NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold declaration last week, and the response was just as revealing as his message.
Silver told ESPN that he expects a woman to coach an NBA team in the near future. The commissioner made it sound like a priority.
“I think it is on me to sort of ensure that it happens sooner rather than later,” he said.
Here’s the best part: The sports world didn’t freak out. The notion that a woman will serve as an NBA head coach was greeted thusly: “Good idea. Who are potential candidates?”
“I was unfazed by it,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It didn’t sound so strange as maybe it would have 10 years ago.”
Reeve said she would love a chance to coach in the NBA. She would be darn good at it, too.
A good coach is a good coach whether that person is a man, woman, black, white or Martian. Silver’s forward thinking eventually will smash a glass ceiling and expand the talent pool.
Sports have come a long way in knocking down barriers. Women work as game officials in the NBA and NFL now. The NBA currently has two female assistant coaches in San Antonio’s Becky Hammon and Sacramento’s Nancy Lieberman.
Hammon is widely considered the most logical candidate to become a head coach because of her association with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, one of the most respected and progressive leaders in sports.
Reeve guesses the league is probably three years away from having a female head coach. As she noted, the idea isn’t being treated “like an alien.”
“It’s not being scoffed at,” Reeve said. “It’s now actually saying, ‘OK, here are the people we think have a chance and here’s why.’ It’s a natural progression.”
Gender equality has become a crusade for Reeve, who often urges corporations and media outlets to reshape their mind-set on longstanding societal norms.
“Being able to lead is genderless,” she said.
That is a final hurdle NBA decision-makers must clear. Does anyone doubt that Reeve is a better basketball coach than some men who have run NBA teams? Of course she is.
The late Pat Summitt would have coached circles around most coaches at any level. Just as there’s no doubt that Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma would do just fine coaching men.
“If you can coach, you can coach,” Reeve said.
Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich used that exact phrase when explaining how players would accept a female head coach. Aldrich experienced something similar as a player at Kansas. The team’s strength coach was a woman, which is unique by industry standards.
“All the guys absolutely loved her,” he said. “I think having a woman in the locker room brings a different perspective that you may not get. If they know their stuff, that’s all that matters.”
The guess here is that the majority of players feel that way. Players will always challenge coaches, but by and large they respect strong, competent leaders who put them in position to succeed.
The real test will come if the first woman head coach fails. Will that have a chilling effect on future hires? Will owners step back and say, “Well, that didn’t work. We can’t go down that road again.”
That would be a shame because NBA coaches fail all the time for different reasons. For the record, they’ve all been men.
“I can make you a long list of unsuccessful coaches,” Reeve said.
If that scenario happened, Reeve said it would be incumbent on media and league observers to understand why the coach failed and not just assume it was because of gender. Kurt Rambis failed miserably in Minnesota for many reasons that didn’t include being a man.
Reeve said she “absolutely” would welcome a chance to coach in the NBA. She believes that would open more doors in growing women’s basketball, but she added, “It’s not that I’m waking up every day saying that’s what I want to do.”
Reeve still loves coaching the Lynx and is driven to win more championships. A seed has been planted, though. A female NBA coach is no longer alien talk. The only crazy idea would be for NBA teams to ignore qualified candidates just because of their chromosome structure.