Minnesota Timberwolves executive calls more for more diversity in pro sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves hope their words and actions will yield to various reforms regarding police brutality and racial inequality after an unarmed black man (George Floyd) was killed by a local white police officer (Derek Chauvin). They also hope that diversity can improve in professional sports.

Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, who is the NBA’s lone Latino person in that position, considered that issue “near and dear to my heart.”

“The opportunity to have for individuals is critical not only for representation's sake, but also for success,” Rosas said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “Our game of basketball is an international game. It’s not an American game. it’s a global game. You’re cheating yourself if you don’t have diverse perspectives.”

The Timberwolves pride themselves on having a diverse staff.

Beyond Rosas, the Timberwolves have a front office that includes an Indian American executive vice president of basketball operations (Sachin Gupta), a white general manager (Scott Layden), a black assistant general manager (Joe Branch), an Italian assistant GM (Gianluca Pascucci) and a white assistant GM (Emmanuel Rohan). Coach Ryan Saunders, who is white, has two black assistants coaches (David Vanterpool, Kevin Burleson), two white assistants (Bryan Gates, Kevin Hanson) and one Latino assistant (Pablo Prigioni).

“There is not just one way to play the game,” Rosas said. “If you ask anybody that studies our game, we’re playing a European game right now. This is not a U.S. made developed game. It’s different. Because of that, there is an opportunity for people with different perspectives and backgrounds. I’m very blessed and humbled with the opportunity that I was given. But I shouldn’t be the only one. I have to do my part to provide those opportunities and to open those doors and to help not just Latinos, but people from any underrepresented community.”

After Floyd was killed on Memorial Day, the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Josh Okogie have led various protests to speak out on police brutality and racial inequality. Branch has led ongoing discussions with players and staff members. Those have included Zoom meetings with notable speakers, including former NBA player Stephen Jackson, Eric Thomas, Inky Johnson, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and former football player and coach Tony Dungy.

Last week, the Timberwolves and Lynx partnered with “The Minneapolis Foundation” that will entail Saunders and Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve working on an advisory committee that oversees a fund to address violence, inequality, criminal justice, and community reforms. The following day, Vanterpool, Lynx assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson, and T-Wolves/Lynx CEO Ethan Cassan worked with RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality) to lead a community-wide discussion on the aftermath surrounding Floyd’s death. The Timberwolves and Lynx plan to give their staff a paid company holiday on Nov. 3, 2020, so they can vote on Election Day. On Thursday and Friday, the Timberwolves and Lynx’s players coaches and staff members will work with Hy-Vee volunteers to pack 1,000 meal kits and 2,000 snack packs for MATTER to distribute to Urban Ventures, a community center in South Minneapolis. Lastly, the Timberwolves filmed a PSA with the Lynx and Sacramento Kings.  

“It’s going to be critical we do our part,” Rosas said. “There are qualified individuals out there to run teams or be head coaches. Our league is full of talent. The NBA in terms of professional sports has been a leader in diversity, development, and training. We’ll have to continue along those paths. In a lot of ways, we’re a reflection of the community. Our ability to do our part to open those doors.”

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