By BRIAN MAHONEY, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Doc Rivers was a little surprised by the number, though not by the trend.
Fourteen NBA head coaches are black, tying the 30-team league's own record for the most ever in a sport.
"I didn't even know that it's half, which is probably a better sign," the Boston coach said recently. "I don't think it's a big deal any more, especially in our league and I think we probably set the tone in all leagues in that way."
The NBA already held the record for most black coaches when it had 14 in 2002. It briefly surpassed that total this season for about 24 hours in March after Mike Woodson was promoted in New York and before Nate McMillan was fired in Portland. McMillian was replaced by Kaleb Canales — who became the first Mexican-American coach.
"I'm glad that it has escalated to the point that it's at where so many have opportunities, but the NBA with David Stern have been unbelievable as far as minorities getting an opportunity to coach and go into front offices," Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. "I think the NBA is so much farther ahead than any other major sport."
Besides Rivers, Scott and Woodson, the NBA's other black coaches are Mike Brown (Los Angeles Lakers), Avery Johnson (New Jersey), Dwane Casey (Toronto), Paul Silas (Charlotte), Lionel Hollins (Memphis), Tyrone Corbin (Utah), Larry Drew (Atlanta), Alvin Gentry (Phoenix), Monty Williams (New Orleans), Mark Jackson (Golden State) and Keith Smart (Sacramento). A half-dozen will be coaching in the playoffs starting this weekend.
Woodson carries an interim title in New York after taking over for Mike D'Antoni on March 14, and Silas is finishing one of the worst seasons in NBA history, so the number could decrease next season. But Hollins thinks blacks will continue to be among the top candidates for whatever jobs come open.
"There's 30 teams, so there are more jobs out there," Hollins said. "As we move forward, more general managers are getting to know African-American assistant coaches and former players that have come into coaching. It shows that we are coaches and not former players. We've transferred from the one side to the other. I never want to be viewed a former player anymore. I'm a coach. I've been a coach for a long time.
"They are starting to understand that (minority coaches) can organize and prepare and motivate and teach just as well as anybody else. I think our whole society is learning that."
With Canales and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, a Filipino-American, the NBA has 16 coaches of color, its most ever, according to Richard Lapchick, the director of the institute for diversity and ethics in sport and the primary author of the Racial and Gender Report Card that gives the NBA higher grades than any other sport.
The league earned an A last year — with an A+ in the race category — largely for the high number of league executive positions held by minorities. There were only nine black coaches, perhaps a surprisingly low total in a league where more than 80 percent of the players are black.
Though Scott said he never thought about coaching when he was a player, he loved playing for coaches who had played in the NBA, such as Pat Riley and Larry Brown. And he believes the fact that he played has helped him make the transition once he decided to try the profession.
"It was great for me coming up in the coaching ranks to have been a guy who played for coaches who had played in the league, that to me just gives you instant credibility and then when I got my opportunity as a young coach, I looked at the game almost as a player," he said. "I think one of the greatest things for me and the young African-American coaches that are coming into the league, especially the guys that have played, is the fact that you see the game differently because you've been out there on the floor. My biggest thing was I could always watch a video one time and be like 'OK, I got it offensively and I got it defensively' because I played the game."
Scott, like Brown and Johnson, was a Coach of the Year in a previous stop who was a natural candidate to get another job somewhere after he was fired. But Hollins noted the opportunities being given to those without previous experience, such as Rivers and Jackson getting hired right from TV commentator positions.