The 2021 NBA Coaching Carousel

By Gary Norris Gray, Staff Reporter

The National Basketball Association (NBA) enters this year’s conference finals with three African American head coaches leading their teams to a possible championship. At the same time younger Black assistant coaches are being by passed consistently.

August 3, 1949 was the birth of the NBA and at that time there were no African Americans on the floor or on the bench, times have changed yet they remain the same.


It is now 73 years later there have been 73 African American head coaches, that means one Black head coach per year. We must remember the first Black NBA head coach was not installed until 20 years after the league started. That was the great Boston Celtic center Bill Russell in 1966-67 as player- coach.

There have been six Black head coaching NBA Champions: Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics; Al Attles of the Golden State Warriors, Lenny Wilkins of the Seattle SuperSonics, and Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers.


Only one time two Black head coaches vied for the Championship and that was in 1975 with the Golden State Warriors and Al Attles competing against the Washington Bullets head coach K.C. Jones. It might happen again this year if the Atlanta Hawks win the Eastern Conference Final.

In 2012, African American head coaches hit a league high of 12 out of 30 teams in the NBA. The numbers have been dropping ever since to this current year’s low of six. The question should be asked WHY?

The NBA might have to answer many questions after this year’s playoffs. With the league being 75% African American on the playing floor and three Black head coaches in the Final Four. My friends and those analytics freaks thats 75 per cent.

The NBA has been criticized even in the past for favoring white coaches over their African American counterparts. For a league that is predominantly composed of Black athletes. What about the coaching assistants on the bench which once again are predominantly African Americans. These gentlemen have to wait their turn for their chance to lead.

Currently there are six African American head coaches and four of the six made it to the 2021 conference semifinals: Tyronn Lue, Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers, Philadelphia Sixers, Nate McMillan, Atlanta Hawks, and Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns.

The other coaches are J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwayne Casey, Detroit Pistons who missed the playoffs.

My Brother and fellow writer Eric Graham noticed it too, writing: “Given the recent racial tension going on in the United States, questions are being raised if Steve Nash was hired because of his “white privilege” and whether Black NBA coaches are being marginalized.”

It is not Brooklyn’s Steve Nash or Golden State’s Steve Kerr’s fault, it is ownership and management fault for continuing this old American system. The Old Boy Network in full gear. The Indiana Pacers did not even give Nate Bjorkgren rookie head coach a chance.

The Pacer organization fired him after his first year, a new record for being fired in the league Most clubs give the new head coach at least three years to implant his basketball program, not Indiana.

Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee better watch his back if the Bucks do not make the finals this year. He saved his job (FOR NOW) with a seventh game victory over the heavily favored Brooklyn Nets. I’m not impressed with Budenholzer’s coaching style with the talent in Milwaukee.

The Bucks should have won the title the last two years.

There is a civil war going on with the Dallas Maverick organization as the General Manager Donnie Nelson walked away from his job after head coach Rick Carlisle lost his job. Dallas owner Mark Cuban made a statement with this move. “I’m the Boss.” 

The Mavs have only one championship under Cuban, and that was with coach Carlisle.


Washington Wizards: Scott Brooks

Orlando Magic: Steve Clifford

Portland Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts

Indiana Pacers: Nate Bjorkgen

Dallas Mavs: Rick Carlisle

New Orleans Pelicans: Stan Van Gundy

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens


They claim stability is the name of the game in the NBA and the head coaches listed below are just that.  This stability shuts out young African American coaches because they have to wait and are on the outside of the head coaching pipe line.

These five organizations understand this and only the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs have had two mediocre seasons back to back since 2018 because of devastating injuries to their star players.

There is only one African American head coach on this list, Dwane Casey of the Detroit Pistons 

Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets


Some Black assistant coaches could not wait and moved on to other platforms and back to their respective colleges and universities.

Former NBA stars Patrick Ewing (Georgetown), Juwan Howard (Michigan), Penny Hardaway (Memphis), and Jerry Stackhouse (Vanderbilt) have waited for an NBA head coaching job in the NBA for years and years. Both Ewing and Howard guided their teams into March Madness this year after showing the world they can coach.

Mr. Ewing took one of the worst defensive team in the Big East Conference and made everybody remember the days of The Hoya Paranoia crew of the 1980s-1990s while Mr. Howard took his alma-mater, the Maze and Blue Wolverines to the Big Ten Championship a place where they had not been in years.

So the question remains WHAT’S UP NBA?


The Minnesota Timberwolves fired head coach Ryan Saunders and hired Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch when they (Minn.) had associate head coach David Vanterpool right on their bench, Vanterpool is Black. Teams continue to do this hiring practice and it is very discouraging for African American coaches.

Black assistant coaches are beginning to wonder are they wasting their time waiting to get that call to lead their teams. Mike Brown-Cleveland Cavaliers Los Angeles Lakers, and Golden State Warriors has proven that he is more than capable to be a head coach with his 12-0 playoff record with the Golden State Warriors filling in for the injured head coach Steve Kerr in 2016.

It is time to see some new coaching blood in the NBA, coaches of color, like Toronto Raptors assistance Coach Adrian Griffin and not like former head coach Mike (NO DEFENSE) D’Antoni. The league cannot continue to install old head coaching retreads. The NBA must move into the future with young coaches of color like the players on the playing floor.

We may be looking at a basketball future Rooney Rule if this continues. The NBA may adopt the 2003 NFL policy requiring every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more diverse candidate.


Elston Turner, Houston Rockets; David Vanterpool, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Stephen Silas, Dallas Mavericks.

Other Black head coaching candidates available: Lloyd Pierce, Wes Unseld Jr., Jamahl Mosley, Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Sam Cassell, Jarron Collins, Jacque Vaughn, Darvin Ham, Phil Handy, Maurice Cheeks and Mike Brown.


UPDATE: As of press time, three black head coaches have been hired: Jason Kidd at Dallas, Chauncey Billups at Portland, and Ime Udoka at Boston. Rick Carlisle was re-hired by the Indiana Pacers.

Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian, Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston, Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove, Soul Tree Radio In The Raw, and The Batchelor News Radio Network, Disabled Community Activist. Email

©Copyrighted Gary Norris Gray @ Gray Leopard Prod

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