Roughly 80 percent of NBA players are black.
As such, it’s fair to ponder if players are eager to connect with somebody who looks like them in the executive branches. With the majority of NBA leadership not being African-American, some teams have made it a priority to diversify their front office, in hopes of creating stronger ties with players.
The NBA’s 30 teams currently include just eight black general managers. Recent hires include Marc Eversley of the Chicago Bulls and Troy Weaver of the Detroit Pistons, who were hired to turn the two struggling franchises around.
For the Bulls, Eversley is the first African-American in franchise history to be in such a high position of power. In the wake of global social injustice and inequality awareness, not to mention significant chatter about Chicago’s hiring practices, these moves may look strategic.
In reality, Eversley, Weaver and other black candidates deserved an opportunity a while ago, based exclusively on their body of work.
Eversley played a significant role in selecting both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for the Philadelphia 76ers. Weaver was a driving force behind the draft selections of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Steven Adams.
As a General Manager, you are tasked with supervising the coaching staff, players and the day-to-day operation of the franchise. Simultaneously, a GM is also tasked with developing and implementing growth strategies, while being in constant dialogue with scouts to discuss future player targets.
Having an eye for talent and understanding how to build a playoff contender is the primary aspect of that job, but there’s more to it, which frequently goes unmentioned in the media.
Most importantly, however, is the GM’s need to resonate with their players, and possess the ability to build trust-worthy, long-term relationships. That requires a certain level of mutual respect between the GM, and the players.
Do players value African American leadership?
Recently on ESPN, Chris Paul shared some deep thoughts with host of “The Jump” Rachel Nichols. Paul said “It ain’t about superteams. It’s about continuing to educate each other and make sure African Americans are in these front offices in GM positions.”
Trainer Al-Ameen has spent years training with NBA players and gotten to know their way of thinking. He worked out with Jaylen Brown before the 2016 NBA Draft, where Brown was chosen third overall by the Celtics, and has worked with Aaron Gordon, Wendell Carter Jr., Ben Simmons, Shawn Marion, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Carmelo Anthony, among others.
“If players stand up and talk about playing for executives of color, that starts the trend, but that person has to be a great recruiter and have the ability to build a contender,” Al-Ameen says.
The NBA currently only has one black team president out of all 30 teams. The lone ranger is Toronto Raptors’ Masai Ujiri. With the opportunity to steer the ship, the Toronto Raptors built a contender and won the 2019 NBA Finals.
All he needed was chance.
Currently, there are a total of eight African-American assistant general managers in the NBA. Recently, Walt Perrin, who was known as one of the leading college scouts, while with the Utah Jazz, was just hired by the New York Knicks. Player agent Joe Branch, formerly with Roc Nation Sports, got his shot last year when he was hired as Assistant GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Such positions involve being able to build relationships internally and recruit in the offseason. Former CAA sports executive William “World Wide Wes” Wesley was just hired as Executive Vice President/senior basketball adviser by the New York Knicks. Wesley was once tabbed as one of the powerful men in sports. In terms of managing talent, and landing talent, black executives from sport agencies have shown they have what it takes to build relationships with tomorrow’s stars.
Should teams start looking at more sports agent executives for GM positions?
Combining the 2018 and 2019 NBA Drafts, 94 of the players selected were African American. Eleven of those players are represented by black agents and only a few are signed to black-owned agencies.
Some of the leadership roles include Rich Paul, CEO & Founder of Klutch Sports Group, who represents Atlanta’s Trae Young and Charlotte’s Miles Bridges. Paul also has black leadership within his company, as Omar Wilkes recently became the Head of Basketball.
Joby Branion, CEO & Founder of Vanguard Sports Group represents Carter Jr. from Chicago, who became the first African American basketball player for the company. Vanguard has more black leadership with Anthony Fields, Vice President of Basketball Operations.
Bill Duffy, Chairman & CEO of BDA Sports, represents DeAndre Ayton from Phoenix and New York’s R.J. Barrett. Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports represents Charlotte’s P.J. Washington.
There is logic in making the change from representing players to representing teams. Agency executives have spent years, some decades, building and maintaining relationships with players, coaches, general managers, team owners, brand representatives, public relations people, and so on. Those connections become an immediate asset to any franchise.
“With my individual experience I’ve seen some special men. Most of these guys have been recruiting from all parts of the United States to sign talent. Attracting kids to sign with their companies. They care and put the work in It’s not easy signing and keeping top talent and the people I’ve been blessed to work with have done a great job,” Al-Ameen notes.
For NBA teams, it would make sense to consider diverse leadership from the agency ranks, as they not only benefit from a vast professional network, but also would be able to relate to 80 percent of the league in a different way.
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