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Adam Silver addresses NBA’s efforts toward diversity among coaches and social justice

The NBA commissioner spoke to the media ahead of the Finals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The NBA entered the 2019-20 season with nine Black head coaches. But at the start of the 2020 NBA Finals, only four remain: the Atlanta Hawks’ Lloyd Pierce, the Detroit Pistons’ Dwane Casey, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ J.B. Bickerstaff and the Phoenix Suns’ Monty Williams.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during his annual NBA Finals media address on Wednesday night that, while he does not believe in forcing teams to make diverse head coach hirings, he expects the league to improve in this area.

“I don’t see a way to operate a league where the league office, the commissioner is dictating to a team who they should or shouldn’t hire or who they should or shouldn’t fire, frankly. That’s the other side of the coin,” Silver said. “Having said that, I know we can do better. We have six openings right now. We’re in discussions with all of those teams about making sure there’s a diverse slate of candidates. We’ve looked at what might be an equivalent to a Rooney-type rule in the NBA, and I’m not sure it makes sense. I’m open-minded if there are other ways to address it.

“There is a certain natural ebb and flow to the hiring and firing, frankly, of coaches, but the number is too low right now. And again, I think we should — let’s talk again after we fill these six positions and see where we are, because I know we can do better, and I think we will do better.”

The New Orleans Pelicans, Philadelphia 76ers, Oklahoma City Thunder, LA Clippers, Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers currently have openings in a league where 74.2% of NBA players are classified as Black or African American, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport in November 2019.

Silver also addressed the league’s social justice efforts during the NBA’s restart in the bubble.

“In terms of the social justice messages, ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the court, the words that are on the jerseys, that was something that was initiated by the players association,” Silver said. “As I said earlier, there were really three factors in terms of how it was that we would restart, and social justice was one of them. I’d say, to me, certainly it began with what’s important to our players is important to us, but it wasn’t just our players. The players know and the NBA community knows there’s a long history in this league of fighting for social justice, for racial equality. And it seemed appropriate.

“These were decisions that were made quickly in terms of standing up this restart. I think there was some misunderstanding around some of the messages sort of that there was a sense of censorship, that why aren’t there other messages. But these were messages that were proposed by the players through the players association and agreed to after some discussion with the league.

“And I’ve said since then that I viewed this as extraordinary circumstances. I understand, put aside the substance of the message, there are a lot of fans, especially given all that’s going on in the world right now, who look to sports as a respite. My response is that, again, I’m listening. And I understand that point of view, too. But these are unique times, and I think that given the circumstances, I still firmly believe it was and is the right thing to do.”

Silver entered the NBA bubble for the first time last week. He was not in attendance when the Milwaukee Bucks opted not to play in a first-round playoff game on Aug. 26 to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in their state of Wisconsin, leading to the remaining NBA teams not playing for the next three days. The WNBA, NHL, MLB and tennis star Naomi Osaka also protested games as well.

While at home in New York, Silver said, he realized the Bucks wouldn’t be playing when he noticed the team wasn’t coming out for warm-ups. He said that over the next two days he was “pretty much round-the-clock” talking to players, team executives and members of the NBA board of governors.

“I found out about it as it was happening in real time,” Silver said. “There of course had been rumors; many of you in this room had written early in the day that there was some contemplation. I was on the phone early in the day with [Thunder guard and union president] Chris Paul, who was here at the time. I was on the phone with [union executive director] Michele [Roberts], who was then and still is here, and I think it was the sense earlier in the day that the games were going to play on that night. As we all now know, there was a spontaneous aspect to it. Certainly, people had thought about it.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.