What does Minnesota’s new front office tell us about organizational values?

When the Minnesota Timberwolves hired Tim Connelly to be the president of basketball operations, it reminded me of how the Wolves brought in Chris Finch. Admittedly, Connelly’s hiring process was far more conventional than Finch’s hiring path. In short, Wolves forfeited a formal off-season coach search and hired a coach from another staff mid-season. Usually when a coach or general manager is fired, the immediate replacement is promoted from within until a formal search can be made – as we saw with Sachin Gupta. David Vanterpool, a black man, who was the associate head coach when Wolves took on Finch, was denied the interim title and the chance to coach the team for the final part of the season.

Although the two hires were executed very differently, the end result was the same: Wolves hired a white person instead of a person of color. I want to be blunt from the top, this is not a knock on Connelly. He more than earned his stripes with an impressive run in Denver. It’s hard to piece together an argument on paper that Gupta is better at the job than Connelly. But, honestly, that line of thinking isn’t really an appropriate way to talk about the situation. This is not a basketball argument. It’s not analytics. There’s no formula that says X white frame is much better than Y color frame, so it was a fair hire. These things just don’t work that way.

What I’m talking about here are the structures of institutional racism that keep people of color out of the top echelons of sport time and time again.

Gupta has kept a steady course during his time as Minnesota’s top decision maker. He made no moves at the deadline, signaling that this team was good enough to make the playoffs and any move that wasn’t a clear improvement probably wasn’t worth making. Gupta brought in Greg Monroe, who instantly became a fan favorite, even if only for a brief moment. Really, he just got things done, which was the right decision.

The Wolves seem to recognize that as they have maintained their party line, Gupta is still part of their plans. All reports seem to indicate that he is okay with hiring Connelly. But with Connelly bringing in Matt Lloyd from the Orlando Magic to take on the role of senior vice president of basketball operations, I can’t help but wonder about Gupta’s place in the front office. I don’t know the inner workings of the Wolves front office. Even Jon Krawczynski reported Athleticism that it’s unclear who Minnesota’s No. 2 is. Krawczynski also notes that Connelly “built an inclusive front office environment where everyone had a voice.” Either way, Lloyd represents another voice in the front office that takes some of the decision-making power from Gupta, diluting his influence. Technically, it might not be a downgrade, but it certainly looks like a downgrade from the outside.

Just two years ago Wolves were a shining example of what organizational fairness can look like. Gersson Rosas had made it a priority to diversify its workforce. Unfortunately, Rosas had other issues that prevented him from seeing his vision. His authoritarian leadership and inter-office dealings led to his dismissal, leaving his workforce diversity work feeling hollow. It’s a shame that what seemed like a hugely positive direction for Wolves was just a facade built up by Rosas. The team he built still exists on the pitch, but its squad is slowly deteriorating.

I have to be clear that I don’t expect much from the NBA in terms of real, concrete work against racism. It’s a professional basketball league, not a social justice organization. The bar for “acceptable practices” is not that high as this is a multi-billion dollar industry. The financial outcome will always come before the moral and racially conscious outcome. But, time and time again, Adam Silver’s NBA has seemingly made it clear that, at least optically, it has no problem being considered one of the most progressive leagues in sports.

Think back to the bubble, when a whole slate of games was postponed because the Milwaukee Bucks chose to boycott a game after Kenosha police shot Jacob Blake. This led players, coaches, managers and owners to work together to create a social justice initiative focused on voting accessibility.

A more recent example is Steve Kerr’s pre-game press conference, during which he pleaded with congressional Republicans to tackle gun violence after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. . The NBA chose not to fine Kerr, allowing him to express his politics. beliefs and ignore any questioning related to basketball. Sometimes inaction speaks volumes about an organization’s values.

If the NBA really cares about being a progressive league, then allowing players and coaches to speak openly on the mic, stick Black Lives Matter on their courts, and organize ballot initiatives isn’t enough. If the league truly wishes to reflect these progressive values, it will take an organizational commitment to include and promote people of color. This does not seem to be a priority at the moment.

Critics of that sentiment will be quick to point out that more than half of the league’s head coaches are black. To that I say, yes, it is true. Moreover, this report is unambiguously a good thing. Coaching demographics should reflect league demographics, so the more black coaches the better. To point to the number of black coaches as a response to institutional racism is to completely miss the point. A quick look around the league offices shows a distinct lack of melanin. However, hiring Connelly from Minnesota opens the door for Calvin Booth to take over in Denver, joining James Jones (Phoenix Suns) and Masai Ujiri (Toronto Raptors).

The hardest part of talking about institutional racism, let alone fighting it, is that so many people choose not to believe it’s real. To many, racism looks like grand overt gestures or expressions of hatred. It’s true. We live in a country where black people have been murdered in cold blood while shopping for groceries. Beyond the most despicable and putrid acts of racism, there is a web of more nuanced and covert structures that uphold white supremacist values. It is a twisted disease in the American psyche that so many people would choose to believe that Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez are not active participants in the white supremacist capitalist machine that is America. They would rather assume that the two are simply doing what they believe is best for the organization rather than acting in ways that preserve the structures of institutional racism that have allowed them to amass such wealth and notoriety. In reality, I don’t know their intentions, nor do I care to try to psychoanalyze them.

However, what I do know is that the larger structures of racism can only be broken down by those who benefit most from them. I’m in no way saying that Lore, Rodriguez or Glen Taylor are racist because they didn’t promote Gupta. It’s ridiculous. The crux of it all is that they have achieved great success and taken advantage of the systems that were built to oppress. They had the option of choosing a fairer approach, but they didn’t, and I’m disappointed. That’s what it’s about. If the NBA and the Minnesota Timberwolves truly believe in advancing fairness in their organization, promoting Gupta — or at least not demoting him — would have been a step in the right direction.

Maybe Gupta stays and develops a solid working relationship with Lloyd and Connelly. Maybe the team that Lore and ARod have put together will be able to turn the Timberwolves into a top basketball organization. But Connelly’s success doesn’t erase the fact that the Wolves have moved away from being a model of diversity, fairness and anti-racism for the NBA.

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