On color front, hard to get on NBA's case


Pro Basketball

December 14, 2003|By MILTON KENT

Say whatever you want about the NBA and the knuckleheads who populate it (and we will further along in this piece), but you have to admit it is more colorblind than any of the other major sports leagues - professional or amateur - in this country.

Take last week as proof. While the NFL was issuing a list of guidelines to its teams in an attempt to raise the number of minority coaches from three (of 32), the Phoenix Suns were firing Frank Johnson as head coach.

Johnson, who was replaced by Mike D'Antoni, is the third NBA coach this season to get the boot in six weeks of play. What Johnson has in common with former Orlando boss Doc Rivers and Bill Cartwright, the former Chicago coach - besides not being able to produce enough wins - is that he is black.

Of the three, only Rivers was replaced by another black coach (Johnny Davis), but there has been very little stink made about it, and there's not likely to be. The reason is that, more than any other sports organization, the NBA has a clue in terms of hiring minorities.

The University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave the NBA the second-best mark of six organizations in its annual racial and gender report card in June for the 2001-2002 season, surpassed only by the WNBA, its affiliated women's basketball league.

The NBA had 14 black head coaches in that season, and opened this season with 11. While the number is down to nine with the recent firings, it's still almost as good as the number of black coaches or managers in the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NHL and Division I-A football combined (13).

The push to bring in qualified minority candidates starts in commissioner David Stern's office and filters down through the teams to the point where no one even notices.

And in perhaps the best development, black coaches move from job to job and get second and third chances (Cleveland's Paul Silas and Washington's Eddie Jordan), just like white coaches do.

In other words, as a league spokesman said earlier this year, the hiring of black coaches in the NBA is "not even news, and that's the way it should be."


With teams in the Atlantic Division struggling to get to .500, much less get above it, it's worth asking what three teams in NBA history advanced to the playoffs by winning their divisions without winning more than half of their games. Here's a hint: Two of the teams are no longer in the cities where they achieved their dubious distinctions.

Words from Wallace

Ah, the enigma that is Portland Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace.

Wallace, who set an NBA record in 2000-01 with 41 technical fouls, declared in an interview with The Oregonian - while liberally using a racial epithet - that the league's white establishment was getting rich off the efforts of young black players, adding that teams were taking high school players because they wanted athletes who are "dumb and dumber."

"I'm not like a whole bunch of these young boys out here who get caught up and captivated into the league," Wallace said.

"No, I see behind the lines. I see behind the false screens. I know what this business is all about. I know the commissioner of this league makes more than three-quarters of the players in this league."

Wallace acknowledged that some of the technicals he has earned were deserved, but said he is "not scared of the NBA."

"If I feel as though myself or my teammates have been dealt a wrong hand, I'm going to let it be known," he said. "I'm not going to sit up here like most of these cats and bite my tongue. That's not me."

Wallace, who will make $17 million this season, said he knows he is "Public Enemy No. 1" with some Portland fans, but he wants to stay after this season, when his contract expires.

He said he initially didn't regret his arrest last year on marijuana possession charges until his wife reminded him that his actions could have a negative effect on his family.

"She was like, `I know how you are. I know stuff like that doesn't really affect you too much. But it affected us,' " Wallace said. "She meant her and my kids. That made me sit back and think about it, and she was right.

"A situation like that, I have to think past myself. I've got a family. Got a wife. She was telling me what was happening with my kids. After I talked to her about it, I regretted the whole situation."

Yesterday, Wallace apologized for "using street language to express my opinion. It was not my intent to offend anyone."

Talks will heat up

Ever so quietly, the NBA and the players association started talking about a new collective-bargaining agreement last week. The current agreement was to have expired after this season, but the league exercised its option to extend it by one year.

The air between the parties is collegial for now, as Stern and union chief Billy Hunter have pledged to meet and talk regularly to hammer out a new deal. But there are bones of contention between the sides that could make getting a new contract tough sledding.

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