NBA’s Oris Stuart On How The League Represents Its Global Audience

The NBA’s Oris Stuart at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, N.C. Photo: CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion

With the NBA playoffs starting this weekend, the on-the-court product will be featured endlessly in highlights packages and promotional materials across a wide audience. Less exposed than a Kevin Durant dunk will be the work being done by Oris Stuart off the court to improve the league’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Stuart, who came to the NBA after stints at Korn Ferry and as CEO of Global Novations, is the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the NBA. “Our efforts are focused on ensuring the league office is representative of our fans and the marketplace for talent at every level, in every aspect of our business. Not just in the league office, but across all 30 teams as well.”

Considering the NBA’s product isn’t just viewed by millions of Americans every week but globally as well, it’s no small task to ensure everyone feels represented. Stuart has spearheaded best practices processes across the league to help identify minority and women talent and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is a signatory of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion—which is led by PwC Chairman Tim Ryan. But that’s just the start for Stuart and the NBA.

Chief Executive spoke with Stuart about being in the limelight as a professional sports league and how that impacts the NBA’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Below are excerpts from this conversation.

What does the NBA specifically do to promote diversity and inclusion? Everything you guys do a is kind of under the limelight. What are some of the initiatives to make sure that you’re ahead of the game when it comes to diversity and inclusion?  

We start with inclusion as a core and central value to how we operate and how we engage with everyone in our business operation, in our sphere of influence. And that’s essential because when we lead with inclusion, it allows us to support diversity over the long haul. We have created and conduct learning experiences focused on making our environment ever more inclusive. We have dialogue around the things that get in the way of being an inclusive organization. We create expectations about how we will behave as leaders and as colleagues in our organization and our operations and how we engage each other.

That’s where we start. Beyond that, we measure our progress. We develop practices and expectations around how we will recruit talent, how we will develop talent. We do everything we can to really live a up to the values that we espouse. For us, it’s an inside out proposition, starting with inclusion and then really doing everything we can to make sure the diversity of our organization reflects the environment around them.

Since you’ve gone down this journey what have been some of the challenges that you’ve seen and how are you working to overcome those challenges?

You don’t create a successful organization like we have over many years without developing approaches and practices that helped make you successful. So any kind of change, like expanding your sourcing for talent, introducing new processes for recruiting, building a new partnership with organizations that can help you on your journey. All of that requires a belief in where we’re headed and a commitment to behaviors.

Change with any individual and certainly within any organization is often difficult. But what I can tell you is that the support at every level of the NBA league office and teams has been incredible. I work for an organization that really wants to be the best it can be. It’s really a matter of identifying things that we can and should be doing differently and really leaning in to those. And so, it’s just, it’s really dealing with the challenge of changing practices that have been built up over time or evolving those practices. That’s a challenge in the midst of driving towards our broader business objectives, but nothing that I haven’t seen the full support of in just about every aspect of our business,

One of the things that is clearly understood at the NBA is that diversity and inclusion are just good for business. Our fans are diverse, the marketplace for talent is diverse, our suppliers are diverse, the communities we live in are diverse. Our players are diverse and from all over the world. Twenty five percent of our players were born outside of the United States. We’re a global business, a global brand with lots of constituents that we aim to serve. There’s a full recognition that to be effective, to grow our game, to continue to innovate, that we have to be diverse and we have to be inclusive. And so the business cases is quite clear to us.

Do you feel extra pressure considering the NBA is built and marketed upon a diverse range of basketball players—but in the leadership sense, maybe the league isn’t as diverse as you’d like to see? That’s one of the big criticisms the NBA and other sports leagues seem to face.

Our focus is on making sure our processes are inclusive at every level. We want to have the best talent. We want to attract the best talent and then we want to select the best talent, whoever that talent is. That’s around gender that’s around. That’s around ethnic background. It’s around experiential background and so many other dimensions. We think about this opportunity and this challenge holistically. Others outside the organization may make that distinction, but we’re just focused on making sure that there are opportunities for the best talent wherever they are, where they’re come from, whatever their origins, to help us grow the game. That’s our approach.

What are some lessons you have seen from outside the sports world that you are trying implement at the NBA?

This is one of the values of being a party to CEO Action (for Diversity & Inclusion). You have so many great organizations that have distinguished themselves in these topics and who freely share their best practices and where they’ve had success and challenges. One of the things that we’ve been very focused on is having conversations around unconscious bias around our enterprise, but not only having an awareness conversation, but really focusing on steps that we can take and strategies that we can implement to interrupt that bias. Not just interrupting it in how we recruit, but how we advance people in our organization and how we solve business problems. And so being able to refer to some of the approaches and programs and experiences that many of these organizations have done, particularly I in learning experiences and exercises I’ve found to be particularly valuable as we’ve advanced our own journey on unconscious bias.