Which comes first in NBA – expansion or a female head coach?
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has a knack for generating interesting discussions.
In the last week, he did it twice.
First, he told Bonnie Bernstein he will be disappointed if a woman isn’t a head coach in the NBA within five years.
Second, during a news conference in Mexico City before the Heat and Spurs played at Arena CDMX, Silver again trumpeted the prospect of Mexico City as an expansion location.
Neither topics are new to the commissioner’s office.
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Nearly six years ago, Silver said there will be a female head coach in the NBA, and it’s on him to ensure it happens sooner than later, and league officials, including Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, have been bullish on the NBA’s foray in Mexico City.
What will happen first? An NBA expansion team in Mexico City or a woman head coach?
Silver often uses the phrase manifest destiny to describe the likelihood of NBA expansion. It’s happening at some point.
“We want to get a new collective bargaining agreement, our media deals are up soon, so we need to renew those, as well, but then we will turn to expansion,” Silver said, adding, “I don’t have a specific timeline right now in terms of expansion, but there’s no doubt we will be looking seriously at Mexico City over time.”
Seattle and Las Vegas – Seattle especially – are considered front-runners when the NBA expands. Don’t discount Mexico City. Silver isn’t dangling Mexico City like a carrot as former NBA Commissioner David Stern did with European expansion.
I’m inclined to say expansion to Mexico is likely at some point with Mexico City getting the 33rd NBA team after two U.S. cities. Maybe not right away. But some day.
“When you look at the success we’ve had in Canada to the north, beginning in the early ’90s, it makes sense to me that we would expand to the south, as well,” Silver said. “As I’ve said, our 31st game here (in Mexico City), a very accessible market. We’re going to stay at it.’
The league is enamored with Mexico City from a grassroots and business perspective. The league opened a global academy for youth players with elite potential in Mexico, the G League’s Mexico City Capitanes began play in the capital city this season and the league will continue to play regular-season games there in an NBA-ready arena.
The population of the metropolitan area is nearly 24 million people – more than the New York City metro region – according to country census data, and the league also views it as a gateway into South America, especially Argentina and Brazil. Also, the league is intrigued with revenue from streaming rights in that part of the world.
“There’s no doubt that in terms of the fundamentals, the market size, the beautiful state-of-the-art arena, quality hotels and entertainment and restaurants and fervent fan support, that all exists here in México City,” Silver said.
There are issues, including elevation (7,300 feet, 2,000 feet higher than Denver), socio-political factors and players living in a non-English speaking region. There also are logistical problems such as customs and traffic, and Silver noted, regulatory issues.
If we’re looking at a timeframe, a new collective bargaining agreement should be agreed upon within the next 18 months and the TV deal extends through the 2024-25 season, but the league wants to have a new deal in place before that one expires. Those two deals will help set the price for an expansion fee, which will approach approximately $4 billion per team. It’s an astonishing amount.
Does a woman become a head coach before Mexico City gets an expansion team? Silver is on record nearly six years ago saying he wants to see a woman head coach and now said he will be disappointed if it doesn’t happen within five years. That’s almost an 11-year window. He also told Bernstein, “We should have a female head coach right now.”
As commissioner, Silver has immense influence. The league wanted to improve its record of minority coaches and now the league has 16 Black coaches, an NBA record. Silver didn’t force any team to make a hire, but it’s naïve to discount his sway on the matter.
Teams have hired several women assistant coaches, and Becky Hammon and Dawn Staley have interviewed for NBA openings.
“There’s no difference between a woman who knows the game and a man who knows the game,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said when asked two years ago by USA TODAY how soon an NBA team will hire a female head coach. “It’s just another prejudice that probably has to be overcome just like a lot of other prejudices in the world become less and less as people pay attention to them. It’s a process and it doesn’t happen quickly but I think the more women there are, obviously it becomes more commonplace and more the rule and it’ll depend on organization realizing there are women who can do this. Every woman can’t. Every man can’t.”
Hammon coached the Spurs’ Summer League team and took over a game after Popovich was ejected. Nancy Lieberman coached Dallas’ G League team. As Popovich said, we know women can coach. But for reasons that stem from fear or stereotypes – and as Popovich said, prejudices – it hasn’t happened yet in the NBA.
Fearful of being the first team. Fearful of the dynamics of a woman in charge of a male locker room. Fearful of harassment. Fearful of it not working. Not that those are valid but stereotypes are sometimes hard to eradicate.
But it will happen someday, too, whether it’s Hammon leaving the WNBA for the NBA, New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon (she has a commanding presence with the team) getting a promotion or Staley leaving college for the NBA. Or perhaps, it’s a current WNBA player who plans on coaching.
Which will happen first? Most likely a woman’s coach then Mexico City expansion.
Regardless, both will happen at some point.
Follow NBA columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt