NEW YORK (AP) — Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers was a little surprised by the number, though not by the trend.
Fourteen NBA head coaches are black, tying the 30-team league’s own record for the most ever in a U.S. pro league.
“I didn’t even know that it’s half, which is probably a better sign,” Rivers said recently. “I don’t think it’s a big deal any more, especially in our league and I think we probably set the tone in all leagues in that way.”
The NBA already held the record for most black coaches when it had 14 in 2002. It briefly surpassed that total this season for about 24 hours in March after Mike Woodson was promoted in New York and before Nate McMillan was fired in Portland. McMillian was replaced by Kaleb Canales — who became the first Mexican-American coach.
“I’m glad that it has escalated to the point that it’s at where so many have opportunities, but the NBA with David Stern have been unbelievable as far as minorities getting an opportunity to coach and go into front offices,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “I think the NBA is so much farther ahead than any other major sport.”
Besides Rivers, Scott and Woodson, the NBA’s other black coaches are Mike Brown (Los Angeles Lakers), Avery Johnson (New Jersey), Dwane Casey (Toronto), Paul Silas (Charlotte), Lionel Hollins (Memphis), Tyrone Corbin (Utah), Larry Drew (Atlanta), Alvin Gentry (Phoenix), Monty Williams (New Orleans), Mark Jackson (Golden State) and Keith Smart (Sacramento). A half-dozen will be coaching in the playoffs starting this weekend.
Woodson carries an interim title in New York after taking over for Mike D’Antoni on March 14, and Silas is finishing one of the worst seasons in NBA history, so the number could decrease next season. But Hollins thinks blacks will continue to be among the top candidates for whatever jobs come open.
“There’s 30 teams, so there are more jobs out there,” Hollins said. “As we move forward, more general managers are getting to know African-American assistant coaches and former players that have come into coaching. It shows that we are coaches and not former players. We’ve transferred from the one side to the other. I never want to be viewed a former player anymore. I’m a coach. I’ve been a coach for a long time.
“They are starting to understand that (minority coaches) can organize and prepare and motivate and teach just as well as anybody else. I think our whole society is learning that.”
With Canales and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, a Filipino-American, the NBA has 16 coaches of color, its most ever, according to Richard Lapchick, the director of the institute for diversity and ethics in sport and the primary author of the Racial and Gender Report Card that gives the NBA higher grades than any other sport.
The league earned an A last year — with an A+ in the race category — largely for the high number of league executive positions held by minorities. There were only nine black coaches, perhaps a surprisingly low total in a league where more than 80 percent of the players are black.
Stern has long shrugged off any credit the NBA gets for hiring minorities, saying the only thing that matters is picking the best candidates. Hollins, who engineered one of the NBA’s biggest playoff upsets in his second stint with Memphis when they upset top-seeded San Antonio last year, has the same belief.
“I think there was a period of time where we didn’t take advantage and utilize the talents we had because we held one side back,” he said. “It’s the same as if you hold women back that are talented. Same if you hold Hispanics or Asians or any minority group for the status quo, because every group has something positive to add and can take your organization to a level it couldn’t have gone with somebody else — not because of their color, but because of their talent.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.