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The History of the NBA

This past February, the National Basketball team celebrated its 71st All-Star Weekend. Millions of fans, celebrities, and professional athletes worldwide came to Cleveland, Ohio, for this international event. More than seventy years ago, the National Basketball Association was born. In June 1946, Walter Brown founded the Basketball Association of America and Boston Celtics after taking a mortgage loan against his home.

During the 1930s and 1940s, he helped develop ice hockey. He coached the Boston Olympics ice hockey team to five United States national amateur championships. In 1933, the team earned its first gold model in Prague's Ice Hockey World Championships. Nine years before the launch of the NAA, the NBA launched, and today teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Sacramento Kings share their roots with this organization. In 1949, the two basketball organizations merged to create the National Basketball Association.

The NBA is no longer only known for its sports but its innovation: using technology to deliver content to fans over all forms of media and a leader in social responsibility and community development. It comprises four professional sports leagues: NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, and the NBA 2K League. It is in 215 countries and territories with 47 languages. During the 2021-22 year, 109 international players from 39 countries are playing in the NBA.

NBA Leadership

David Stern is the longest-serving commissioner of the NBA. He is internationally known for being a great leader. Stern worked for the NBA six years prior, first as a legal counsel in 1978, then as executive vice president in 1980. In 1984, he transitioned into his new role when many franchises struggled financially due to player drug abuse and poor fan/arena attendance. Michael Jordan credits Stern as instrumental in transforming the NBA into a global powerhouse. Under his leadership, the general annual revenue grew from $164 million to $5.5 billion.

In 2005, Stern implemented the first primary sports league dress code. Business casual attire replaced baggie jeans, big chains, and jerseys. Furthermore, he pioneered anti-drug and salary cap agreements and persuaded corporate sponsors to invest in the NBA.

When you are in a position of power, it is imperative to be a risk-taker but also an individual that can build rapport and develop personal connections with your employees. Throughout his tenure, he did that. In 1991, Magic Johnson announced that he was diagnosed with HIV. Stern flew from New York to Los Angeles to be by his side. Although AIDS has existed since 1960, people still consider it a relatively new disease. The research conducted during that time was not powerful enough to counter any misconceptions about contracting it. Johnson abruptly retired that same year after receiving criticism and concern from players and executives across the league. Stern attempted to debunk those misconceptions by allowing Johnson to play in the 1992 All-Star Game and Barcelona Olympics.

Stern had a strong vision for this organization and had the means to fulfill it. The impact of his work is still apparent today.

Adam Silver, his successor, a former Deputy Commissioner, has also made great strides in expanding the NBA market in his own right. Silver received excellence in leadership by being from TIME's 100 Most Influential People and Sports Executive of the Year. In addition, he is a signatory of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, an initiative spearheaded by Tim Ryan, U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner from PwC, to recruit CEOs to commit to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What are the qualities of a great leader?

  2. On a scale from 1-10, how would you rate your organization’s leadership team? Why?

  3. What does it mean to be a great leader?

  4. Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). Analysis of your organization's leadership team. What are their strengths and areas of concern?

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Leadership

In 2015, Oris Stuart became the NBA's Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. Stuart has an extensive background in diversity and inclusion. Before joining the NBA, he was a Senior Partner with Korn Ferry, an executive search and talent management firm. This August, he transitioned into a newly-created chief People and Inclusion Officer role. Stuart leads the NBA’s Global Inclusion Council to grow its Supplier Diversity Program.

Over the years, Stuart has made strides in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion for the NBA. As a result, DEI is no longer an option but a business imperative. He does this work by developing programs, policies, processes, and practices that assist the NBA in making cultural shifts to meet its annual goals in the workforce, workplace, and marketplace.

Reflection Questions:

l Does your organization have a specific person that focuses on DEI at your organization?

l How would you rate this individual on a scale from 1-10?

Culture & NBA

Foundationally these two organizations are the same, but there are some differences. For example, the U.S. NBA is in North America: the United States and Canada, while FIBA spans an entire continent. Furthermore, America is an individualistic country, while Europe focuses heavily on the team.

Dirk Nowitzki is from Germany and played twenty-one consecutive seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. When he came to the United States, he did not only have to adjust to the new organization but the culture of a new country. Each league has different rules for traveling, fouling, and timeouts. For example, each quarter of a FIBA game is two minutes longer than the NBA’s games. Furthermore, in Europe, the coach can only call timeouts, and the player can only have five fouls before being disqualified for the remainder of the game.

Nowitzki was only nineteen years old when he came to the United States. Life was difficult for the first two years in Dallas because he was homesick and did not have his support system. Lisa Tyner, who worked in the Mavericks accounting service department, helped Nowitzki get acclimated by obtaining a visa, setting up payroll, and finding a place to stay. She is still a significant figure in Nowitzki's life; she is now the treasurer of his foundation.

Reflective Questions:

l How does your organization create an inclusive culture?

l How would you describe the corporate culture?

Mission Statement, Vision Statement, and Values

NBA’s mission, values, and philosophy statement align with its strategic goals.

The following are the NBA's mission statement and values:

Mission and Values

Our Mission: Inspire and connect people everywhere through the power of basketball.

Lead with Integrity

We do the right thing. We are honest, ethical, and fair – leading by example in sports, culture, and society.

Be the Fan

We are all fans. So we work to provide the same quality of entertainment and experiences that we want for ourselves.

Create Community

Basketball is inherently inclusive – anyone can play it. This diversity in people, backgrounds, and experience is central to our success.

Innovate with Intention

Our instinct is to innovate. But instead, we are relentlessly pushing each other's thinking, shaking up the status quo, and ensuring bold ideas result in meaningful impact.

Our Philosophy

At the NBA, we celebrate our common love of the game, building connections that enable us to leverage our differences. Basketball transcends all dimensions of diversity – those you can see and those you cannot. It is a game that anyone, anywhere, can participate in and follow. While our players, employees, and fans hail from every corner of the world, they unite through the common languages of sports and their love of basketball.

Diversity and inclusion are central to our game; we believe they are catalysts for innovation. We know our business is stronger when we leverage our differences to generate more and better ideas, sparking innovation that further connects us to our fans and communities.

The following is the Dallas Mavericks’ Inclusive Culture Statement:

“At the Dallas Mavericks, we are committed to creating a culture where our employees feel respected, are treated fairly and feel empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. We value our employees’ opinions, and we encourage our employees to express their views. We recognize the importance of both diversity and inclusion and welcome a culture where all voices are heard. We will achieve this through ongoing training, our employee resources groups, and engaging with our local community.”

Reflection Questions:

  1. What do you envision for your organization?

  2. Why does your organization do this work? What does your organization value?

  3. Does your organization have a mission, vision, and values statement?

  4. Mission: Why does your organization exist?

  5. Vision: What does your organization hope to achieve?

  6. Values: What are the fundamental beliefs that are important to your organization?

DEI Metrics Monitoring

Dr. Richard Lapchick is the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida. TIDES produces Racial and Gender Report Cards (RGRC) to assess the hiring practices and racial and gender composition of players, coaches, general managers, executives, and staff annually. Last year, in 2021, the NBA received an overall B+ grade on the RGRC. Additionally, it received an A on racial hiring and a B on gender hiring.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Does your organization use a dashboard to monitor its DEI efforts?

  2. Does your organization measure its DEI efforts internally and externally?

Cultural Competency

To become culturally competent, you must have emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand and manage emotions through self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Through this journey of self-discovery, individuals become aware of their triggers and biases with others. After individuals have a solid understanding of their EQ, they may begin learning how to build their Cultural Intelligence (CQ). Cultural competence is when one beholds the awareness, skills, and knowledge to interact with individuals from different cultures effectively. It often uses the terms race and ethnicity interchangeably.

Race is a social construct that classifies people based on common physical characteristics, including hair texture and skin color. Historically, ethnicity relates to how social groups share a common culture, religion, and language in America. It forces us to look beyond the surface and dig deep to learn more about what is not visible. Every country has its own unique culture; when an organization has employees from across the world, it must be mindful of the different cultural norms.

For example, in South Africa, individuals with White and Black ancestry, like Trevor Noah, are considered coloreds, not biracial. Words are powerful; sometimes, messages can get misconstrued because of language barriers. In addition, the concept of time, space, and gestures vary from one country to the next. To improve intercultural relations, employees should do the following:

  • Ask clarifying questions and become an active listener.

  • Research cultural norms before visiting a country.

  • Be mindful of your verbal and nonverbal cues that may be interpreted differently from one individual to the next.

  • Avoid colloquialisms, jokes, and idioms.

  • Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Assessment to identify biases and prejudices.

  • Create working environments that promote empathy and inclusivity.

  • Practice cultural humility. Admit the things you do not know and embrace opportunities to learn more about attending cultural events.

Reflective Questions:

  1. How does your organization help new employees get acclimated?

  2. Have you ever taken a cultural intelligence assessment? What were your results?

  3. How do you create an inclusive and welcoming environment for new employees?

Recruitment & Retention

The NBA provides training for its hiring managers in inclusive recruiting and developed partnerships with organizations, including National Sales Network, the National Black MBA Association, The Alumni Society, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and T. Howard Foundation, to seek candidates from underrepresented groups.

To recruit and retain top talent, organizations must use innovative strategies. For example, you must embed diversity, equality, and inclusion in all aspects of the organization, from hiring, firing, promotions, team creation, and how to run meetings. Diversity is the range of human differences, including gender, race, sexual orientation, education, language, abilities, socioeconomic status, and professional backgrounds. Organizations embrace these differences and promote inclusivity by creating welcoming work environments where employees feel comfortable contributing to the decision-making process and being their authentic selves.

Verna Myers, a DEI practitioner, stated that “Diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” Equity and equality are often interchangeable terms, but they share some differences. Equality has to do with sameness, while equity has to do with fairness. Every employee has different needs and starting points. To ensure that employees have the same opportunities, the employer must implement policies, practices, programs, and processes to level the playing field.

When recruiting and selecting candidates, it is imperative to have a diverse hiring committee from different races, positions, and sexual orientations. Blind interviews, blocked-out applications, and debiasing training assist in this process. Research confirms that white-sounding names get more callbacks than black-sounding names.

Companies must provide employees with opportunities to socialize and promote a work-life balance to build rapport. For example, the Golden State Warriors rent out restaurants to have group dinners with their families and other players.

The WNBA does not have the viewership of the NBA, contributing to the disparities between male and female basketball players. The Sports Business Journal states that the NBA has an average of 1.2 million viewers, while WNBA has less than half. Another reason there is a wage gap is that the NBA can generate more revenue than the WNBA. After all, it has been around fifty years longer.

In the 2019-20 season, the average salary for an NBA player was $8.32 million, and WNBA was $75,181. Some former NBA players are now broke. Basketball is a physically demanding sport; a torn meniscus or ACL increases players' likelihood of retiring early or being traded. Regardless of the reason, players must have a plan for life after basketball. To supplement income, some players acquire NBA endorsements.

LeBron James receives $53 million for endorsing Sprite, Nike, and Beats, while Stephen Curry gets $42 million from Under Armour and Chase. However, not everyone will experience the longevity of an endorsement deal as Michael Jordan does. In 1984, after signing a $500,000 agreement with NIKE, he launched the Jordan brand and was set for life.

Personal brands and professional brands are synonymous. Typically, the NBA player signs a contract with a specific company, representing its brand(s) on TV commercials, magazine ads, food labels, clothing, sneakers, and video games for a specified amount of time. To acquire a contract from a top brand, players that do not have household names must show the companies that they are stand-up guys on the court and in public. Players that had personal indiscretions typically lost endorsement deals.

Many players can get these brands' attention by becoming influencers on social media, highlighting players' personalities, and broadening brands' products and services to massive audiences, leading to more sales.

Money is only part of it; players must choose brands that are right for them, especially when they are away from their families for long periods. Players who decide to go the endorsement route must create win-win situations for themselves and the companies because it is time-consuming.

Although LeBron James has loyalty for Northeast Ohio, as an Akron native, he wants to establish enough wealth to sustain his family after basketball. Players often leave teams for more money. When James left Ohio, his revenue left too. Once players receive a certain status and capitalize on their fame, they seek cities with bigger markets, like New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Does your organization partner with other brands? How does this partnership create a win-win situation for both entities?

  2. How would you describe your personal brand?

  3. Are there pay disparities? Which group?

  4. How does your organization recruit and retain employees?

  5. Does your organization partner with minority, women, or LGTBQI+ associations to recruit candidates?

  6. What type of training does your organization have to reduce biases in the recruiting and interviewing processes?

  7. Does your organization use innovative ways to recruit and retain diverse employees?


Students of color need to see that the possibilities are limitless when they work hard. To help current and former players reach their second career goals, the NBA offers the NBA Career Crossover Program. The educational and professional development programs are within the following programs:

  • Basketball Operations Associate Program

  • League Office Internship

  • Assistant Coaches Programs

  • Referee Development Program

  • Job Shadow Program

Children need to see which opportunities they can afford if they put forth the effort. Shareef Abdur-Rahim is the NBA G League president and has played a pivotal role in expanding this organization. He held various positions with the Sacramento Kings franchise throughout his tenure: assistant general manager, assistant coach, and general manager of the NBA G League’s Stockton Kings. In 1996, he was drafted as the third overall pick and retired from the NBA after twelve years.

Although he left college early, he was still committed to completing his degree and took courses off-season. At age thirty-five, he earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley with a 3.8 GPA. He also has an MBA from the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Obtaining college degrees help players transition from pros much easier. In 2012, Shaquille O’Neal received his doctoral degree in education from Barry University and is now a sports analyst for TNT. Some former basketball players coach on the collegiate level: James Posey, Mo Williams, and Patrick Ewing, to name a few. These individuals still impact the sport they love but in different capacities.