Last month, former UConn star and current WNBA champion Sue Bird accepted a position in the Denver Nuggets front office. She joined a increasing presence of women in NBA roles, the most recent of which is former Indiana Fever president Kelly Krauskopf. Earlier this week, the Indiana Pacers announced the hiring of Krauskopf as an assistant general manager, making her the first female assistant general manager in NBA history.
With the new addition, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma weighed in on the recent hiring of women in NBA roles.
“There’s a long way from being hired as an assistant general manager, to actually having an owner call you and say, ‘Hey we need a general manager, and we think you’re it’. That takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of guts, and I think you’re starting to see more of it. And I hope that it continues,” said Auriemma
“I hope these people that are getting hired get an opportunity to prove themselves. Once they prove themselves, they’ll realize that ‘I’m doing the job that anyone would do in this situation.’ Not ‘Hey for a woman, she’s doing a great job’. I think most people would be surprised just how good they are, in whatever role they’re given.”
When discussing the opportunities, Auriemma also noted that there are two things that he thinks about: the importance of promoting the empowerment of women, and what they can add to an organization.
“The bigger part is I think these people really are qualified and they add to our ability to have a high level organization,” said Auriemma on the latter. “We’re not talking college sports. This is professional basketball, where the lifespan of the coach or a general manager is not really long, so you know they’re only going to hire people that are hopefully going to improve the organization.”
One of the players that Auriemma thinks has a lot of potential to improve an organization is Bird.
“I think someone like Sue who has, for all intents and purposes, been an assistant coach and general manager and whatever you want to throw in also, for, I would say, most of the teams she has played on. She’s been that for a long long time,” Auriemma said. “I saw first hand evidence of it when I was coaching the national team.”
How Bird applies her abilities in her next steps, will of course be up to her. Auriemma said that his former players often show more interest in the front office or ownership path than coaching.
Of course, there is still a lot of progress to be made before a women can land a general manager or head coaching job in the NBA. Auriemma believes part of that is overcoming the perception that a female in a role is doing a pretty good job ‘for a women’, to just doing a pretty good job. When that happens is uncertain, unfortunately.
“If you ask Sue or [Diana Taurasi] or any of those guys when they’re around NBA players, they’ll be the first to tell you that when they look at Sue and when they look at Chris Paul, they think the exact same thing,” Auriemma added. “They don’t think, ‘You know, for a women’s basketball player, you’re pretty good’. They don’t think that.”
Auriemma also mentioned that the respect WNBA players get from their male counterparts has reach a level of “equality where you don’t have to go and make a statement, it’s just acknowledged.”
As for that equality and respect across the board, “It still has a long way to go.”