Cheryl Reeve calls NBA's diversity focus 'window dressing,' explains why teams won't hire women coaches

·6-min read

The topic sprouts up at least every few months: When will the NBA have its first woman coach?

For years now, former WNBA star Becky Hammon has been top of mind when it comes to "who" should first take that role. She's worked as assistant for Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs since 2014 and last year became the first woman to work as acting head coach.

But all she ever gets in a head coaching search is "almost there.

Minnesota Lynx general manager/head coach Cheryl Reeve doesn't see that changing soon, calling the exercise of naming a woman she believes should be an NBA coach a "waste of time" because "the men aren't going to allow it." 

"This D, E and I [diversity, equity and inclusion] business that the NBA is in right now is just window dressing," Reeve said on "The Cheryl Reeve Show" by the Talk North Podcast Network. 

Cheryl Reeve calls out NBA's diversity focus as 'window dressing' 

Cheryl Reeve
Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve could show NBA front offices a nice list of women who could lead their programs to success. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Reeve, the newly named Team USA head coach, and Lynx stars Aerial Powers and Layshia Clarendon chatted with the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Jim Souhan in a live show to support a winter wear drive in the Minneapolis area. The conversation started with the open coaching vacancies in the WNBA and if the Lynx assistants might be a good fit. 

Souhan asked who the group thought should have the honor of being the first woman coach in the NBA. Reeve — who should be in the conversation of coaching in the NBA given her success as a head coach — took a larger view. 

"I’ll just start by saying it’s a waste of time to do it because the men aren’t going to allow it. It’s the only place that women don’t lead. And so we go through this drill every offseason now, ‘Oh, Becky [Hammon] got an interview.’ ... I’ve talked to many men in the NBA, the way they talk about women and women in coaching. This D, E and I [diversity, equity and inclusion] business that the NBA is in right now is just window dressing. And we’ve got to get to a point where we use our leverage and our power and we start to decline these things and perhaps even leave the NBA until we get somebody in that position in leadership in the next fews years.

"Somebody like [Golden State Warriors head coach] Steve Kerr, who is so outspoken about it, he knows it’s not happening. And I've had people say, 'Well it’s hard to take a leap of faith.' Leap of faith to do what? You know how many awful coaches coach [are] in the NBA? Are you going to tell me that we can’t be as awful? Give us an opportunity. And pay us $5 million to do it.

Reeve, who led the Lynx to four championships in seven years, noted she could win as many games in a season as some former NBA coaches have won in bad seasons. Souhan reiterated the bar is set so high for women, but dropped for men who might be in the right place at the right time. 

Reeve is a three-time WNBA Coach of the Year and the 2019 WNBA Executive of the Year. She also won two WNBA titles as an assistant coach. 

Reeve: It's not the players, it's front offices 

Reeve said it's not the players who are against women coaching, but the front offices that are largely controlled by men.

"It’s really men’s sports," Reeve said. "It’s the mentality of men’s sports that what they’re doing is so difficult that a woman could not do that. And that’s the only place that we’re not leading. And once we do, look out. 'Cause a lot of men aren’t going to be qualified anymore when we get some of these women in there. 

"And it’s not the players by the way. It’s not the players, it’s the positions of leadership."

Many players have voiced support for women coaches and Hammon in particular. Basketball is basketball, no matter the gender on the court, and as long as a coach knows their stuff, it won't matter to a player who can succeed with it. 

Culture will change with women leading

Clarendon, later in the interview that's worthy of a full listen, added that when women start coaching in the NBA the culture will improve within teams. 

"We actually work really well and really collaboratively," Clarendon, a vice president of the players union, said on the show. "People always ask me that, what's the difference? Why can't [the] guys [be] as good? Well, they don't have Cheryl, first of all. And second of all, they're not building that culture from the top down. 

"I think that's a misnomer about women. It's a myth that we're catty and petty and fight over scraps. When actually we're really smart and collective and I think some of our emotional capacity makes us more aware. Being more in touch with that and being more people people. Just that ability makes you better leaders."

Look no further than the WNBA Players Association's ability to come together on social justice issues and enter the 2021 season with a 99% vaccination rate. And it's an area that NBA teams would do well to improve in after incidents around the league. 

NBA's diversity report card 

The NBA is among the leagues that have prioritized diversity in hiring practices. 

The league received an A for racial hiring practices and a B for overall gender hiring practice, according to the 2021 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.

But its gender hiring grade for team vice presidents is a C- with 27.8% of the positions filled by women (though that's an increase from 2020) and 37.9% of women in team senior management roles. The grade for the C-Suite is a D+ (26.4%) and, most important to this topic, it received an F for team presidents/CEOs and governors. There has never been a woman head coach or general manager in the NBA. 

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