On Tuesday, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports reported that Niele Ivey, the Notre Dame women’s basketball associate head coach and former WNBA player, has “emerged as a serious candidate” to join Taylor Jenkins’ staff with the Memphis Grizzlies.
To be clear, this is a development that fans of the Memphis Grizzlies should welcome. And for the more cynical among us, it has nothing to do with “wokeness”.
Ivey in particular is more than qualified to become an NBA assistant. Her credentials across the board are incredibly impressive: She was an All-American point guard at Notre Dame and led them to a national championship in 2001. She also left her mark professionally as she played in the WNBA for five years. And she has paid her dues in coaching as she has coached at one of college basketball’s premier programs in her alma mater since 2007.
Yes, Niele Ivey should do just fine if the Memphis Grizzlies hire her.
Of course, there will always be those who remain skeptical of a woman’s ability to coach professional men—no matter how backwards that view may be. After all, that’s at least partially the reason why many still roll their eyes whenever someone like Becky Hammon is mentioned as a possible candidate to become a head coach.
It’s all about forced diversity, right?
But NBA teams do not hire women like Niele Ivey to simply appear more progressive and champion diversity—that brand of being “woke” is insulting to the women who have more than earned their opportunities. At the end of the day, NBA organizations - like most businesses - hire the people that they believe are the most qualified, no matter what gender or race they are.
And you can be sure that when a team hires a woman like Becky Hammon or Niele Ivey that they are more than qualified for their positions. In a male-dominated league, these women have to work even harder than their male counterparts to receive the same opportunities.
Also, think about the optics of hiring a woman as a coach in the NBA.
Sure, there will be plenty of positive coverage if a team does so. There will probably be puff pieces about how the NBA has become so progressive. The optics look incredibly good with all things considered.
Until you have to fire them. And all of that positive coverage does a complete 180 until you are cancelled.
The same people that will celebrate a coaching staff for hiring a woman will also crucify them the first time that they fire one. That, of course, is ridiculous because it’s inevitable that people of both genders will fail in what they are hired to do. That’s just the way it is.
However, this fact should only reinforce the confidence that others should have when NBA coaching staffs do hire women—they know the risks of doing so, so they only take those chances on women in which they have full confidence that they will excel.
To be sure, this isn’t the way that things should work in an ideal world. There should be no strong sentiment one way or the other when an NBA team hires female coaches. Women like Niele Ivey and Becky Hammon have earned their opportunities, and they should be celebrated on the merits of their gifts and achievements alone. To do so simply for the sake of their gender is insulting to them.
To throw their successes down at the altar of progressivism and diversity only does them a disservice as well. It plays in to a stereotype that the NBA has only brought them to the forefront for the sake of cosmetic diversity. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the trailblazing success of female coaches in the NBA. But it does become problematic when these intelligent and gifted people are celebrated only because they are women.
Don’t argue that an NBA team should hire Becky Hammon because the NBA is finally progressive enough to have its first female head coach. Argue that a team should hire her because she was an incredible WNBA player, she led the Spurs’ summer league team to a Vegas title in 2015, and she has been apart of the league’s greatest coaching tree in San Antonio since 2014—leading to both Pau Gasol and possibly the NBA’s greatest coach in Greg Popovich recommending her for such a position.
Believe in the women of the NBA—not because they have transcended barriers merely due to their gender, but because they have transcended barriers through their work ethic and basketball knowledge.