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Volume 21 No. 6
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Heat, Raptors earn inclusion acclaim

The NBA put the spotlight on diversity at its recent sales and marketing meetings by naming the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors winners of the NBA’s inaugural inclusion awards.

The league for the first time added diversity and inclusion categories as part of its annual team business awards given at the meeting, which this year was held from Jan. 8-9 in Miami. More than 450 league and team executives attended.

The Heat won the NBA Inclusion Leadership Award that recognizes a team’s history and commitment to inclusion as a key business strategy. The Raptors won the NBA Inclusion Innovation Award that recognizes a specific program that advances inclusive practices.

“Our teams were doing great work in the inclusion space and we had a lot of discussion on how to best recognize it not only in the appreciation of teams but also to inspire other teams to continue to invest in this area and push the envelope in areas we can improve in,” said Oris Stuart, senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer for the NBA.

The Heat’s focus on inclusion and diversity over the years has resulted in a full-time workforce that is 70 percent minority and 33 percent women.

“All teams are local businesses and I have always thought that everyone who lives and works and visits Miami should feel welcome coming to Heat games,” said Eric Woolworth, president of business operations for the Heat. “In order to do that, we have felt that we should reflect the makeup of our communities. This award from the NBA was the league tipping their hats to us that we are the most diverse organization in the most diverse league in the world.”

The Raptors were recognized for creating an “Empower Her” program in partnership with the team’s Women Leadership Forum launched last year. The program is a mentoring effort between female executives at Raptors parent Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and about 40 girls from ages 12 to 14. The executives work with the girls in developing life skills and exposing them to sports leadership positions as part of the programs at MLSE’s LaunchPad community facility in Toronto.

“We wanted to build a program that has meaningful outcomes,” said Shannon Hosford, senior vice president of marketing and fan experience at MLSE. “Mentorship is an important piece.”

The seven-member subcommittee of the NBA’s Global Inclusion Council evaluated submissions from an undisclosed number of team entries. The subcommittee then recommended a list of finalists from which the Global Inclusion Council chose the winners.

“There is a keen interest from our teams in understanding what other teams are doing and learning,” Stuart said.

The other big award winners at the marketing meetings were the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, with each team winning five sales and marketing awards. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Heat were the other leaders, with each team winning four awards.