NBA Sets Goal for Hiring More Women as Referees and Coaches, But Needs a Strategy

NBA League Commissioner Adam Silver told The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. that the NBA has set a goal for at least half of its referees to be women. Silver also said that “there’s no reason” why women shouldn’t also be coaching men’s basketball.

According to Silver, there are only three female officials working NBA games and two of them were from the last five-referee hires from the G-league. The G-League is the training ground for game officials.

“I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit of being a man, as opposed to a woman when it comes to refereeing,” Silver told the gathering on Thursday.

But in such a male-dominated profession as coaching or refereeing men’s basketball games, the “how” of how it has stayed so devoid of women could be attributed to players and others not accepting female officials or making it a point to hire them.

As recently as 2015, Los Angeles Clippers player Chris Paul was fined $25,000 for saying “This might not be for her” after Lauren Holtkamp called a technical foul on him.

In 1998, the NBA lost a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by Sandra Ortiz-Del Valle, another woman who wanted to officiate in the NBA. The courts sided with Valle and she was awarded $7.85 million in damages.

The first female ref wasn’t hired by the NBA until 1997 and it was the first major U.S. professional men’s league to hire women as full-time officials.

In comparison, total management at Fair360, formerly DiversityInc 2019 Top 10 companies is comprised of 35 percent women vs. 23 percent for the national average.

Silver gave no definite time frame or strategy to be more gender-inclusive and a press release sent out in 2017 from the N.B.A. with initiatives to “bring additional transparency to the program and use advanced technologies to enhance the performance, training, development and recruitment of referees” did not list hiring women or increasing gender diversity as one of the goals.


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