For a league in which over 70 percent of its players and over half of its coaches are Black, it’s impossible to turn on an NBA game and not see the impact that Black players and coaches have on the sport at its highest level. Behind the scenes, there is a growing list of Black basketball operations executives that have risen to prominence in recent years, a trend that stands to continue in the years to come.
Throughout all 30 NBA front offices exists a presence of some of the most brilliant minds in basketball. And while some made their way up the ranks following their respective careers in the NBA and WNBA, some of the biggest decision-makers in the game never stepped foot on an NBA or WNBA floor.Vote now for your favorite NBA All-Star starters!
The rise of Black general managers and executives in the NBA
With respect to breaking barriers, the conversation must begin with Wayne Embry, who, in 1972, became the NBA’s first Black general manager. And while Embry’s impact is felt throughout the league, it’s felt the strongest in Toronto, where he has served as an advisor for the franchise for nearly 20 years.
In addition to Embry, the Raptors organization is home to Masai Ujiri, who, over the past decade, has earned his standing as one of the most powerful executives in all of North American sports. A native of Nigeria, Ujiri was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2012-13 in Denver and after joining the Raptors in 2013, was largely responsible for the construction of the franchise’s first-ever championship team.
Ujiri’s path, which includes his upbringing in Nigeria, prep and collegiate basketball in the United States and a professional playing career in Europe, exemplifies the many ways in which Black executives have emerged as game changers.
There’s Chicago’s Marc Eversley, who, in addition to becoming the Bulls’ first-ever general manager of color, is also the NBA’s first-ever general manager from the Greater Toronto Area.
In Cleveland, there’s Koby Altman, who was immediately tasked with a number of difficult decisions within one year of taking the job in 2017 and, less than six years later, has rebuilt a contender.
The above three, in addition to Dallas’ Nico Harrison, Detroit’s Troy Weaver, Houston’s Rafael Stone, New York’s Scott Perry and San Antonio’s Brian Wright, have each carved unique paths to their positions without NBA playing careers.
There is, of course, a group of familiar names that have moved into the front office after making their impact felt on the floor.
The most recent name to make a rapid ascension in the world of basketball front offices is Landry Fields, who was appointed as general manager of the Hawks in June 2022. Fields, 34, is younger than a host of active players in the league and made the leap into his current position less than seven years after announcing his retirement due to injury woes.
While Fields navigates challenges in Atlanta, there is a group of former players tasked with orchestrating the moves that can impact the race to the NBA title in 2023 and in years to come.
In Phoenix, there’s James Jones, who was named Executive of the Year in 2021 for his construction of a roster that came within two wins of an NBA title. As a three-time NBA champion that earned the nickname of “Champ” during his playing career, Jones knows a thing or two about building a champion.
Calvin Booth calls the shots in Denver, where back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic appears to have the supporting cast needed to add NBA champion to his resume.
Much is said of the work of David Griffin in New Orleans and Daryl Morey in Philadelphia — and rightly so — but with them are Trajan Langdon, GM of the Pelicans, and Elton Brand, who has taken the path from former No. 1 overall pick to multi-time All-Star to GM of the 76ers.
Also in New Orleans is Hall of Famer Swin Cash, who holds the title of VP of Basketball Operations, while in Phoenix, Morgan Cato broke barriers as the first woman of color to hold the title of assistant general manager, assuming the role in 2022.
As part of the amplification and celebration of the historic barrier breakers that blazed the trail, it’s important to recognize those that are making history in real-time, breaking more barriers and blazing trails for those to come.
Notable Black basketball operations executives, 2022-23 NBA season
|Landry Fields||Atlanta Hawks||General manager|
|Marc Eversley||Chicago Bulls||General manager|
|Koby Altman||Cleveland Cavaliers||President of Basketball Operations|
|Nico Harrison||Dallas Mavericks||President/General manager|
|Calvin Booth||Denver Nuggets||General manager|
|Troy Weaver||Detroit Pistons||General manager|
|Rafael Stone||Houston Rockets||General manager|
|Swin Cash||New Orleans Pelicans||Vice President of Basketball Operations & Team Development|
|Trajan Langdon||New Orleans Pelicans||General manager|
|Scott Perry||New York Knicks||General manager|
|Elton Brand||Philadelphia 76ers||General manager|
|Morgan Cato||Phoenix Suns||Vice President of Basketball Operations & Assistant general manager|
|James Jones||Phoenix Suns||General manager|
|Brian Wright||San Antonio Spurs||General manager|
|Masai Ujiri||Toronto Raptors||Vice Chairman & President of Basketball Operations|