As women, we constantly have to hear that we need to “break the glass ceiling.” We are constantly encouraged to break this metaphorical ceiling built by the workplace oppression that came before us. We often have to work 10 times harder than our male coworkers to get equal recognition for our contributions. To break a glass ceiling that took decades to build, we can’t just throw pebbles and expect it to crack; we need to become a force that shatters it.
It is no secret that women face discrimination in the workplace, almost every woman you meet has their own story. An in-depth look into the workplace of the sports industry by Women In Sport in 2019 shows that 40% of women in this industry have faced and still face discrimination. While this discrimination is unfair and unacceptable, it has not stopped the wave of women in sports. The sport in particular that we are going to discuss is basketball.
Since the hiring of Becky Hammon by the Spurs in 2014, the first woman to hold a coaching position in the NBA, there are currently 11 women who are assistant coaches in the NBA. There are a total of 178 assistant coaches in the NBA, making approximately 94% of these positions occupied by males. Of the 70 referees in the NBA, four of them are women, making approximately 94% of these positions occupied by males. 13 of the 31 referees in the WNBA are females, making approximately 58% of these positions occupied by males. 25 of the 63 referees in the NBA G-League are women, making approximately 60% of these positions occupied by males. While these numbers are still lower than they should be, it is a sure sign of progress.
There is no reason that women can’t be in this field. Women are just as knowing of the game as and just as capable as men to hold a leadership position. A true example of diversity in basketball is within the American Basketball Association (ABA). On their website, they proudly boast that 75% of their ownership staff consists of women of color. This is a true reflection of the wave of women within this sport at all levels and in all aspects. To continue this wave of women in basketball, we need to be more encouraging and supportive. As women, we often tear other women down when we should be building each other up. Part of our mission is to encourage, support, and feature women in all aspects of sports and we are thrilled to have our first interview be an impactful and encouraging one with Vipers Pro Basketball owner RJ White.
Did you always want to have a career in basketball or growing up did you want something different?
RJ White: “Oh yeah. I’ve been saying that I wanted to own an NBA team since I was 6 years old. I made him (my dad) sit at home while I talked his ear off about how I wanted to own an NBA team, and like I was gonna own the Lakers one day. My parents would literally tell you I used to collect newspapers that had NBA teams if an NBA team made the front cover, I had the newspaper. I had piles and piles of papers lined up all over the floor and I would put like, storylines together based off of what was on the paper. Like ‘I own the Lakers and we’re on our way to the championship’ it was just crazy because I was doing this at like 6 years old. And hearing my father trying to explain it all to me, as I’m older now it’s really surreal that I’m halfway to what I said I was going to do as a child.”
Where is your main interest in basketball/what is your overall goal?
RJ White: “My overall goal is to own an NBA G League team, and those conversations are being had. So in order for me to get the experience on an executive level and I had to basically find the experience in the semi-pro world. And once I got in semi-pro I had no other choice but to change semi-pro into pro because we grew so quickly. So to the fact that I wanted own an NBA G League team is how I originally got here (for Vipers Pro Basketball) because I was told that I have to have experience.”
What event or moment of your career so far are you the proudest of?
RJ White: “I’m really proud of our international expansion. We’ve extended out to 12 countries, and for me as a woman dabbling in other countries is considered uncharted territory and very dangerous. But you will catch me on a plane like I was, I was pregnant with my daughter on my way to London finalizing deals. Everyone was like ‘can you get some security, can you do something?’ and I was like ‘nope, I’m making it happen, and if they want a chubby, pregnant lady they’re gonna have to take that, but we’re getting it done today.’ That’s the biggest moment of my career that I’m proud of, the international alliances that I have been able to lock in.”
What does this wave of females in different levels of basketball in different leadership positions on and off the court mean to you?
RJ White: “It means that we’re getting closer to the goal. I feel like females bring a different perspective when it comes to the industry. And I feel like this new wave will bring a new and fresh perspective as well as hope for those behind us that want to go into a particular field that is not female-dominated. I feel like the new wave is something that we need, something is progressing us forward and it means a lot to me.”
What advice would you give to any younger girls and younger women who want to take steps forward in this industry?
RJ White: “Stick to the plan. I feel like as long as they stick to the plan and stick to the goals, stay focused then they’ll be able to accomplish it. Don’t give up. As females we tend to get emotional and when we get into our emotions we say ‘you know what, forget it.’ That’s one of the first things that a women would do, she’ll drop things when she gets upset or if she thinks things aren’t going her way she’ll try to tweak it or she’ll say ‘okay I’m gonna go off and venture into something different.’ Whereas if you pay attention to men, men will fail over and over and over and over again until they finally get that yes. So I would definitely say just don’t give up, just stick to the plan.”
You’ve stated that your next career goal is in G League ownership, what impacts would want to make in the basketball world with that type of position?
RJ White: “I wanna do millennials meet new-era basketball. I feel like basketball I very entertaining right now, very contingent, but I do feel like it is not very appealing to the millennials. How many millennials do you see going to basketballs games if they’re not asked to go by a father or a mother or as a family event. And even then when you see them they’re on their phones like the whole time. So I’m trying to create an innovative experience that will connect millennials with basketball.