RACE AND THE NBA CASH REGISTER

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Updated: May 16, 2014
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By Gary Norris Gray and Art George- BASN Staff Reporters

OAKLAND (BASN): Tickets, food and beverages, commercial sponsors, broadcast revenue, all sorts of merchandise sold everywhere across the globe; the National Basketball Association is a money machine.  Yet there’s no evidence of how much of that draw replenishes communities where the NBA’s teams play.
That’s the assertion of the Greenlining Institute of Oakland, California which provides research and advocacy on economic issues related to business, health, politics, and communities of color.
 
Orson Aguilar, executive director of the Institute, wrote NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on May 6 to request the league obtain and provide data on the gender and ethnic/racial makeup of teams’ suppliers, including data on ownership of all vendors with which the teams do business; and the gender and ethnic/racial make-up of each team’s personnel, broken down by categories such as senior management, business operations, finance, ticket operations, and other functions.
 
“NBA teams surely buy hundreds of millions of dollars in goods and services,” Aguilar said about the purpose of the Institute’s letter. “Does any of that money go to the communities that their players and fans come from?,” he asked. “That has more real impact on people’s lives than the statements of one ignorant team owner.”
 
Aguilar stated there was no sign that the league or its teams contract at any meaningful level with minority-owned businesses for the huge amount of goods and services they buy.  Aguilar’s letter to the NBA Commissioner said that the removal of Sterling and the application of Sterling’s $2.5 million fine to anti-discrimination efforts are only the first steps in what must be a multipronged effort to match the NBA’s reality with the league’s stated ideals of diversity.  Aguilar said that the teams’ purchasing has more real impact on people’s lives than the “statements of one ignorant team owner.”
 
Aguilar also challenged the corporate culture of the league in a statement accompanying his letter. “It’s pretty clear that the NBA has a glass ceiling, that African Americans can be players and even coaches, but top management positions and owners are virtually all white.” Aguilar said in the aftermath of the Sterling controversy, “there has never been a better time to address the persistent racial disparities facing the business and sports world.”
 
Under Greenlining’s proposal, teams would be required to report total spending by both dollars and percentage with women- and minority-owned businesses.  Aguilar said that the league reportedly has a program to encourage diverse vendors, but has not released any data on the program.
“The only thing surprising in the recent controversy over offensive, racist comments by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is that anyone is surprised,” Aguilar wrote to Commissioner Silver.
 
“It may be comforting to pretend that America’s race problems are finished and the occasional publicly exposed bigot is an aberration, but it’s not true. Through an unhappy set of circumstances, the NBA has been handed an extraordinary opportunity to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”
 
Aguilar concluded his letter by offering the services of the Greenlining Institute to assist the NBA in conducting the review of vendors.
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