Suns' James Jones, Raptors' Masai Ujiri among Black general managers and executives on the rise in NBA

Suns' James Jones, Raptors' Masai Ujiri among Black general managers and executives on the rise in NBA

Since the trio of Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton broke the league’s color barrier in 1950, the NBA has had a large hand in promoting and pushing forward diversity within sports in North America.

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.

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The rise of Black general managers and executives in the NBA

Wayne Embry Kyle Lowry 011523

(NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

Marc Eversley 011523

(NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

Landry Fields Dejounte Murray 011523

(NBAE via Getty Images)

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 FieldsAtlanta HawksGeneral manager
Marc EversleyChicago BullsGeneral manager
Koby AltmanCleveland CavaliersPresident of Basketball Operations
Nico HarrisonDallas MavericksPresident/General manager
Calvin BoothDenver NuggetsGeneral manager
Troy WeaverDetroit PistonsGeneral manager
Rafael StoneHouston RocketsGeneral manager
Swin CashNew Orleans PelicansVice President of Basketball Operations & Team Development
Trajan LangdonNew Orleans PelicansGeneral manager
Scott PerryNew York KnicksGeneral manager
Elton BrandPhiladelphia 76ersGeneral manager
Morgan CatoPhoenix SunsVice President of Basketball Operations & Assistant general manager
James JonesPhoenix SunsGeneral manager
Brian WrightSan Antonio SpursGeneral manager
Masai UjiriToronto RaptorsVice Chairman & President of Basketball Operations