Brittni Donaldson paving the way for female representation in the NBA

Brittni Donaldson brings diversity to the Toronto Raptors coaching staff, not only because she’s one of 11 current female assistant coaches — and the youngest in the NBA at 26 years old. Donaldson carved her unconventional path to the top without relying on stardom from a WNBA career or her college days, and without significant previous coaching experience.

She did so through her passion for analytics.

The Raptors hired Donaldson as a data analyst for two seasons before Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse saw her untapped potential firsthand. With a degree in statistics and actuarial sciences while playing college hoops at Northern Iowa, Donaldson knew the game as both a player and a scholar. Her shift from the front office to the coaching staff last summer was a testament to the diversity she worked so hard to cultivate in her short career.

The Global Experiential Sports Lab, in conjunction with She’s4Sports, launched the She Can Coach panel at Toronto’s Ryerson University in January, where Donaldson spoke about her experiences in professional sports.

“That’s one of my biggest advantages at least in my workplace. I worked in the front office, I’ve done a little bit with player development, I’ve done a little bit with strategy, I’ve had my own experiences with injury (not that I’m a medical professional because I am not) but I’ve experienced it firsthand so I can kind of empathize with those who may be going through a similar situation.”

Donaldson had aspirations of playing professional basketball before suffering knee injuries that cut her playing career short, but allowed her to focus on working in various analytical roles before landing with the Raptors. She’s not just a token female hire. The Raptors, led by Masai Ujiri, are well-known for elevating deserving women into positions of influence, and Donaldson takes that responsibility to heart.

“I didn’t necessarily have somebody that looked like me in a position like mine to look at. So to be in that position now, I do take a lot of responsibility. I do not take it lightly at all.”

It’s a story countless female athletes can relate to, growing up without accessible female role models who are visible on or off the court, the ice, or the field. It’s no secret that young girls drop out of sport at a much higher rate than young boys, citing difficulties seeing themselves succeeding in roles without confidence that there is a future for them.

Donaldson certainly takes this into account, knowing that some young women already look up to her.

“I want to not just make it here, but do a really good job while I’m here.”

Donaldson is thriving in her role, and is respected and trusted by the players, staff and front office. Still, there’s moments where criticism for her being a female assistant coach can creep in. Donaldson’s perspective is that those comments are not out of disrespect, but rather a systemic issue due to the lack of females holding powerful positions in sport.

“I don’t think any sort of push back or criticism that women receive in a male dominated space comes from a place of malice, I think men have never had the opportunity to see a woman in a position like that

There have been men that have influenced my career greatly, and there have been men who have invited me and have been men who have believed in me. And I believe those men were exposed to strong powerful women at a young age, and saw women in these types of positions at a young age.”

Donaldson’s role on the bench with the defending NBA champions will certainly help inspire the next generation, but simply making it there isn’t enough for her, and her success story provided a pathway for the next generation of leaders in basketball.

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