For 15 years, Patrick Ewing languished in NBA purgatory as an assistant coach.
From the Washington Wizards to the Rockets, then onto the Magic and eventually the Hornets, he was routinely praised for his coaching acumen while inexplicably never being offered a head-coaching gig—despite his wealth of experience on the sidelines.
Year after year, coaching vacancy after coaching vacancy, Ewing was passed over in favor of candidates that were either poor fits or far less qualified. In 2011, the Pistons chose Lawrence Frank. In 2013, it was Steve Clifford who got the gig in Charlotte. In 2016, the Kings went with Dave Joerger.
Fed up entirely with the bullshit, the 11-time NBA All-Star told the league to go fuck itself and instead took his talents to Georgetown in 2017, picking up the baton from where John Thompson’s legendary run left off. But after finally landing a head coaching gig (that of course, required him to retreat to the college ranks in order to do so) the question remains: Why in the hell was the NBA so averse to hiring Ewing?
“I think that maybe a little bit of the stereotype of big guys, they don’t like to hire centers,” NCAA legend Rick Pitino told the New York Post. “It’s strange, but the only reason I say that is because there aren’t too many big guys being head coaches.”
NBA insider Brian Windhorst was a bit more nebulous in his own assessment.
“There’s a stigma out there that he is not quite the greatest fit for a head coaching job,” he said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike after the Kings passed on Ewing. “I’m trying to say that diplomatically, from what people have told me. He has gotten some interest before, but I don’t think he’s even in the top five for the Sacramento job.”
In a league whose player pool is over 81 percent Black, you would think its coaches would be more reflective of the athletes on the court. But nope, you don’t even need two hands to count the number of Black head coaches currently in the league despite there being plenty of options to choose from. They’re always the last to get hired and the first to get fired.
This is part of the reason why the Nets’ decision to hire Steve Nash is so infuriating, because not only does he have zero coaching experience, but the pool of Black head-coaching candidates this off-season is arguably more stout than ever.
Did I mention Nash has zero coaching experience? As in none? This, of course, didn’t deter Nets owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks from extending a four-year contract offer.
“After meeting with a number of highly accomplished coaching candidates from diverse backgrounds, we knew we had a difficult decision to make,” Marks said in a statement. “In Steve we see a leader, communicator and mentor who will garner the respect of our players. I have had the privilege to know Steve for many years. One of the great on-court leaders in our game, I have witnessed first hand his basketball acumen and selfless approach to prioritize team success. His instincts for the game, combined with an inherent ability to communicate with and unite players towards a common goal, will prepare us to compete at the highest levels of the league.”
Nobody is doubting Nash’s basketball IQ, but this is the guy you believe is best equipped to lead Kevin Durant, a notoriously cancerous Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert to the promised land? In a season in which the Nets will contend for an NBA title? Over Tyronn Lue, Mark Jackson and countless other highly qualified Black candidates?
The guy with zero coaching experience?!
“I am honored to have this opportunity with such a first-class organization and would like to thank Sean, Joe and his wife, Clara, for having faith in my ability to lead this team forward,” Nash said in a statement. “Coaching is something I knew I wanted to pursue when the time was right, and I am humbled to be able to work with the outstanding group of players and staff we have here in Brooklyn. I am as excited about the prospects of the team on the court as I am about moving to Brooklyn with my family and becoming impactful members of this community.”
Must be nice.
Even looking at the Nets’ situation, Black coaches are often relied upon to pour the cement, hammer the nails and build the foundation for their white successors. Mark Jackson did exactly that for Steve Kerr in Golden State, who then went on to win multiple championships, and it was Jacque Vaughn who did it this season for the Nets prior to Nash’s arrival.
Vaughn is being retained as an assistant coach moving forward, but all that means is that he’ll be paid handsomely to conceal Nash’s shortcomings and babysit yet another woefully underqualified white man like millions of other Black folks already do every day at their own workplace.
It’s not fair, it’s not right and it comes as a surprise to absolutely no one.
Especially people like Patrick Ewing.
But it’s not like the Nets care. Because if Nash goes down in flames, I’m sure they’ll tag in the next Black band-aid and arm them with immense gratitude and a fire extinguisher.
It is what they’re best at, right?