Magic’s departure from the Lakers speaks volumes regarding the future of black sport executives in the NBA

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Magic Johnson’s vast array of successful business ventures could not help him maintain his position as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. Prior to the Lakers last game of the 2018–2019 NBA regular season, Johnson decided to step down from his front office position; much to the surprise of LeBron James and Laker’s owner, Jeannie Buss.

Possible causes of Johnson’s abrupt resignation stem from tampering accusations to instances in which he felt that there was too much backstabbing and whispering. Regardless, the move represents a decline in an already underrepresented role of black sport executives.

Although the NBA leads all major sports leagues in diversity hiring practices, there is still a stark difference between the number of players versus the number of black executives. Moreover, there remains only 4 black executives above a general manager position in comparison to a league that has nearly 75% percent black players.

So, what does this mean for increased diversity for top positions in sport? Let’s break this down.

Michael Jordan, who won six championship rings with the Chicago Bulls and arguably considered the best player in NBA history, had to wait patiently with his 2006 minority investment in the Charlotte Hornets franchise prior to purchasing full control of the team in 2010. This was also after he was let go by the Washington Wizards franchise after he felt that he was going to return as president of basketball operations upon retirement. He is the only black owner of any sport team across all major sports.

In 2018, the Dallas Mavericks named Cynthia Marshall as CEO of the franchise. She is the first black female and first female CEO of an NBA franchise. Her first task as CEO of the team was to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct within the organization. Even Marshall’s front cover feature in Bloomberg Businessweek suggested that she was in charge of cleaning up a #MeToo movement mess.

Despite this remarkable feat regarding black executives in the NBA, there is still an uphill climb for representation. This has prompted some to declare that the NBA should have its own Rooney Rule.

If Johnson’s issues regarding instances of backstabbing and whispering are the main reasons as to why he stepped down, then the question remains: what exactly was said that would make the hall-of-fame player and successful businessman resign?

Systematic oppression has always been at the forefront of black people breaking into the upper echelon of executive positions in corporate America. For those who have made it to the C-suite ranks, the problem is keeping them there. Further, the problems loom from years of being passed over for promotions, having to deal with covert and overt racial slurs, and outgrowths of depression.

Considering this, Johnson’s claims of being “free as a bird” and “handcuffed” in a position in which he was given full control over speaks volumes to the hurdles in which black sport executives face moving forward. Even though there is a small level of growth, developing a work culture that works to maintain black sport executives should be the next order of business.

Written by

Assistant Professor and Advisor, Institute for Business Ethics and Sustainability at LMU. Sport is Life! Golden Girls fan! Twitter: @ShaunMarqSpeaks

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