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.

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said that if the Ballmer deal goes through, that the new Los Angeles Clippers ownership group should include Blacks.

“The new ownership group needs to be a broad diverse group and the NBA needs to make sure that no more Sterlings ever come into the league and that no more Sterlings grow in the league,” said Morial. “Because the actions, the activities, and the statements of the owners, even in their private business dealings, are important.”

Morial said that the group wants to learn more about the procurement process for the league and they want to see how teams stack up when it comes to business diversity.

“The NBA is heavily subsidized by the public through arena deals,” said Morial. “Many of the arenas are owned by the public, rented to owners, with terms heavily favorable to the team owners.”

That means they get to pocket most of the revenue coming in from concessions, parking and sponsorships.

During the owner initiated player lockout in 2011, CBS Sports reported that Time Warner Arena where the Charlotte Hornets play and the New Orleans Arena where the Pelicans play “were 100 percent publicly financed” and the city of Orlando “sold $311 million in bonds in 2008 to help finance the Amway Center,” home of the Orlando Magic basketball team.

“Industry analysts estimate that about two-thirds of current NBA arenas received some form of public financing. Even some of the privately owned buildings (in Sacramento, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Denver, Philadelphia, Toronto, Utah and Washington, D.C.) received some indirect public benefit such as land grants, tax breaks or both,” according to CBS Sports.

Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation said, “I don’t know any professional sports teams that didn’t need municipal support, that’s our tax dollars. If you have to have a stadium built for a football team, a baseball team, or a basketball team, guess what, that is municipalities putting in our tax dollars.”

Morial said that the coalition of civil rights groups that met with Silver wants to learn more about the procurement process for the league and they want to see how teams stack up when it comes to business diversity.

“Getting rid of Sterling is just one step,” said Morial. “We have to be more engaged in all of the broader issues related to sports, including ownership diversity and procurement.”

Still, the civil rights leaders recognized the great strides in diversity that the NBA has made compared to professional football and baseball. Not a single team in the National Football League is Black-owned and it’s the same story for Major League Baseball. Only 9 percent of coaches in the NFL and 10 percent of the managers in MLB are Black.

“We want to give the NBA credit where it’s due and push them where they need to be push,” Morial said.

He explained, “You now have a community of players, whether it’s a Magic Johnson or a Michael Jordan and other African American business people, like [Bob Johnson] and Oprah Winfrey, who have the financial wherewithal to be primary owners or parts of ownership groups. The argument that they just aren’t out there, just doesn’t hold weight anymore.”