Natalie Nakase’s Quest to Coach in the NBA

“Meet the NBA’s first female coach. Well, not yet, but that’s at least what Natalie Nakase has in mind. The question is, when will the league be ready?” Fantastic profile of Natalie Nakase by Kate Fagan for espnW: Here’s a taste:

“In September, Nakase began a yearlong internship with the Los Angeles Clippers. She works for the team’s video coordinator, in the same kind of NBA entry-level position once held by Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown and Portland Trail Blazers assistant Kaleb Canales. (There has been only one woman in NBA history to work as a video coordinator: Trish McGhee, who was laid off by the Memphis Grizzlies because of the lockout of 2011.)

The job requires a continuous stream of caffeine and an inexplicable passion for X’s and O’s. Nakase loves it. Even though she is overqualified for the position, she feels grateful to have it — to have pried open the NBA door and stuck her foot in the gap.

The NBA possesses more of a herdlike mentality than it cares to admit. Just look at the analytics revolution that is sweeping the league. A few teams — the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder — had success making decisions based on new statistical formulas, and the rest are now scurrying to catch up, hiring their own numbers guys. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey says all NBA teams want to be ahead of the curve, but few can afford the risk. “It’s always easier when you have one example to point to, so when you take that idea to your owner, you can say, ‘See, it worked here.’ Nobody wants to be the first.”

This mentality is one reason women aren’t being hired as NBA coaches — because no team has done it yet. The league loves to recycle, with teams routinely installing coaches and general managers who’ve been hired and fired multiple times. But, as Morey puts it, “I find it hard to believe that all of the best and smartest thinkers in basketball just happen to share the same chromosome.”

Nakase is hoping others will see it the way Morey does.”