Commentary: Why Did Golden State Hire a Rookie Coach?

Steve Kerr’s inflated salary raises questions about Blacks as coaches.

Posted: 05/19/2014 10:59 AM EDT

NBA players are a peculiar bunch. They rail about how racist Donald Sterling is, but they have never uttered a word about the insidious racism that runs through the marrow of their league.

Their position on Sterling is understandable, although which one of them hasn’t been in a private conversation that struck a homophobic or sexist chord? If that player exists, he should stand up and take a bow. He deserves sainthood.

Yet even the saint has not offered an explanation for the inequities across the league. Think about it: Mark Jackson got fired for winning, and what did Joe Lacob, owner of the Golden State Warriors, do? Lacob went out and hired a white man who never coached in the NBA and paid him $5 million a season.

Steve Kerr might be a fine coach; we don’t know. As a TV analyst, Kerr had a close-up look at the game for years. Before his TV work, he spent time in the front office (President and General Manager of the Phoenix Suns) and had a long career as a role player on some of those title teams that Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan led in Chicago.

But why would anybody give a ready-to-win team like the Warriors to a man with a coaching resume as thin as Kerr’s?

Aside from Kerr’s pay, the decision to hire a white rookie should not shock anybody. In a league that is decidedly Black, the coaching ranks are mostly white. Up and down the NBA, white men dominate the bench. Once a good job opens, candidates of a certain color almost need not apply.

For we already know the billionaire’s club that made Sterling and adultery topics du jour is a white fraternity. The management ranks in the game reflect the same whiteness. They suggest that other NBA owners are as myopic about color as Sterling was.

Their actions over the long term haven’t gotten the scrutiny that Sterling’s words in the short term did. His fraternity brothers have left the man to fend for himself. Sterling and his racist rant to his Black lover have proved toxic and have served to divert attention from broader issues in the sport.

And the NBA isn’t without its issues. While its bottom line looks as robust as one of the blue-chip companies on the Dow, the NBA can’t like the uneven quality of its play. Nor should it brag about how egalitarian it is.

We can see that for the fiction it is. We can see it when we look at salaries and discover Jason Kidd, Larry Drew, Monty Williams and Brian Shaw, all former NBA players like Kerr, making less money than Kerr and less than Brad Stevens, a college coach who hadn’t spent a season in the NBA until the Boston Celtics hired him last year to direct their rebuild.

Those facts seem lost on the current crop of NBA players, who have obsessed over Sterling and been silent about almost everything else that surrounds their sport. They hinted at action if the league doesn’t force Sterling to sell his team, but what stances have the players taken on the deeper issues that touch on race?

History is a good teacher here. About 27 years ago, Al Campanis, a longtime executive with the Los Angeles Dodgers, took the mask off white, institutional racism. When asked on Nightline why baseball had no Black managers or general managers, Campanis replied, “I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.”

The Dodgers fired Campanis for his remarks, which is what NBA commissioner Adam Silver has essentially done to Sterling. What all sports leagues have been slow doing, however, is acknowledging a mindset that sees Black athletes as giants on the playing field but intellectual midgets as leaders.

Hiring Kerr for insane money re-enforces that thinking, and the firing of Sterling, while perhaps necessary, hardly disproves that Lacob and other members of the NBA’s billionaire’s club care more about keeping a Black man in the field than letting him sit in the corporate suites and make decisions that matter.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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