Women's Influence Growing in US Men's Professional Basketball

    22 October, 2019

    Training is over for the day, but one Boston Celtics basketball team coach is still working.

    Assistant coach Kara Lawson is on the team's court helping new player Carsen Edwards improve his game. He gets the ball into the basket several times and then runs over to her.

    "Thanks coach," Edwards says before exchanging a high-five with Lawson.

    Welcome to the new look of the National Basketball Association, or NBA - the men's professional basketball league in North America. Women now are involved in most parts of the organization — from broadcasting, officiating and coaching to high-level management and even team ownership.

    In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo, Sarah Kustok, television sports reporter for the Brooklyn Nets, prepares for the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets in Denver.
    In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo, Sarah Kustok, television sports reporter for the Brooklyn Nets, prepares for the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets in Denver.

    Lawson is one of a record high 11 women serving as assistant coaches among the 30 NBA teams.

    "It's not a fad," said former professional basketball player Nancy Lieberman. "It's opportunities going to very accomplished women who have given their life to the game."

    The change in the NBA is recent. The 61-year-old Lieberman remembers a time when women were rarely seen in the NBA.

    Lieberman herself has broken barriers as a player, as a coach in the WNBA, as head coach in an NBA minor league and as an assistant in the NBA. She says she quickly learned that building relationships was critical to easing gender barriers in the organization.

    She found support from organization members, like former coach Don Nelson. In 2009, he chose Lieberman to be head coach of the minor league Texas Legends team. Now she serves as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings, along with two other women.

    Players respect the women assistant coaches for their experience and knowledge of the game.

    Kara Lawson was a basketball star at the University of Tennessee and later won a WNBA championship with the Sacramento Monarchs. She also won a gold medal with the U.S women's basketball team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.

    She retired from play in 2015. Earlier this year, she joined the Celtics as a coach.

    Player Gordon Hayward said Lawson has made her presence felt.

    "She's been good as far as just the experience she has as a basketball player," Hayward said. "Having [someone] that well-versed in basketball, that experience is good."

    One female assistant coach, Kristi Toliver, does double duty. She plays for the WNBA's Washington Mystics. She also serves as an assistant coach to the NBA's Washington Wizards team.

    "The biggest thing I learned is to share your voice and what you've learned," Toliver said. "Doing that has helped me communicate with my guys."

    Richard Lapchick examines racial and gender hiring numbers for the NBA and other professional sports organizations. He praised the leadership of Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner. Silver said the league needed to increase the number female coaches and referees.

    Along with the record number of female assistants, five female referees will be working NBA games this season.

    Lapchick believes the NBA will soon have its first female head coach. He said such a move would go a long way toward putting even more women in position to make decisions in the sport.

    "I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen before the next season," he said.

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    coach n. a person who teaches and trains the members of a sports team and makes decisions about how the team plays during games

    high-five n. a gesture in which you slap the palm of your hand against the palm of someone else's hand in the air usually to show that you are happy about a victory or accomplishment

    fad n. something (such as an interest or fashion) that is very popular for a short time

    opportunity n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done; a chance

    accomplished adj. very skillful: having or showing the skill of an expert; very successful; very successful: having done or achieved many good or important things

    well-versed adv. highly experienced or skilled; knowledgeable

    referee n. a person who makes sure that players act according to the rules of a game or sport