Milwaukee Bucks: Darvin Ham opens up on race and NBA coaching

Las Vegas, NV - JULY 5: (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Las Vegas, NV - JULY 5: (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Speaking to his former coach George Karl, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham opened up on race, and how it factors into NBA coaching.

At a time when the spotlight on racial inequality and injustice is, thankfully, becoming brighter than ever, it’s never been more important for people of color and those from minority backgrounds to be given the platform to share their perspectives and make their voices heard.

From players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Sterling Brown, there’s certainly been no shortage of important Milwaukee Bucks figures using their platform to discuss those issues in recent weeks, and now assistant coach Darvin Ham has weighed in with his own thoughts.

More from Bucks News

Making an appearance on Truth + Basketball, the podcast of George Karl, his former head coach when he was a player with the Bucks, Ham detailed his experiences of growing up in Saginaw, MI., the difficult journey he faced before even making it to the NBA, and the experience of being a black coach in a high profile position in the league today.

Having been immensely successful as an integral part of Mike Budenholzer’s staff between Atlanta and Milwaukee for many years, Ham is now the lead assistant with the Bucks, and would seem like an obvious candidate to make the jump to a head coaching job very soon. In reality, though, that transition isn’t necessarily that simple.

Namechecking Kevin Arnovitz’s recent column for ESPN that placed him as one of the standout future head coaches in the NBA — with this being the third year in which Arnovitz has featured the former Texas Tech Red Raider — Ham spoke to the challenges that face him as a black man in trying to land a top coaching job.

"“I’m faced with the reality that I go into a room and I have to make someone comfortable with me. First and foremost, being a black coach, a former player, and a man of a certain physical stature. And it sucks, because some of my white counterparts who are great coaches, nonetheless, they don’t have that issue. They can walk in as they are. If they’re a fiery type of personality, they can do that. If they’re a little more introverted, they can do that. They’re not judged by that, because the person — 9 times out of 10, 9.9 times out of 10 — that’s in the position to hire them as a head coach is someone who’s like them. A white person or someone who came from that same type of background as that candidate came from. But me, I don’t have that luxury, so I have to kind of go out of my way. And I’ve had this conversation with other coaches of color, how we have to approach this thing differently. We can’t be too outspoken, or be so brash, or be too introverted. We have to walk a serious tightrope in terms of showing these people that we’re capable of doing the job of running their franchise.”"

Of course, Ham’s relationship with Budenholzer has been crucial to the success of both men in recent years. For his part, Ham stresses that key to that has been the fact that Budeholzer has allowed him to be himself and take on a hands-on role in all facets of the game.

"“Me and Coach Bud hit it off. We met in Miami when [the Spurs] were playing the Heat in the Finals in 2012-13, and he hired me along with Quin [Snyder], Kenny Atkinson, and Taylor Jenkins. And it’s been a great ride with Coach Bud. We had some success in Atlanta, winning 60 games, and go to Milwaukee and do the same thing, both teams made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Coach Bud has allowed me to have a voice, he’s allowed me to grow, he’s allowed me responsibility. And we do everything. I do player development, I do gameplans, I scout for some of the biggest teams I have to prepare our team for. So it’s a situation that’s favorable, and he’s allowed me to be me.”"

Although the NBA has a reputation for being a progressive league, Ham made the point that the diversity essentially comes “from the bottom up and not the top down”, highlighting the lack of minority team owners, governors, and key front office personnel.

Ham made it clear that he would continue to speak up, citing the multitude of reasons why it’s too important not to fight against social and racial injustices.

"“I’m not afraid to speak out on these things, because if people can’t understand where we are as a nation, as a world, and what’s been going on in our country, what black people that come from where I come from and my ancestors had to go through in this country, the systemic cancer that’s our infrastructure — and you look at different laws that attack people of different minorities, unfair education opportunities where certain schools are defunded or underfunded as opposed to schools in mostly white neighborhoods, you look at job opportunities and employment numbers, you look at incarceration rates. Like I’m not talking off of emotion. Analytics is a big part of our game now. Go look at the analytics of how black people and minorities have been treated under the system we exist in right now. Just look at the numbers.”"

Next. Meet the Bucks 1990s All-Decade Team. dark

Ham undoubtedly deserves his chance as a head coach in the NBA, but in the meantime before that day comes, the Bucks are incredibly lucky to have him as an assistant coach.