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Thursday, December 1, 2022

New Black National Basketball Association coaches are perplexed as to why it took so long to have a shot at the NBA championship game

Jamahl Mosley has competed in basketball tournaments all around the globe.

He has played professionally for teams in Mexico, Australia, Spain, Finland, and South Korea, among other places. When Carmelo Anthony was with the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association, he worked as a player development coach for the team. He worked as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the four years that elapsed between LeBron James’ departure for Miami and his return. Dirk Nowitzki’s last years with the Mavericks and the growth of Luka Doncic are two topics that have come up recently. Mosley was also in attendance in Dallas, serving as an assistant.

He spent 16 seasons on coaching staffs in the National Basketball Association, honing his abilities and waiting for his big break to become a head coach. After his mother had advised him to play collegiate basketball for a Black coach in order to gain leadership qualities from someone who looked like him, he had taken her advice and done so. It was only in recent years that he began to have reservations about his ability to get a position of this kind, since he interviewed for and was rejected from seven NBA head coach positions during that time.

The National Basketball Association’s coaching and management echelons have long been controlled by white males, despite the fact that more than 70% of the league’s players are black. However, Mosley became a part of a unique off-season in which Black candidates were hired to fill seven of the eight head coaching positions in the NFL this year. Five of them, including Mosley, who was appointed as the head coach of the Orlando Magic in July, are in their first season in the position. There are four additional players in the group, including Wes Unseld Jr. of the Washington Wizards, Willie Green of the New Orleans Pelicans, Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics, and Chauncey Billups of the Portland Trail Blazers.

The increase – 13 of the league’s 30 coaches are now Black, with two others who are not white — occurred alongside a wider national discourse about race and employment procedures, which prompted the league to make the change. Black athletes used their collective voices to advocate for change that they believed was long needed.

Udoka Azubuike was a self-described student of the game long before he became the coach of the Boston Celtics. In his hometown of Portland, Oregon, he would tape games that featured some of his favourite college players, like Syracuse’s Lawrence Moten and Lamond Murray of the University of California, Berkeley.  After that, he would go to the playground and try to imitate their movements. In fact, Udoka has a stack of VHS cassettes in his possession.

Udoka grew up in a mostly African-American area, attended a predominantly African-American high school, and had Black coaches. He said that he was not particularly cognizant of his race since he had grown up in that milieu all of his life. Udoka’s high school coach, on the other hand, “preached family and unity and a brotherhood,” and he took those teachings with him throughout his life.

Udoka was bouncing around the National Basketball Association as a defensive-minded forward when he was bitten by what he refers to as “the coaching bug.” He was instrumental in the formation of an Amateur Athletic Union squad in Portland, which included future NBA players Terrence Ross and Terrence Jones. Udoka also took part in coaching sessions offered by the National Basketball Association players’ union. Following his retirement, he became an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich in 2012.

The position of president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics became available in June when the franchise announced that Brad Stevens, who had previously coached the team for eight seasons, would take over. In a recent interview with The Undefeated, Jaylen Brown, one of the Celtics’ rising talents, said that he had advised the organisation to sign a Black applicant for the position of centre. He felt it was necessary to be heard and represented, he added.

Udoka clarified that he was not implying that white coaches were unable to form bonds with Black players. He referenced Popovich, a white basketball player, as someone who has always emphasised the value of interpersonal connections. A rookie coach on an inexperienced squad, however, would be foolish to claim that race was not a role in the outcome.

The N.B.A. Coaches Equality Initiative, launched by the league and the coaches’ organisation shortly after, is a programme aimed at training new coaches and ensuring that suitable applicants are visible when coaching positions become available. There have been various seminars, summits, panel discussions, and networking opportunities since the beginning of 2019.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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