Civil rights leaders push for more diversity in NBA team ownership

Freddie Allen | 6/11/2014, 10:22 a.m.
NBA commissioner, including African American team ownership, the conduct of the owners, and the need for greater community engagement.

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During a closed door meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, a coalition of civil rights groups commended the basketball chief for making a strong statement with the lifetime ban of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and expressed the need for greater diversity in the NBA’s business behind the scenes.

On April 25, TMZ, an entertainment website dedicated to celebrity gossip, leaked secretly-recorded audio of Donald Sterling making disparaging comments about Blacks during a conversation with Vanessa Stiviano, his mistress.

Following the release of the tape, NBA players, including players from the Miami Heat, the reigning NBA champs, joined in silent protests during the playoffs over Sterling’s comments.

Just four days later, Silver, who called Sterling’s words “truly offensive and disturbing,” dropped the hammer on the Clippers owner, banning him from the league indefinitely and fining him $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under NBA regulations. Silver also moved to force the Sterling family to sell the team.

Beyond the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, the civil rights leaders discussed a range of topics with the NBA commissioner, including African American team ownership, the conduct of the owners, and the need for greater community engagement.

As former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer prepares to purchase the team for an estimated $2 billion, civil rights leaders who attended the meeting vowed to stay on the case to promote diversity in the league and not just on the bench or the owner’s box, but throughout the league.

“We talked very strongly about African American entrepreneurship and making sure that throughout the NBA and WNBA that there are strong opportunities to have women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses to benefit from all of the enterprises that surround the NBA,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

That includes everything from team ownership to vendor opportunities and procurement to stadium contracting.

Arnwine said that minority ownership in the league is important, because that’s where the money is.

“There’s nobody playing ball that’s making $2 billion dollars,” said Arnwine in reference to the impending sale. “It’s important in an industry where 80 percent of the players are African Americans, that African American communities should be beneficiaries of the fruits of that sweat and that labor, because those are the communities that they come from and our youth from those communities look up to those players.”

A 2013 study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported that Blacks account for nearly 80 percent (76.3 percent) of all players and more than 43 percent of all coaches in the NBA, but only 2 percent of all owners. Michael Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats), is the only Black majority owner in the league. In contrast, 19 percent of all players, 53 percent of all coaches and 98 percent of all owners in the NBA are White.

“Thinking long range, it’s about the empowerment of the communities,” said Arnwine. “The NBA should have a voice and have a role in taking away some of the pain that is felt in the Black community and opening the doors to opportunity for African American youth who want to go to college and for Black business owners.”