these suits for something other than forcing their way to the team of their choice. But before we get out of here let’s not forget, white people this is still your fault.

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