At first glance, the picture above Anthony Davis’ “NOLA, I’m here to stay!” tweet announcing his agreement to a five-year contract extension with the Pelicans isn’t that extraordinary — just four smiling men in a restaurant.
And then it hits you. Along with AD, those men — Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps, new coach Alvin Gentry and Thad Foucher, Davis’ New Orleans-born agent — all are black.
No big deal, you say. It’s the NBA.
But it is. In a majority black league where the players are concerned, Demps, Gentry and Foucher actually are minorities.
Check the rolls. There are a lot more GMs, coaches and agents who look like me than look like them.
But Demps, Gentry and Foucher just finalized the biggest deal in league history — an estimated $145 million over five years.
And it happened not in Atlanta or Dallas or Memphis or Houston or San Antonio or Charlotte or Miami or Orlando — the supposedly more progressive NBA cities located in the South. It happened in New Orleans, which is seldom first in anything, save potholes.
Not only that, but Demps, Gentry and Foucher all gained their leadership positions without being blessed with much of anything beyond their own skills and determination to excel.
Demps made it to the NBA for all of 20 games and began his coaching career as an assistant with the D-League’s Mobile Revelers. Gentry never played past college at Appalachian State. And Foucher, who has a business background, got his start in basketball by forming and coaching the New Orleans Jazz AAU team.
Demps is one of a handful of black general managers, a level he achieved by age 40. Gentry is a head coach for the fifth time. Only one other black man, Lenny Wilkens, has coached more teams. Foucher has achieved a high ranking in Arn Tellem’s powerful Wasserman Media Group.
In a time when our dialogue on race seems centered on which relic of the Confederacy needs to be eradicated next, Demps, Gentry and Foucher serve as examples — to all of us — of what we can and should aspire to be.
“Even in this day and age, you rarely see something like this,” said Foucher who, among others, also represents LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook. “But I thought it spoke volumes. We had an effect on the game that everybody in the world loves.”
Yes, it may be just sports, which along with music has proved to be our great assimilator of cultural differences, no more so than in New Orleans. So perhaps their paths to where they are today were eased a bit.
But as Rod West, the New Orleans-born executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Entergy, who is also black, put it, “Thad and Dell are in the positions they’re in not because they know about basketball, but because they can deal with business and finances at the highest level. And Alvin’s not an NBA coach because he’s a ‘great recruiter,’ but because he has an outstanding basketball mind. It made me feel very proud to know they are the people who made this deal because of who they are and for what it means for New Orleans.”
Indeed. The Davis signing is an occasion worth celebrating by more than Pelicans fans.
No doubt that’s been the case this week.
But stereotypes and prejudices still exist.
“For a black person, it’s always easier to prove you can’t do something than to prove you can,” said Ro Brown, a 40-year veteran of local sports broadcasting and promotions who was the first black TV sports anchor in New Orleans. “You see a white person in a position of authority, and you assume they don’t have to prove they belong where they are. With black people, it’s often assumed they got the position through affirmative action or some other reason like that. But if you see Anthony Davis — a 6-foot-11 black man — you assume he’s a great basketball player.”
Well, he is. Davis may only be 22, but he’s mature beyond his years in his actions both on and off the court.
Kids — and adults — of all races are making his No. 23 jersey as ubiquitous locally as No. 9 Drew Brees ones.
And while it may have been the luck of the lottery pingpong balls that brought him to New Orleans, it’s his choice to stay here.
AD sees something in New Orleans, and not just from a basketball aspect.
His charity work has proved that.
Obviously one basketball player can’t ease the horrible conditions of poverty and crime too many of our fellow citizens have to deal with every day.
And one basketball player can’t solve the painful racial issues that sometimes divide us seemingly as much as they did 50 years ago. But maybe talking about AD, Brees and our other local sports demigods can lead to discussing other things among ourselves.
Plus, AD is here for the next six years which, if my calculations are correct, should mean at least three or four NBA titles. That’s certainly another positive worth cheering.
“Just getting started” was the second half of Davis’ tweet from Tuesday night.
Let’s hope that’s true. In more ways than one.