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.
"Actually, it's not just what the NBA is doing now," Smart said. "It's the teams in general that are giving guys opportunities they may have overlooked a couple of years ago. They are probably saying, 'These guys are just as qualified as everyone else. They should get a chance now to showcase their skills, they are fortunate to be in positions to have great teams, coach those great teams, and hopefully, they will have a chance to coach those teams to a championship.
"As each coach and minority coach gets an opportunity, they get a chance to move up the ladder to become a championship-type coach."
Smart hasn't had the opportunity to have a great team yet. He finally got to run his own NBA club last season after a lengthy career as an assistant and brief interim stint, leading the Warriors to a 36-46 record before he wasn't retained after an ownership change. He was hired as an assistant with the Kings but quickly became the top man again after Paul Westphal was fired less than two weeks into the season.
Like the Warriors, the Kings had no playoff hopes. But Smart, who had his first head coaching job in the Continental Basketball Association, knows the top jobs don't come right away.
"Sometimes you have to start at the bottom. But that's not bad either because you want to learn as much as you can," he said. "You have to do a little bit more and overwork yourself to be sharp, so when your opportunity comes it's not because someone is giving it to you. You have to work your tail off to get to that position, be sharp, know all the coaching techniques, player-development styles, and be up on all the technology to make it work. Everything that comes before you, you have to be sharp and prepared. It's best to be 'more than prepared' for it so you can be in that position to have success when your time has come."
Stern has long shrugged off any credit the NBA gets for hiring minorities, saying the only thing that matters is picking the best candidates. Hollins, who engineered one of the NBA's biggest playoff upsets in his second stint with the Grizzlies when they upset top-seeded San Antonio last year, has the same belief.
"I think there was a period of time where we didn't take advantage and utilize the talents we had because we held one side back," he said. "It's the same as if you hold women back that are talented. Same if you hold Hispanics or Asians or any minority group for the status quo, because every group has something positive to add and can take your organization to a level it couldn't have gone with somebody else — not because of their color, but because of their talent."
AP Sports Writers Tom Withers in Cleveland; Anne Peterson in Portland, Ore.; Associated Press writer Kyle Hightower in Orlando, Fla.; and AP freelance writers Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tenn.; Ken Powtak in Boston; and Antonio Harvey in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.