Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Dawn Staley can “do” both, and it’s why she should be the first woman to be a head coach in the NBA.
“I come with a lot of credentials,” Staley told the New York Times in June. “I surely have the confidence. I surely can stand in front of men and lead them. First-team All-Stars. MVPs. I’m OK with that.
“I haven’t coached in the league,” Staley explained. “But you know what? I’m a quick learn. I’m a quick learn.”
As the first Black woman to ever coach the U.S. Women’s National Team, Staley is the hottest name in coaching, as the team just won their seventh straight gold medal in Tokyo. As a player, she’s one of the best to ever play – on the women’s or men’s side – with a resume that includes countless accolades on the college, pro, and Olympic levels. That success has translated to coaching with a national title, three Final Fours, and now a gold medal on her resume.
But, before she won gold, Staley’s name was already gaining momentum in NBA coaching circles after the Portland Trail Blazers brought her in for an interview.
“It presented a challenge. I’m drawn to challenges. I’ve never looked at coaching an NBA team as a challenge until I went through the process of the interview,” she told South Carolina’s The Post and Courier last month.
“I told them I didn’t have any interest (in the NBA), until now.”
Portland decided to hire Chauncey Billups — a former great player with no prior head coaching experience — instead of offering the job to Staley. From a coaching standpoint, the decision didn’t raise too many eyebrows. But, from a cultural standpoint, it did, as Billups dealt with sexual assault allegations in 1997. The Trail Blazers botched the situation as they wouldn’t let Billups answer questions about it at his introductory press conference, on top of their being reports that the team never contacted the alleged victim.
In hindsight, Portland could have hired the hottest name in the game, but instead, they chose someone that will have questions lingering around him until they’re properly answered. However, the hiring of Billups was part of a trend that saw seven Black coaches get jobs this offseason. The list includes Jamahl Mosley (Orlando), Willie Green (New Orleans), Jason Kidd (Dallas), Nate McMillan (Atlanta), Wes Unseld Jr. (Washington), and Ime Udoka (Boston).
Staley’s gender and race are two components of this conversation that can’t be ignored, especially since the only other woman that has been rumored for head coaching jobs in the NBA has been a white woman – Becky Hammon. Since 2014, Hammon — a six-time WNBA All-Star — has been an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. Because of that, she’s been thought of as the woman who would make history as the league’s first female head coach. But, with Staley’s resume as a player and coach, and the rise of other female coaches like Kara Lawson – who spent time on the Celtics’ staff before taking over the women’s program at Duke, and just won a gold medal as the women’s 3x3 coach in the Olympics – the list of candidates is growing.
“I’ve never felt more Black than right now,” Staley told GQ in June.
Dawn Staley checks two boxes as a double minority, being Black and a woman. Her race and gender mean that the odds have been stacked against her – twice over – her entire life. The NBA is a Black league that just improved their pathetic coaching numbers, as seven Black coaches were hired over the last few months.
This is the part where “those people” will scream that I’m making this about race, as the best person should be hired for the job. But, that’s not how America – or the world – works. And what “those people” always choose to ignore is that three of the four coaches in the conference finals were Black. So if we’re going to discuss which woman deserves to make history as the league’s first female head coach, the leg up should go to the one that’s led her teams and country to the highest levels of success, instead of the one that has no head coaching experience. And no, that’s not me taking a shot at Hammon or devaluing her experiences of being a woman working in the NBA. It’s me showing “those people” that Staley is the best person for her job, because of her resume, despite how much “they” will use her race and gender against her.