In an interview with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated the day after former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued the NFL, Nets assistant David Vanterpool expressed his support for Flores — and a bit of wonder at the guts it took.
“I was shocked,” Vanterpool said when asked about his reaction to the news. “To take on the whole NFL and a few teams in the process is a big deal. I thought it was more powerful with him knowing what it means career-wise.”
“I don’t put myself anywhere near that. I took a different approach. My approach was more thinking what my reaction would mean for others, especially for the Black head coaches who just got jobs for the first time.”
Vanterpool knows some things about the hurdles Black coaches face, no matter what the pro sport. Half the NBA’s head coaches now may be black, compared to one in the NFL, but Vanterpool’s history shows that being passed over, despite great resumes’, is common.
Indeed, Vanterpool’s history is rife with opportunities and interviews, but no head coaching gig. A product of St. Bonaventure, he played one season in the NBA with the Wizards in 2000-01 and was signed to a training camp contract with the Nets the following season but cut.
That short NBA foray was sandwiched between years overseas as a basketball vagabond. He played in Italy and China before his 22-game NBA stint, then Italy again before landing with CSKA Moscow in 2005, where he won a Euroleague championship and was named All-Euroleague. (Vanterpool has been an employee of both Mikhail Prokhorov, who was then owner of CSKA, and Joe Tsai.)
After retiring from CSKA in 2007, he took Ettore Messina, his last head coach, up on an offer to become his assistant in Moscow.
“It was a lot less of a dream, but more of an assistance from Ettore Messina,” Vanterpool told Spears. “When I was a player, some of the things he saw in me made him believe coaching was in me.”
He did that for three seasons, then was hired by the Thunder as director of player personnel before beginning his NBA assistant coaching career. He spent seven seasons in Portland, mentoring Damian Lillard and C.J. McCullum. Lillard has credited Vanterpool for helping him develop as a leader. Time and again, he was on a short list.
Vanterpool interviewed for an NBA head coach job for the first time with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013...
Vanterpool interviewed for a head coach opening with the Denver Nuggets in 2015 and the Orlando Magic in 2016 and 2018. He interviewed for the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach opening in 2019 while the Blazers were playing in the Western Conference finals. Vanterpool also interviewed for the Timberwolves head coach opening in 2019.
Spears asked Vanterpool if he felt he was the “token” candidate in those job interviews.
“That is really hard to tell. I like to see the best in everyone. I would hate to have that be a reason. Some people say race isn’t always involved. It kind of is always involved in anything you do.”
When Minny hired young Ryan Saunders for the head coaching job, Vanterpool was named associate head coach to serve as Saunders mentor as an associate head coach with an understanding that he would fill in if the head coach was unavailable.
“It was some level of validation. It brought a level of understanding that for everyone around that if Ryan [Saunders] is gone to take care of his family, this is the person that will be in charge. That was what was understood and has always been understood. That is the purpose of that type of title being offered.”
His biggest disappointment though came in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves, under then president Gerson Rosas, fired Saunders after a 7-24 start a year ago this weekend, then without even talking to Vanterpool hired Chad Finch, then a Raptors assistant who Rosas knew from their days in Toronto. Finch is white. Vanterpool said there was no explanation why he’d been passed over. Everyone from Vanterpool himself to Karl-Anthony Towns to the NBA’s black coaches was disappointed and more than a bit upset.
“I was told that Ryan was being let go and Chris was being hired. Natural order, yes, I thought I was being promoted,” Vanterpool said. “But when I was told what I was told, I was just in shock. I was numb, upset and taken aback completely.
“Explaining something to me would allow me to explain something to my family and people that care about me if I so chose,” Vanterpool said. “Not telling me anything, when they asked what happened I would look at them and say, ‘I don’t know.’ That feeling of uncertainty when it comes down to communicating with the people that matter, it’s tough to deal with.”
When his contract with Minnesota ended after last season, Vanterpool moved on and signed with the Nets as an assistant, essentially replacing Ime Udoka who became one of the black head coaches hired last summer. He had a relationship with Kevin Durant and James Harden from their days together in Oklahoma City. (At around the same time he was hired, Rosas was fired by the T-Wolves for, among other things, having a consensual sexual relationship with one of his staffers. Rosas was recently hired as a consultant by the Knicks.)
“He has the pedigree in terms of his basketball IQ and experience,” Nash told Spears. “He is also very familiar with my guys. He was with James and Kevin in OKC way back when, which is a previous relationship that helps as well. He is doing a great job for us. He is a guy that is going to get an opportunity to be a head coach. He deserves an opportunity.”
Vanterpool is hopeful that the next interview he gets for a head coaching job will land him the job of his dreams. He says he’s ready. His resume’ and recommendations from All-Star players certainly indicate that.
“I am still going to be a head coach one day,” Vanterpool said. “I know I am. I’m qualified to do the job.”
Vanterpool was fined $10,000 at the end of January by the NBA for his heat-of-the-moment bench deflection of a pass in a Nets tight win over the Wizards. Strange as it was, it was not even the worst such incident in Nets history, let alone the NBA. Jason Kidd famously had Tyshawn Taylor hit him as he returned to the bench, causing Kidd to spill a drink ... and get a bonus timeout. He was fined $50,000 for that infraction and still got two jobs in Milwaukee and Dallas afterwards.
So, for Vanterpool, it’s a waiting game, one that unfortunately he’s used to.
- ‘I know I can do this’: Nets’ David Vanterpool is ready for his head-coaching shot - Marc J. Spears - The Undefeated