Steve Nash Hire Opens Race Discussion in NBA Coaching

Last week, the Brooklyn Nets made Steve Nash their next head coach, and it launched a sport-wide discussion about race.

Many have called the selection of Nash, who has no prior coaching experience, an example of white privilege. The Nash hire means Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn did not get the promotional nod, though he is staying on as the league’s highest paid assistant, and several other Black coaches who appear primed for a head coaching opportunity, like Sam Cassell and Mark Jackson, are still without their shot.

The reaction from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith summed up this point of view.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no way around this,” he said on First Take on Thursday. “This is white privilege. This does not happen for a Black man. No experience whatsoever on any level as a coach, and you get the Brooklyn Nets job?”

Others came out with similar reactions.

But there was a strong reaction against the white privilege answers. There have been multiple head coaches hired in the NBA without any previous coaching experience, like Steve Kerr (2014 Golden State), Doc Rivers (1999 Orlando Magic) and Jackson (2011 Golden State) and in 2013, the Nets hired Jason Kidd, who is of mixed race and also hadn’t coached before.

Reports that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed off on Steve Nash added to the opposition to claims that race played a role in the hire.

Charles Barkley gave his thoughts on Inside the NBA.

“I was very disappointed at some of the guys on television today talking about white privilege. Very disappointed,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Well, this doesn’t happen to Black guys,’ and I’m like, it happened to Doc Rivers, it happened to Jason Kidd, it happened to Derek Fisher.

“I think when you have a responsibility, especially when you have to talk about something serious like race, you can’t be full of crap. You’ve got to be honest and fair.

“Now, do we need more Black coaches in the NBA? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in college football? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in pro football? Yes. But this wasn’t the right time to say that today. Good luck to Steve Nash.”

There are currently just five Black head coaches in the NBA – Lloyd Pierce (Atlanta Hawks), J.B. Bickerstaff (Cleveland Cavaliers), Dwane Casey (Detroit Pistons), Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers) and Monty Williams (Phoenix Suns) – though the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers are without a coach at the moment. Black and mixed race players with a Black parent made up 81.1 percent of the NBA this season.

Whether or not Steve Nash wins in Brooklyn will determine how this left-field hire is viewed in the future, as is the nature of result-based industries like professional sports. While a larger discussion surrounds the atmosphere that led a general disparity in opportunities for white and Black coaches, Steve Nash is caught in the crossfire. All he did was accept an offer to be an NBA head coach, and now all he can do is his job.

Even if you feel race played a role in this hire, Steve Nash is not the bad guy.

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