Black NBA coaches who aspired to be head coaches believed not long ago, as do many of their dissatisfied NFL coaching counterparts today, that they were not getting a fair opportunity in a majority Black league.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves passed on promoting David Vanterpool, a Black associate head coach, to a head coach job in the middle of the season, it reached a boiling point. The Timberwolves chose to hire Chris Finch, a white assistant with the Toronto Raptors, from outside the organization.
Vanterpool expressed his displeasure with Minnesota’s choice, but he feared that speaking out at the time would jeopardize the chances of talented Black coaches who were on the verge of becoming NBA head coaches.
Since then, the NBA’s coaching ranks have changed dramatically: seven Black head coaches were appointed the last offseason, for a total of 14 in the 30-team league.
Vanterpool, an ex-NBA player with 13 years of coaching experience who is now an assistant with the Brooklyn Nets, hasn’t given up hope of one day becoming a head coach.
In his first public comments since not being promoted by the Wolves, Vanterpool told The Undefeated, “When it comes to résumé, I got the résumé.” “In this business, I’ve done practically everything.”
When it comes to experience, I know what I’m talking about. I don’t have the title of head coach, but I do have the experience. I’ve been coaching and working in this industry for far too long.
“All I want is the chance to succeed, as well as the ability to fail.” Just like the rest of the world. “I’m still going to get that chance.”
Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and New York Giants — alleging discrimination in his interview processes with Denver and New York, as well as his firing by Miami last month.
When questioned about his reaction to the news, Vanterpool replied, “I was astonished.” “It’s a big deal to take on the entire NFL and a few clubs in the process. I believed it would be more powerful if he knew what it meant professionally.”
“I don’t put myself anywhere near that,” he added. I went in a different direction. “I was more concerned with what my attitude would entail for others, particularly for Black head coaches who were getting their first jobs.”
Vanterpool was a standout at St. Bonaventure University from 1991 through 1995, averaging 17.5 points per game as a senior, but the NBA passed him over. Vanterpool’s professional career was highlighted by his appearance in 22 games for the Washington Wizards during the 2000-01 season.
He was also signed by the Detroit Pistons and the New Jersey Nets, although neither team used him in a game. Vanterpool went on to win championships in the EuroLeague, Russia (twice), Italy, the American Basketball Association, and the Continental Basketball Association throughout his professional career.
He called his professional playing career “resilient.”
Vanterpool added, “I know a lot of people don’t understand I played in the NBA.” “It’s often difficult for me to justify myself by listing out my résumé.”
Vanterpool’s professional basketball career came to an end with CSKA Moscow in 2007. Ettore Messina, a European legend who subsequently became an assistant coach in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, was his coach.
Messina was the one who originally told Vanterpool that after his playing days were over, he should coach and offered him a job on his bench with CSKA Moscow. Vanterpool accepted Messina’s offer after three weeks of deliberation, and he worked as an assistant for CSKA Moscow from 2007 until 2010.
“It was less of a fantasy and more of Ettore Messina’s help,” Vanterpool explained. “Some of the traits he saw in me as a player led him to believe I had coaching potential.”
In 2010, Vanterpool returned to the United States to work with the Oklahoma City Thunder as director of player personnel. He returned to coaching in 2012, serving as an assistant for seven seasons with Terry Stotts and the Portland Trail Blazers. Vanterpool helped develop NBA players like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum while with the Blazers.
Vanterpool originally interviewed for an NBA head coaching job in 2013 with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brett Brown was chosen as the head coach by then-Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie.
“Now that I know how the process works, it was more like, ‘Let me get to know this man who could be a future head coach,'” Vanterpool explained. “It was thrilling, novel, and unique.”
In 2015, Vanterpool interviewed for a head coaching position with the Denver Nuggets, and again in 2016 and 2018 with the Orlando Magic. While the Blazers were in the Western Conference finals, he interviewed for the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach position in 2019. In 2019, Vanterpool was also interviewed for the Timberwolves’ head coaching position.
“Some people say race isn’t always involved. It kind of is always involved in anything you do.”
— David Vanterpool
“At first, I was fresh to this head coach interview process,” Vanterpool explained, “so let me learn from each experience and grow and get better for the next one.”
“As I progressed in my coaching career, I realized, ‘I know I can do this job.'” In this situation, I know I can be effective.’ I’d say I was quite good after going through the procedure, but that’s up to interpretation.”
“That is pretty hard to tell,” Vanterpool replied when asked if he ever felt like he was being used as a token interview. I prefer to see the best in people. I’d hate for that to be the case. Some argue that race isn’t always a factor. It’s always a part of whatever you’re doing.”
Vanterpool accepted a job as associate head coach under then-new Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders in June 2019 in order to advance his career beyond Portland. If the head coach takes a leave of absence, is ejected, or is sacked during the season, the associate head coach is expected to take over.
Following the firings of their head coaches, the Atlanta Hawks appointed Nate McMillan as interim head coach last season, while the Sacramento Kings promoted Alvin Gentry to interim head coach this season.
“It was some form of affirmation,” Vanterpool remarked when asked what having the assistant head coach title meant to him. It let everyone understand that if Ryan [Saunders] goes to take care of his family, this is the one who will be in control. That was the understanding, and it has always been the understanding. That is why that particular title is being provided.”
Lillard and McCollum both praised him as a possible NBA head coach in the future. In 2020, Vanterpool will interview for head coaching positions with the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets. Vanterpool, on the other hand, was unable to get those positions.
After a loss against the New York Knicks on Feb. 21, 2021, the Timberwolves had an NBA-worst 7-24 record. Following the game, Vanterpool said he received a text message from Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas, instructing him to meet him in a conference room at the team’s New York City hotel.
Vanterpool expected to learn that Saunders was returning to Minneapolis because his wife was due to give birth any day now. Vanterpool was informed that Saunders had been sacked and that he would not be promoted.
Instead, just hours after firing Saunders, Rosas hired Finch, with whom he had worked during their time together with the Rockets.
“They use your skill set during the difficult times, but when it’s time to reward you with an opportunity, they always seem to find a reason to not.”
— A Black NBA head coach to The Undefeated
Rosas never explained why Vanterpool was not promoted, according to a startled Vanterpool, who continued his job as Wolves associate head coach.
“I was informed that Ryan would be fired and Chris would be hired. “I assumed I was being promoted because of the natural order,” Vanterpool remarked. “However, when I was informed what I was told, I was really taken aback.” “I felt absolutely numb, upset, and taken aback.”
Vanterpool stated that he merely asked Rosas how Saunders took the news and what the team’s plan was for the next few days. Vanterpool went on to say that he was too angry to question why he wasn’t promoted, but that he wished for answers.
Vanterpool explained, “Explaining something to me would allow me to explain something to my family and individuals who care about me if I so wanted.” “I would look at them and reply, ‘I don’t know,’ when they asked what occurred since I wasn’t telling them anything.” It’s difficult to deal with that feeling of uncertainty when it comes to interacting with the ones that matter.”
“I know there are greater challenges for minorities,” Rosas, the NBA’s first Latino basketball executive, told The Undefeated in a statement last year. I had to jump over them myself, which is why I created internal programs to help all of our employees prepare for the next step. David’s day will come, I’m sure.”
Vanterpool claimed he returned to his hotel room depressed, perplexed, and enraged. When his family, other loved ones, and NBA colleagues learned that he had been passed over, his phone went crazy. Vanterpool was stumped.
“It was all over TV and social media when I went to the room.” Vanterpool remarked, “People were calling me for answers I didn’t have.” “I was still annoyed and upset.” I was taken aback. “I had no idea what you were talking about.”
Several Black head coaches, assistant coaches, and front-office officials expressed their displeasure with the Vanterpool news to The Undefeated. On social media, Lillard and McCollum vented their disappointment. The Timberwolves were also chastised by the NBA Coaches Association for not conducting a thorough and diverse coaching search.
Last year, one Black NBA head coach told The Undefeated, “It’s typical of the Black coaching experience in the NBA.” “They use your skill set in difficult times, but when it’s time to reward you with an opportunity, they always manage to come up with a reason not to, and then expect you to keep being the good soldier.”
“Fire Ryan,” another Black NBA head coach told The Undefeated last year. On the same day, hire Finch. David Vanterpool is a no-show. Crazy. “I’m shooking my head.”
Vanterpool added, “That support was fantastic.” “It gave me a boost of energy.” That encouragement, to be honest, helped me keep going to work every day.”
According to a source, Timberwolves three-time All-Star forward Karl-Anthony Towns is a Vanterpool enthusiast who was not contacted about Finch’s employment. After Vanterpool was passed over, Towns professed his admiration for him.
“He is a guy that is going to get an opportunity to be a head coach. He deserves an opportunity.”
— Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash
Towns have a good working connection with Finch, but he still wants to be an NBA head coach for Vanterpool.
Towns told The Undefeated last week, “When everything went down here in Minnesota, I was the first person to say we have a guy of color with the pedigree and the résumé to be a head coach in this league.”
“I appreciate David Vanterpool as a coach, not just as a guy and for his character, but also as a basketball genius.” He has a thorough understanding of the game, not just as a coach, but also as a player. He is aware of the importance of interpersonal relationships.
“I believe that’s why you’ve seen so many players rush to his help and support him.” He comprehends the concept of a relationship.’ When he gets the chance, I’ll be overjoyed. I know he is deserving of it. I’m aware of the effort he expends.
I know he won’t say it, but I know he wants to be recognized as a coach who has worked hard as both a coach and a player, as well as a guy of color. He envisions himself as a platform for many men and women of color to gain access to this league.”
The Timberwolves’ choice not to promote Vanterpool and decline his option for the 2021-22 season highlighted the NBA’s shortage of Blackhead coaches, which is estimated to be around 75% black.
However, during the previous summer, seven of the eight NBA head coaches hired were African-American. Vanterpool was disappointed that he didn’t receive an NBA head-coaching interview last year, but he was pleased with his improvement.
With a giggle, Vanterpool remarked, “I was thrilled for those guys having those opportunities.” “Five first-timers,” says the narrator. I send texts to everyone. I dialed their number. I was ecstatic. It was well deserved. Some of us have been around longer than others, but we’ve all faced comparable challenges and navigated similar paths.”
Meanwhile, after Vanterpool joined the Nets, there was a rift with the Timberwolves. Rosas was sacked by the Timberwolves on Sept. 21, 2021, after the team learned about his internal contacts, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. Rosas was fired by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who replaced him with Sachin Gupta, executive vice president of basketball operations.
Rosas’ review process from pending new ownership accelerated, according to Shelburne, as they heard more about the deterioration of his connection with Gupta and after evidence of a consensual romantic relationship between Rosas and another team employee was presented to them.
Despite the fact that the Wolves do not feel the relationship broke any of their internal standards, sources told Shelburne that an investigation would be conducted.
“I was taken aback. It was a pity, I thought. “I didn’t take pleasure in another individual losing their career or potentially their family as a result of anything like that,” Vanterpool added.
“I am thrilled for the players from my time, Sachin, and the organization,” he continued. They’re still struggling, but they’re in a better place and doing well. I’ll always be rooting for them to succeed.”
Vanterpool was reunited with Kevin Durant and James Harden, whom he had tutored with the Thunder as they progressed to the 2012 NBA Finals while working with the Nets under head coach Steve Nash. Vanterpool’s expertise teaching and playing in the NBA and Europe, according to Nash, made him an appealing option.
“In terms of his basketball IQ and experience, he has the pedigree,” Nash remarked. “He’s also well-versed in my team.” He used to hang out with James and Kevin in OKC, which is a past friendship that helps. He is performing admirably for us. He’s a man who’s going to get a shot at being a head coach. He is deserving of the chance.”
Vanterpool has been without a head coach for the past nine years. It’s possible that he’ll never understand why he didn’t earn the promotion in Minnesota. Despite this, Vanterpool remains optimistic that his dream of being an NBA head coach will come true.
Vanterpool stated, “I am still going to be a head coach one day.” “I’m sure I am. I’m qualified for the position.”
Marc J. Spears is The Undefeated’s senior NBA writer. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t done so in years, and his knees are still bothering him.