In 2014, the New York Knicks hired Derek Fisher, who had just wrapped up his 18th season as a player in the NBA, to be their head coach. Fisher had never coached in the NBA before, as an assistant or as a head coach. That followed the move by their intracity rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, who had pulled Jason Kidd from the floor as a player and installed him as the team’s head coach despite no previous coaching experience.
Two years before that, the Warriors called on former NBA point guard and ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson to lead the team. Jackson had never been an assistant coach at any level.
On Thursday, in a shocker of a move that seemed to unfold out of nowhere, the Nets made former NBA MVP and Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash the team’s head coach, replacing Kenny Atkinson and interim head coach Jacque Vaughn. The move was first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash has signed a four-year contract to become the next coach of the Brooklyn Nets, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 3, 2020
Despite the recent history of Black players being given head coaching jobs without previous experience, ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith saw racism at play in the Nets’ decision.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is no way around this, this is white privilege,” Smith said on ESPN this morning. “This does not happen for a Black man. No experience whatsoever, on any level as a coach? And you get the Brooklyn Nets job?”
Smith Saw More Qualified Black Candidates for Brooklyn Nets
Smith pointed out that the two Nets stars who were instrumental in getting the team to fire Atkinson—whose team won just 20 games in his first season but earned a playoff spot with 42 wins in his third year—were on board with the hiring of Nash. That would be point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant, the players the Nets signed to max contracts last summer.
That didn’t quell Smith’s tirade much. He cited three potential candidates for the Nets job—Jackson, former Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, and the Nets’ former star point guard Sam Cassell—among the Black candidates shunned by the Nets:
I know that Kyrie and KD have both signed off on this, I know they both support this move. But I am thinking about a champion that is Ty Lue, passed up. I am thinking about a guy that built the foundation of the Golden State Warriors, Mark Jackson, passed up. I’m thinking about the years that Sam Cassell has served as an assistant, first in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and now with the Los Angeles Clippers, passed up. And it’s for a guy—my God, one of the best guys you could possibly meet in your life and may do a fantastic job, but a guy who has no experience whatsoever.
Stephen A. Smith calls Steve Nash to the Nets “white privilege”.. to be fair what was Derek Fisher and Jason Kidd? Byron Scott? This is not white privilege.. this is former player privilege
— George Jarjour (@gjarjour) September 3, 2020
Smith Got Several Facts Wrong During His Steve Nash Rant
Tying the hiring of Nash to race because of his inexperience is factually shaky, at best. While not technically a coach, Nash has been a player development consultant with the Warriors since 2015, and helped players like former MVPs Steph Curry and Durant during his time there. He had an especially strong connection with Durant.
Nash, who is from Victoria in western Canada, has also served as the general manager of Team Canada basketball. He was not an assistant coach, but to say he has no experience working with players is flat-out false.
Still, Smith continued, saying that while the protests across the country have been, ostensibly, about violence against Black citizens by police, there is a deeper frustration at work, one that Nash’s hiring put on display.
“It’s that proverbial glass ceiling,” Smith said, “and that it breeds a certain level of frustration that we can’t even put into words sometimes, you just want to scream, you want to scream to the high heavens, ‘How the hell does this always happen for somebody else other than us? Why is it we have to be twice as good to get half as much?’ … Somehow, some way, there’s another excuse to ignore these criteria, to ignore those credentials and instead bypass it and make an exception to the rule for someone other than us.”
Nash, though, was not an exception. There have been former players, some white and many Black players, who have been given head coaching jobs without prior coaching experience. What’s more, Nash does have experience.