When I first heard that Steve Nash was going to be the new Brooklyn coach, I immediately thought about Kevin Durant. Durant and Nash were together in Golden State; Nash was a consultant and Durant was everything. Obviously, their relationship was deeper than what was initially thought, enough so that the Brooklyn Nets gambled on an inexperienced coach, a Hall of Famer, and a former player who never made it to the NBA Finals.
Although the NBA has in its past plucked former players who have had no experience- think Pat Riley, Derek Fisher, Steve Kerr, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Vinny del Negro, Kevin McHale, Isiah Thomas, Doc Rivers, Larry Bird, M.L. Carr, Magic Johnson, Dan Issel, Dick Van Arsdale, Paul Silas– Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers have lasted the longest. Most on that endless list of former players turned coaches were only in the league three years or less. Most were fired. Privilege only lasts so long.
Perhaps Steve Nash will be the exception. He is leading a team that has 0 days playing together but the talent is electric. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Spencer Dinwiddie. Caris Lavert. Jarrett Allen. DeAndre Jordan. Joe Harris. Even young Timothé Luwawu-Cabaroot has a huge upside. In the bubble, he had some break out games.
Nash deserves a chance because he was an NBA lifer. When he was at the end with the Lakers, he worked hard to get back on the court even though his body quit. (Nash was injured in his first Lakers game when he ran into Damian Lillard).
But the elephant in the room about the Nash hiring, once you get over the shock, is white privilege. And Hall of Fame privilege. And Kevin Durant privilege.
NBA coaches of color who were overlooked by the Nets are Nate McMillan, Alvin Gentry, Mark Jackson, Patrick Ewing, Ty Lue, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, Ime Udoka, Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham, Stephen Silas, Jamahl Mosley, David Vanterpool, Roy Rogers Jr., Adrian Griffin. Some are familiar names, others are assistants waiting for their opportunity.
Currently, there are 5 black NBA head coaches in the NBA: eight years ago there were 14.
The Fab Five: Doc Rivers, Lloyd Pierce, JB Bickerstaff, Dwane Casey, and Monty Williams comprise 16% of all NBA coaches which means 84% of coaches in a league that is 74.4% African American are non-African Americans. So much for diversity and so much for a younger ownership group embracing people of color. Just the opposite.
Steve Nash jumped the line. On her podcast, Michelle Obama told a familiar story. She was standing in line at an ice cream place with her kids on a hot day and a white woman just cut in front of her as if she was invisible. Obama had to tap Karen on the shoulder and say excuse me but no. Every black person has had that experience and for black NBA coaches it is amplified; they feel invisible.
“Why is it that we have to be twice as good to get half as much?” Stephen A. Smith asked. “Why is it that no matter what we do, or how hard we work, and how we go through the process and the terrain of everything…somehow, some way there’s another excuse to ignore that criteria, to ignore those credentials and instead bypass it and make an exception to the rule for someone other than us.”
But it has to be said too when we’re talking about equity, there wasn’t much complaining when Derek Fisher, without any experience and a role player at that, was hired to coach the Knicks. He was a disaster. No white coaches said “looka here, he [Fisher] knows jack about coaching. That’s black privilege.” Or, when Jason Kidd was hired in Milwaukee because his BFFs were the new owners which meant the coach Dwane Casey had to be fired, Hall of Fame privilege wasn’t any kind of conversation. Or when Isiah Thomas was hired; there was silence. Or, Magic Johnson.
Magic Johnson was only hired because Jerry Buss loved him. No greater privilege than being on the owner’s speed dial. Great players have the privilege to jump the line just like rich people don’t have to stand in a queue at the bank. There is a privilege when you were an impact player who put in 18 years and is beloved. If it’s your wish to coach, you will get a turn.
Just because Steve Nash benefited because of privilege doesn’t mean it was a mistake. It scorched the racial earth but the Nets have a bigger reality. They have to appease a moody Durant to make whatever their future is work. As of right now, they have no idea who can play with Durant and Irving and who needs to be moved. Durant was the key to selecting a hire because he is mercurial. Irving can play for anyone. And so Nash back in the NBA is a good thing despite how it tilts the racial imbalance towards invisibility. I want to see what Nash can do.
The Nets hired Steve Nash because of his leadership talent and his ability to mentor. “I have witnessed firsthand his basketball acumen and selfless approach to prioritize team success,” said Sean Marks and it made me cringe because it was one of those throwback reasons GM’s used to offer to deflect, to explain their reasoning. But here’s the problem. Black coaches have high basketball acumen and a selfless approach too. Why only Steve Nash in the conversation? He’s not an outlier even though his career was sublime.
There is no debate that Steve Nash back in the NBA is good for the league. He left the game, not on his own volition, he left sadly, because his body broke. He was a beloved player and a beloved human. I remember when he played for Dallas and protested the Iraq war and wore a t-shirt that said as much and the fanbase booed him. He didn’t care. Nash is a world citizen. If he is successful as a coach, the latter part of his career can be redeemed.
Or, Steve Nash can be kicked out of town after two long Durant/Irving years. I mean, it is New York.