Tagged: David Stern

NBA Teams Airball When It Comes to Promoting Women

(This is part one in a special 5-part series by sports analyst David J. Leonard on the NBA’s abysmal performance when it comes to gender equity.)

The NBA is often praised for its diversity, celebrated as some model of how sports should handle race.  While researching and writing After Artest I spent ample analyzing the widespread celebration of the NBA in this regard.  The NBA is presumably the gold standard when it comes to the hiring and advancement of racial minorities in front office and head-coaching positions.  However, when we swap gender for race, the NBA’s AAA Diversity rating is significantly downgraded.

This past summer, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at of University of Central Florida released its report on the NBA.   While providing ample data, the conclusion/summary was as follows:

The NBA had an A+ for race and an A- for gender for a combined A.

Based on the total points used in these weighted scales, the NBA earned its highest grade combined grade ever at 92.2, up from its previous high of 91.5 in 2010. The NBA grade for race was 95.3, which was up significantly from the 2010 Report when it was 93.8. The combined total and the total for race were both higher than for any other men’s sport in the history of the Racial and Gender Report Card. The NBA again received men’s pro sports’ only A for a combined grade for race and gender. As has often been the case since TIDES began issuing its annual report there were countless headlines praising the NBA’s Diversity Efforts, such as “NBA remains leader in sports diversity” and “NBA gets an ‘A’ for Diversity.”  Yet, as we look at the report and beyond, it is hard to imagine how the NBA can get an “A-” for gender, much less an overall A.

For gender, the NBA earned an A in the league office and an A- for professional administrators. It received a C for team senior administration and an F for team vice presidents.  At best, this is a B average, but a closer look reveals how troubling the NBA’s approach to gender has become.

  • Of the 60 NBA Referees, there was 1 woman (or .02 percent)
  • Women made up 3-percent of Radio/TV Broadcasters
  • Of the 320 Team Vice Presidents, only 48 were women (15%)
  • Women held 27% of team senior administrative jobs (an all-time high)

TIDES depends on close cooperation of league offices to produce its report so there are myriad reasons why it would be in their best interest to accentuate the positives about the NBA.  The league however has been far less complimentary regarding these continued inquiries into their diversity practices.  In a recent article by the New York Times’ Harvey Araton NBA commissioner David Stern is quoted as saying:

“I recognize the presumption that an organization that is not diverse has a job to do. But once you reach a certain critical distribution, the counting should stop.”

Even though the NBA received the highest gender grade of the four major sports, Stern was still overly sensitive regarding ongoing calls for greater gender equity throughout various branches of the NBA.

Interestingly, in this report about diversity in the NBA, there are no grades for gender as it relates to coach, assistant coaches, president/CEO, and general manager.  There are multiple ways to interpret this omission: (1) in the absence of any women in these positions, the grade is obviously an “F.”  Yet, in unmarking that exclusion, the report fails to highlight the absence of female coaches and top executives within the NBA.  (2) The erasure of these numbers normalizes the absence of women within the key basketball-related within the NBA.

In effect, by failing to note these abysmal numbers, the report seemingly renders this reality as both unexpected and a given, not worthy of notation.  This represents a major shortcoming within the report and more importantly the overall tenor of discussions regarding women in the NBA.  Naturalizing exclusion renders women as coaches, presidents, and general managers as unthinkable within the dominant imagination.  The report does grade the NBA as it relates to women vice-presidents, in which the league gets an “F.”  Beyond the abysmal numbers – there were 48 women vice presidents during the 2010-11 NBA season, accounting for 15 percent of vice-presidents league-wide – it is quick to see how few women serve in basketball-related capacities. Female vice-presidents so often found in positions within human resources, marketing, and other business related activities.  There are few women who are both visible, and integral to basketball operations.

Again, it should be noted that this report praises the NBA’s diversity record in the league office, i.e., central administration (“manager, coordinator, supervisor or administrator in business operations, marketing, promotions, publications and various other departments”), giving the NBA an  A- here.  Its when it gets to the individual teams that there is a steep drop off in performance.  Therefore, what becomes evident is that its been normalized that the place for women within the NBA is peripheral; at its best, we see women as league vice presidents, albeit outside of basketball relations.  At worse, and more commonly, women can be found in support roles, in those accepted gender roles as sideline reporters, secretaries, personal-assistants, cheerleaders, and as the case of tomorrow’s subject Jeanie Buss reveals, even when a woman is an accomplished front-office professional she is still rendered as someone’s, girlfriend.

Part II: The NBA’s Glass Wall: The Case of Jeanie Buss

USA Basketball 2008

Did The NBA Rush Back Because of the Olympics

As David has pointed out in his recent series on NBA injuries, the first quarter of this season has been mired by player injuries and poor play.  Granted, there’s an adjustment period every season, but we usually call that training camp and the exhibition season.  In addition to the injuries, one has to also concede that this season has been particularly haphazard as evident by the botched Chris Paul trade to the Lakers, and the passive-aggressive melodramas taking place in New Jersey and Orlando over whether to trade or keep Deron Williams and Dwight Howard respectively.  Unlike with Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James previously, one is not entirely sure what either Williams or Howard really wants, and how their implied trade demands help efforts to get them a “better supporting cast.”

And although no one will remember this event a year from now, much less a month from now, Sacramento’s recent firing of coach Paul Westphal is also emblematic of the dysfunction pervading the league.  Sacramento is one of three NBA teams, Charlotte and New Orleans being the other, that essentially locked in purgatory  Each of these three franchises has deep systemic issues that make it impossible for them to plan beyond the upcoming year.  Everyone knows this, yet we are to proceed as if this is not the case, or that these teams are at a disadvantage because they are in “small markets.”  And every other month one of these teams leaps to the fore in the race for most dysfunctional organization.  Sacramento is having its triannual  star turn in this category.

Fresh off the heels of last year’s despicable attempt at strong-arming Sacramento residents into building them a new stadium, the Kings drafted two point guards in last year’s draft to give them an incredibly packed backcourt to go alongside their talented but flawed frontcourt.  Watching the Kings play you could never tell whether Westphal was being asked to showcase players for a possible trade, or was he legitimately putting out unit he thought gave his team the best chance of winning.  Still, other than appeasing Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins in the short term, it’s really unclear what affect firing Westphal will really have on the future of this franchise.  Therefore, couldn’t the Kings brain trust have decided on a strategy prior to the start of the season on whether they’d keep Westphal all year, and whether they would make a legitimate run at a playoff spot in the West this year?

A lot of this chaos has left me wondering why all the rush?  The Christmas kickoff was attractive to the networks and sponsors, but couldn’t the league have chilled out after Christmas and given the teams more time to practice, heal, plan, etc.

In looking for answers to why this season looks so haphazard, I stumbled upon answer by way of recent comments made by USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo.  Colangelo recently compared the upcoming 2012 Olympic team to 1992′s Dream Team.  He’s right, save for the 1996 team, this team might be the most deserving of the comparison.  While many have focused on Colangelo’s words, it’s his existence that I found dubious(for a lack of a better word).  Since taking the role of USA Basketball president Colangelo has solidified the relationship between the NBA and USA Basketball, to the point that it’s now fair to say that USA Basketball is really an extension of the NBA, or David Stern’s office.

A canceled season might have been a disaster, but that disaster would have surely been amplified if the league lost its chance to showcase the best american talent to a billion people worldwide this summer.  The Olympics function as the NBA’s Super Bowl, it’s the only marquee event that the league has where it knows the whole world will be watching.  With all the potential losses in sponsorship revenue, merchandise sales, and an opportunity to grab new fans, the prospect of NBA players balking en masse at competing in this summer’s Olympics would have been akin to losing two seasons in the span of a year.

Therefore the league, not the players, not the owners, but David Stern’s office had to get this season in and done before the festivities kick off in July. 

Ironically, given the shortened season and long summer layoff, most players will be in prime form, you guessed, right when the Olympics kick off.


Nothing to Celebrate: Chris Paul and the NBA Imagination

I am a Lakers fan so any and all of my criticism should be seen through that window.  While Lakers’ haters have rejoiced over the draconian decisions from the league, it’s worth taking a moment to contemplate what exactly they’re celebrating.

For example, Dave Zirin is a brilliant commentator, with an amazing ability to both highlight the political dimensions of sport and use it as a way to elucidate the larger social issues of the day.  In his essay, “Sorry, Lakers: Chris Paul and the Clippers Now OCCUPY Los Angeles,” Zirin doesn’t just argue that a sea change is underway in Los Angeles.  He also connects the trade to a larger social upheaval inside and outside of the sports world.  “These aren’t two NBA teams. They are the two Americas. But in a 2011 where we’ve seen global revolutions from the Middle East to the Mid-West overturn accepted truths in thought and deed, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate way for the SportsWorld to end its year,” writes Zirin.

Zirin then makes his zeitgeist-tapping analogy more plain:

The Lakers have always been the ultimate team of the 1 percent. The Clippers are the also-rans, the afterthoughts, bottom-dwelling 99 percenters of the first order. One trade, and this sacrosanct truth has been turned on its head. To see an exhilarating symbol of the change 2011 has brought and 2012 will bring, you can do worse than remembering the names Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the soon-to-be almighty Clippers.”

David Stern’s decision to reward David Stern with a transcendent player such as Paul given his  given his history of racial discrimination is jarring enough.  After all we can not forget that journalist Bomani Jones once described Sterling in the following way: “That same man, who gives black men tens of millions of dollars every year, refuses to take a few thousand a month from folks who would like to crash in one of his buildings for a while? … . Sterling may have been a joke, but nothing about this is funny. In fact, it’s frightening and disturbing that classic racism like this might still be in play.”   Read in this context, Zirin’s position the Clippers as the 99% represents a troubling reimagination of the 99%. Can this really be the face, symbolic or real, of the 99%?

Yet, beyond defining the 99% as those who are not winning, what concerns me here is the failure to see how the Clippers won (and David Stern, Dan Gilbert, Michael Jordan, Nike and a host of other global corporations won) through the exertion of power and the adjustment of rules to fit the agendas, needs, and financial goals of these ultimate winners.  In fact, this entire Paul imbroglio is indicative of current economic policy, where rule -makers adjust games for their own benefit. Zirin’s assessment would have one believe that the Lakers were Lehman, and the Clippers Goldman Sachs, one got bailed out, the other didn’t.  But does anyone really believe in the possibility of an NBA landscape in which the Lakers’ aren’t somehow rendered as Goldman Sachs?

This Chris Paul debacle was the first clear sign that, post-lockout, the league’s agenda is to restrict player movement and contain player salaries while maximizing profits. This has been done under the guise of “achieving parity” but just like the “free market” the NBA is supposed to operate in, these are all illusions. The needs of public consumers – in this case, sports fans – clearly are not determining the marketplace. The oligarchs do.  Just as Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while other banks were bailed out, the NBA made a decision to empower the Clippers at the expense of the Lakers, Rockets and others because of the larger effort to make the league more about teams and rivalries rather than stars.  In reimagining the NBA apart from stars, the NBA is attempting to rebrand itself thereby limiting the power and financial demands of the players themselves.   Josh Martin describes the situation as nothing to celebrate, especially since it’s illustrative of the unjust consequences of power:

 Hate David Stern for going Hank Paulson on his league’s marquee franchise, thereby setting a horrendous precedent that he might just do it again and bringing the business of player movement to a screeching halt as a result. . . .

Hate the owners who wanted (and still want) a hard cap AND salary rollbacks AND to prevent superstars from working where they want to, even after putting in years of service in smaller markets.

Hate Gilbert and Sarver and the Maloofs and all those other egomaniacs for screwing up YOUR favorite teams and then blaming their own missteps and bad contracts on their well-payed [sic] employees.

In other words, don’t hate The Player; hate The Game, the very same game that YOUR owners pushed for and that will ultimately cost YOUR teams in their pursuit of big-name free agents and NBA championships.

Clippers fans are right to celebrate CP3’s arrival in Los Angeles, but I’m not sure anyone else has cause for joy.  Trading Chris Paul is a testament to the continued oligarchy of the NBA; it is not a triumph of the 99%. Efforts to push Chris Paul to one team over another, the meddling and public statements of owners, are just the beginning of a systemic reconfiguring of the NBA.  Is that really worth celebrating?


Enough is Enough #Afterthelockout

Time Magazine recently announced that its 2011 “person of the year” is the protestor.  Highlighting the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements, Time clearly sought to celebrate the ways in which protest and resistance has defined 2011.  This spirit of protest was also been evident within the NBA in 2011.  From the lockout to recent decisions from the league office regarding the trade of Chris Paul and even the 2011-2012 schedule, David Stern and the league’s owners have turned the levers of power over and over again.  Yet, players, who in recent years, especially after the 2004 Palace Brawl (focus of my forthcoming book), have remained relatively silent about their frustrations and opposition to both policy changes and the overall culture of the NBA, are increasingly challenging those in position of power.  Even as fans and pundits gleefully celebrate the return of the NBA and the prospect of their team finding success in 2011-2012, players have taken a different tone, ubiquitously stating, “enough is enough.”

The spirit of protest and anger was initially evident during the lockout when Dwyane Wade yelled at David Stern challenging the commissioner’s perceived arrogance and paternalism  during a negotiating session.  Wade allegedly told Stern: “You’re not pointing your finger at me. I’m not your child.” The willingness to challenge Stern and the owners themselves continued during the lockout, evident by the condemnation of Michael Jordan from players who felt slighted and disrespected by their former peer.  This has continued since the lockout ended.

Upon hearing about the league’s (David Stern and his merry men) decision to block its own trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for “basketball reasons” (err- Michael Jordan and Dan Gilbert are tired of going to the lottery while others go to parades), Danny Granger took to twitter to announce: “Due to the sabotaging of the LA/NO trade by david stern, and following in the footsteps of my athlete brethren Metta World Peace and Chad Ochocinco, I’m changing my last name to ‘Stern’s Bi#&h” #effectiveimmediately.’”  While not as cutting and critical of the commissioner, other NBA players similarly used twitter to voice their displeasure with the situation.  Unwilling to sit silently, they used social media to protest, albeit rhetorically, which in this case an important intervention against the demands that NBA players “shut up and play.”

Player denunciation of Stern was not limited to Twitter, but was equally present within various media sessions.  “You’re fighting a bully,” noted Deron Williams. David Stern is a bully, you can’t really go up against him. He knows he’s a bully. It’s not a secret. You got to be. I think every owner of every big business is a bully. That’s how they become successful.”

Public criticisms has not been limited to the Chris Paul issue or even the lockout, but have been evident in player willingness to voice their displeasure with the upcoming schedule, focusing on the league and owner single-minded focus on revenues.  “I think what you see, we’re a rushed league right now,” noted Kevin Garnett. “Everybody is paying attention to the Chris Paul situation. But I don’t know why everyone’s shocked, because [David] Stern has been pretty adamant about when he wants to do things and how he does things.”

There is a lot of uncertainty in the air within the NBA.  From decisions in the league office to very dynamic and fluid player personnel issues, the NBA is facing the most unclear and unpredictable future it has seen in its recent history.  Yet, what is equally unclear is whether players will continue to challenge and protests the unjust and troubling choices made by their powerful bosses, individuals who have shown to be most concerned about “financial reasons” above any “basketball reasons.”


Committee Aims to Build Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Statue at NBA Headquarters

Last month NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar voiced his discontent that the Lakers had yet to erect a statue of him at theStaples Center.  Abdul-Jabbar who along with Magic Johnson helped the Lakers win five NBA titles in the 80s was disgruntled that his counterpart Johnson had long been formally recognized for his contributions to the Lakers, while he was still being asked to hold on.

Now comes news that there’s been an on-going grassroots campaign to get a statue of Abdul-Jabbar placed at NBA headquarters in Manhattan.  Calling themselves The Committee to Honor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the group has developed an online petition asking NBA fans to sign on to their campaign.  Citing Abdul-Jabbar’s eminence as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer the group is lobbying for a statue of Abdul-Jabbar shooting his famed sky-hook to be placed in front of the NBA’s Manhattan offices.

More info on The Committee to Honor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and their promotional video can be found via the link below.

“Shooting the Sky Hook Petition” | Plaza Noir.