Eight candidates have been connected to the Bulls’ search for a lead executive:
Webster is of Japanese descent. The other seven are white.
Ferry, Colangelo and Wilcox particularly raise eyebrows. While running the Hawks, Ferry used “African” pejoratively to describe Luol Deng. Colangelo lost his job running the 76ers amid a burner-Twitter scandal. Wilcox made an inappropriate racial joke while working in Atlanta.
Chicago’s search has included no black known candidates.
The reaction from a handful of NBA’s black executives, who spoke to The Undefeated on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely on the topic, was disappointment and frustration.
“I find it strange in this environment that there has not been one black candidate that the Bulls have spoken to so far,” one NBA general manager said. “If they did now after being called out, it would seem token in nature.”
Said another NBA assistant general manager: “That is a slap in the face. Their worst is still being considered over our best. The league is going to have to do something. It does get frustrating.”
It’s difficult to assess racial bias on a case-by-case basis. The Bulls should interview the best candidates. Perhaps, they honestly believe they’ve done that. Diversity is bigger than checking boxes of race.
But, in aggregate, far too few black people run NBA front offices. It is simply unbelievable this breakdown is the outcome a fair system.
Ferry and Colangelo represent the worst of how favorable treatment works. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly vouched for Ferry, whose father (Bob Ferry) played in the NBA then spent nearly two decades as a general manger. Colangelo’s father (Jerry Colangelo) is also well-connected at the highest levels of the league. Considering how they flamed out in their previous jobs, Danny Ferry and Bryan Colangelo at least appear to be benefiting from nepotism.
This issue isn’t unique to Chicago or even the NBA. It crosses into all sectors. Nepotism tends to favor those who’ve held power dating back previous generations – i.e., white people.
Black candidates also face stereotypes about intelligence and leadership.
That’s why it’s important for anyone running a job search to confront their own biases. The Bulls might have thought Karnisovas, Simon, Webster, Buchanan, Zanik, Ferry, Colangelo and Wilcox are the best candidates. But did COO Michael Reinsdorf or anyone else involved stop for introspection: Why did no black candidates emerge? Is it because these eight were truly the best options? Or because of underlying bias?
Ferry, Colangelo and the lack of black candidates particularly make it difficult to accept the former.
One of the quoted general managers is correct about the appearance of tokenism. Karnisovas has reportedly already emerged as the leading candidate. Just interviewing a black candidate now would be perceived as inauthentic. The Bulls would have to reconsider how they’ve conducted this search then relaunch it. If a fair process still landed on Karnisovas, reasonable observers wouldn’t object.
Heck, I can’t rule out that this was a fair process that that landed on Karnisovas, Simon, Webster, Buchanan, Zanik, Ferry, Colangelo and Wilcox as candidates. It’s just hard to believe that.
Whether or not it was a fair process in Chicago, this discussion can be productive. Hopefully, it leads to future hirers thoughtfully considering how to eliminate racial bias from their process.