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LOS ANGELES — As someone who hones his craft in a league in which minority coaches occupy the majority of the head-coaching positions, Chauncey Billups of the Portland Trail Blazers said he can’t help but appreciate how the NBA operates compared to the NFL.
“I’m really just kind of so proud of our league, to be honest with you,” Billups said before his Blazers took on the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. “I think we’re light-years ahead of where any other league is. I’m really proud of it, and I think a lot of it has to do with our players and our union, they’ve been pretty aggressive about what needs to happen.”
Billups, among the seven Black coaches hired to fill eight NBA head-coaching vacancies this past offseason, offered his comments on the league’s hiring practices after he was asked about Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL, which the former Miami Dolphins coach filed Tuesday and alleges racist hiring practices in the league.
The 32-team NFL currently has one Black head coach — Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In comparison, the 30-team NBA currently has 14 Black head coaches — and 16 minority head coaches in total.
Billups said he believes the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which was introduced in 2003 in an attempt to increase minority hiring throughout the league, hasn’t accomplished what it set out to do.
“I’ll be honest with you: I’m not — it probably sounds crazy — but I’m not really a big fan of the Rooney Rule,” Billups said. “I think they’re just making you interview a Black candidate, but if that Black candidate don’t really have a chance, don’t interview him.
“So, I think it just gives you a check-the-box in the situation, and I don’t think that’s fair. But for some reason they thought that that rule was going to be the great equalizer and it’s not. It’s not. So I’m not crazy about that rule and a couple other things in the NFL, but I’m blessed to be in the NBA.”
Sacramento Kings interim coach Alvin Gentry, one of the more accomplished Black coaches in NBA history having led six different teams over a 30-plus-year career, said he feels for Flores.
The Dolphins fired Flores, who is Black, last month. The New York Giants scheduled an in-person interview with him for their head-coaching vacancy, which he accepted. But after doing so, Flores received a text message from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who accidentally told him the Giants had already settled on Brian Daboll for the job. Flores, in his lawsuit, called his interview with New York a “sham,” saying it was done only to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which now requires at least one minority candidate to interview in-person.
“I think [it] is absolutely ridiculous if they already had a coach hired and they then interviewed him,” Gentry said. “So I can see why that would be very disturbing … I don’t know how the NFL operates, so I’m not up on that, so it would be hard for me to respond at all.
“I’m real proud of where the NBA is. I don’t know enough about the NFL to say.”
During Billups’ rookie season with the Boston Celtics in 1997-98, only seven of the 32 head coaches that season were Black (there were more than 30 because of in-season firings). He’s seen the NBA’s diversity and inclusion gradually improve over the 25 years he’s been associated with it — a league compromised of a player pool that is over 70% Black.
While the coaching landscape now better reflects the racial makeup of the league’s players, Billups said NBA front offices are still lagging.
“Our next level is continuing here in this [head coaching] position and also in front offices,” Billups said. “We need more minorities in front offices. You have to start somewhere and you have to continue to get better, but right now — in the league right now — we got to be better there [in front offices].”
But Billups said he has faith that the NBA will get there.
“I think we’re in a good place,” he said.
ESPN’s Nick Friedell contributed to this report.