Why is NBA So Good at Promoting Women?

Becky+Hammon+San+Antonio+Silver+Stars+v+Phoenix+4lHHVPjEgUAlAs we’ve reported, the Spurs named WNBA player Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first full-time female coach an NBA team.  This announcement comes on the heels of the National Basketball Players Association electing Michele Roberts as its new executive director, the first woman to lead an American union representing male athletes.  The NBA has a history of promoting women–from female officials to Development League coaches, this organization has always had an internal commitment to support women.  Why?

In a recent article for Slate, Amanda Hess writes:

In June, the Institute for Ethics and Diversity in Sport released its annual scorecard rating major professional sports on their commitment to racial and gender diversity in hiring.  The NBA received a B-plus grade for its gender hiring practices; in its league office, 40 percent of employees are female. (One of them is Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s executive vice president of social responsibility, who Forbes once called“the most powerful woman in sports.”) It’s not perfect, but compared to the limp competition, it’s a triumph: The MLB received a C-plus in gender diversity this year; the NFL rated a C on its most recent report card. NBA teams even pay their dancers better. Lacy T., the cheerleader who sued the Raiders over scandalously low pay, was inspired to take action partly because she had previously earned above minimum wage as a dancer for the Golden State Warriors.

Why is basketball so good at this? It’s partly because women are so good at basketball. Unlike baseball and football, basketball actually offers women the opportunity to play—in grade school, in college, in the Olympics, and on professional teams. That means they’re more likely to be invested and experienced in the sport, connected to its professional network, and permitted to dream of a career in basketball. (This might explain why Major League Soccer also scores relatively wellon TIDES’s gender report card.) As a girl, Palmer played Little League with the boys, but switched to basketball when she saw an opportunity to cinch a college scholarship. Lieberman played tackle football as a kid but transitioned to basketball when football opportunities dried up. (Even women who end up working in other sports often have basketball roots: Sarah Thomas, who’s now vying to become the NFL’s first female ref, launched her sports career by way of college basketball.)

Generation W speaker Richard Lapchick, the director of both TIDES and the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sport Business Management Program, is quoted in the article and believes there is definitely a correlation between the opportunity basketball provides for young women and their decision to make sports a career.  “A significant percentage of our female students are former student athletes, and a significant percentage of those are basketball players.  More of them go on to the NBA than any other professional league, by far.”

Click here to read the entire Slate article.