After acquiring superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant last season, the Brooklyn Nets made another splash, hiring first-time head coach Steve Nash as their new head coach.
On paper, the Nets’ decision is a logical one. Nash is an eight-time NBA All-Star with 18 seasons of playing experience; he is certainly well-equipped for the job. Yet the current heightened attention to racism in America has left the public with questions regarding the nature of Nash’s hiring.
The NBA began its 2020 season with seven of its 30 head coaches identifying as Black, three fewer than the 10 Black coaches last season. In a league that is over 80 percent Black, the underrepresentation of Black head coaches is a critical issue. Gary Charles, a famous figure in grassroots basketball, was motivated by the gap in Black leadership positions to create his organization, Advancement of Blacks in Sports (ABIS). Charles explained one of his group’s primary frustrations to USA Today. “Black coaches, disproportionately, are given jobs that don’t have the opportunity to succeed like white coaches are.”
Systemic racism permeates every industry and aspect of the American workforce. In the NBA in particular, much of the league’s success has stemmed from the talents and efforts of Black players. Many of these athletes have also gone on to be viable candidates for coaching positions. In the case of the Brooklyn Nets, the team passed over many qualified Black candidates like Tyronn Lue and Mark Jackson to give Nash the position.
NBA coaches and fans alike, while cautious not to discount Nash’s accomplishments, have thus been critical of this decision. ESPN host Stephen A. Smith was quick to point out the problematic nature of the hiring. “This does not happen for a Black man. No experience whatsoever? It breeds a level of frustration that we can’t even put into words sometimes. You just wanna scream,” Smith said on his show, First Take. “Why is it that no matter what we do and how hard we work and how we go through the process and the terrain of everything, somehow, someway, there’s another excuse to ignore that criteria? To ignore those credentials and instead bypass it and make an exception to the rule for someone other than us.”
Though Nash is undoubtedly qualified, white privilege undeniably played a role in his hiring, regardless of intention. Nash acknowledged this during his introductory press conference.
“I have benefited from white privilege. Our society has a lot of ground to make up,” Nash said. In terms of his situation, however, Nash wouldn’t say white privilege played a role. “I don’t know if this is an example that fits that conversation… but we as white people have to understand that we have been served a privilege and a benefit by the color of skin in our communities.”
It is likely that Nash will have great success coaching the Nets. His hiring may prove beneficial to the team, but even so, the controversy surrounding it warrants continued discussion. With underrepresentation of Black coaches rampant throughout the NBA, athletes, fans and organizations like ABIS will continue to call on the league to create just hiring practices and be a catalyst for racial justice.