February 12, 2016 / 9:29 PM / 2 years ago

League proud to be progressive, but more can be done

Jul 23, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Former professional basketball player Steve Nash greets volunteers during a men's basketball preliminary round game between Canada and Mexico during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Ryerson Athletic Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO (Reuters) - The NBA has long been considered the most progressive of North America’s four major professional sports leagues when it comes to gender equity but more work can be done, according to some owners and former players.

Heading into the NBA’s current season, currently on break for All-Star Weekend in Toronto, the league led the way in North America with two female assistant coaches among its 30 teams.

“We can always do more but I think the NBA has always been a leader in human rights and I think we’re a very inclusive league and product from a fan standpoint as well,” said Steve Nash, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player who retired last year, told Reuters.

The San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings both have women on their coaching staffs while the NBA was the first of North America’s core four professional sports leagues to have a full time female referee when Violet Davis took the court in 1997.

“You can always say with diversity, when you have underrepresented groups, that you can always do more,” said Sacramento Kings co-owner Paul Jacobs.

“Then the question is how do you get from here to there, and how do you make sure that there is a pipeline of people and that those people are having adequate access.”

Last week the National Football League said during its first Women’s Summit ahead of Super Bowl 50 that they are instituting a rule requiring all 32 teams to interview women for open executive positions.

While applying a similar rule for NBA teams may boos the number of women in executive positions, Boston Celtics owner Stephen Pagliuca said it was too soon to determine whether the league should adopt an NFL-type rule.

“You don’t want to have unintended consequences of any rule so it really needs to be discussed and deliberated,” said Pagliuca, whose Celtics had the NBA’s first all-black starting lineup (1963) and first black head coach (1966).

“But I think the feeling is there in the NBA that we want to be gender neutral, we want to be race neutral and it’s all about a meritocracy.”

Retired 11-year NBA veteran Jerome Williams applauded the idea of having more women in the league but said ultimately it is about finding the person who best connects with players.

“In sports, you have to understand that just like in any job ... it’s always going to come through the players,” said Williams.

”Whoever the players are comfortable with, whoever the players respond to, whether that’s a man, a woman ... it’s just all about the response.

“But as these opportunities are more readily accessible, or shown that they are accessible to more women, more women will start to pursue them.”

Editing by Larry Fine

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