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Black executives around NBA frustrated by Bulls’ front-office search

‘That is a slap in the face. Their worst is still being considered over our best.’

The Chicago Bulls’ search for a new head of basketball operations continued Wednesday with more potential candidates revealed. None of them were African American.

The reaction from a handful of the NBA’s black executives, who spoke to The Undefeated on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely on the topic, was disappointment and frustration.

“It’s clear there is an underlying hypocrisy telling us the NBA is diverse, but when an opportunity comes, the process isn’t,” one black assistant NBA general manager told The Undefeated. “All we want is a chance. As a black man, all we want is a fair opportunity to show we are just as qualified.”

Before the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season on March 11, the Bulls were 22-43 and on their way to missing the postseason for a third straight year. On April 3, Chicago announced that executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman would be moved from their roles and a search for a new lead executive would begin. Since then, reported candidates have included Miami Heat vice president Adam Simon, Toronto Raptors general manager Bobby Webster, Indiana Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan, Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas and Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik. Former NBA general managers Danny Ferry, Bryan Colangelo and Wes Wilcox have also been viewed as candidates despite losing previous jobs amid controversies. Except for Webster, whose mother is Japanese American, all the reported candidates have been white men.

None of the aforementioned Bulls candidates are of African American descent, which is troubling in a league that is about 75% black. Sources say Bulls COO and president Michael Reinsdorf, who has been conducting virtual interviews, had not spoken to any black potential candidates as of Wednesday morning. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that Karnisovas is the leading candidate.

“They are not even hiding what they are doing,” one black NBA general manager said of the Bulls.

Said another NBA assistant general manager: “That is a slap in the face. Their worst is still being considered over our best. The league is going to have to do something. It does get frustrating.”

The NBA’s 30 teams currently include six black general managers: the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Koby Altman, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Elton Brand, the Phoenix Suns’ James Jones, the New Orleans Pelicans’ Trajan Langdon, the New York Knicks’ Scott Perry and the San Antonio Spurs’ Brian Wright.

Current black NBA assistant general managers include: Chicago native Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks, the Nuggets’ Calvin Booth, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Milt Newton, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Joe Branch, the Sixers’ Marc Eversley, the Pelicans’ Bryson Graham, the LA Clippers’ Mark Hughes, the Knicks’ Gerald Madkins, the Brooklyn Nets’ Jeff Peterson, the Detroit Pistons’ Malik Rose and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Troy Weaver.

Tayshaun Prince also serves as vice president of basketball affairs for the Memphis Grizzlies, Rod Higgins is vice president of basketball operations for the Atlanta Hawks, Dee Brown is the Clippers’ vice president of integrated development, Rafael Stone is executive vice president of the Houston Rockets and Brandon James is the Spurs’ vice president of basketball administration. The G League’s president is Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

There is a very diverse pool of potential African American candidates for the Bulls to consider.

“The NBA and its teams tell us to keep working and you will move up the ladder,” one NBA assistant general manager said. “I have more than 15 years of experience as a team executive. But how am I supposed to feel encouraged if the Bulls won’t even give any African Americans a chance to interview for that job?”

Said another NBA assistant general manager: “They should have at least brought Finley in, a former player and a Chicago kid. Why wouldn’t you pick up the phone to call him? Someone has to relate to these players. You need someone black in a league 75% black.”

Former Nets general manager Bobby Marks, who is white and now works for ESPN, said the situation is an embarrassment.

“It’s an embarrassment that the Bulls elected not to interview a minority candidate in their search for a new head of basketball operations,” Marks said. “You will never know what you have or could have hired, unless you sit down with them and have a face-to-face conversation.”

Four years ago, there were only two black presidents and three black general managers in the NBA. NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum and NBA executive vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Oris Stuart told The Undefeated during the 2016 NBA Finals that they were working to bring more diversity to NBA teams’ front offices.

NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum (left) and Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf (right) chat after the NBA All-Star 2020 announcement on Nov. 10, 2017, at the United Center in Chicago.

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Currently, there is only one black president in the Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but there are six black general managers, one Hispanic general manager in the Wolves’ newcomer Gersson Rosas and one Asian general manager in the Raptors’ Webster. There has also been an influx of women entering the NBA coaching ranks and front offices, including most notably Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall. Tatum and Stuart told The Undefeated in February that they talk to teams regularly about considering diversity and inclusion in their hiring process and felt good about the progress.

“It takes time, especially in our industry, particularly on the business side and less so on the basketball side, where there isn’t as much turnover,” Tatum said in February. “There aren’t that many of these jobs. They don’t turn over that much. Our focus is on building that pipeline so when those opportunities do become available, there is, one, the will and the desire to take a more inclusive approach. And two, there is such a pipeline of talent there that are willing to step into those opportunities.

“We would love to move faster. We see tremendous progress. But sometimes these things take time.”

There has been an improvement in the NBA since 2016 in terms of diverse hires in front offices. But with no high-ranking African Americans on the Bulls’ staff, and none being considered, it appears that one team isn’t living up to the NBA’s diverse hopes.

“I find it strange in this environment that there has not been one black candidate that the Bulls have spoken to so far,” one NBA general manager said. “If they did now after being called out, it would seem token in nature.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.