NBA’s first Black female CEO helped transform culture of NBA franchise

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DALLAS (KDAF) — Cynthia Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, became the first Black female CEO in the National Basketball Association. But being “first” is nothing new for her.

Cynthia’s family left Birmingham, Alabama, and traveled to California when she was 3 months old. It was an effort to escape the Jim Crow South, but life in the projects on the West Coast wasn’t easy.

“When I was 11 years old, some chaos broke out in our family, and I saw my father actually shoot a man in the head,” said Marshall, who said it was self-defense on her father’s part.

While her father survived the incident, Marshal did not forget it. She sought a “way out” by setting her sights on leadership.

At her sisters’ graduation, she noticed the only speakers were white boys.

“I was in the ninth grade, and I looked at my mom and I said, ‘Can a Black girl be senior class president? Can a Black girl be student body president?’ She said, ‘Of course. You can do whatever you want to do.’ I said, ‘OK I gotta get one of my buddies because when we graduate, we’re going to do that.’ I found out that had never happened before.”

Marshall became the first African American president at her school.

“It was historic and the faculty was more emotional than I was. We’ve been blazing trails ever since then,” Marshall said.

Marshall later became the first African American cheerleader at Berkley and the first Black woman in Delta Gamma at the school.

Yet, even at almost 40 years old, she found herself not being accepted for who she was.

“When you fundamentally try to change who I am, when you tell me I can’t say blessed, when you tell me I’m too loud, you’re actually telling me you don’t want me to be a Black woman,” she said.

Now, as CEO of the Mavericks, tasked with transforming the culture, she’s making sure nobody else experiences that.

“If nothing else, I am proud of the speak-up culture we have. Our people have a voice,” she added. “The level doesn’t matter. I had a one-on-one with every single person in the organization when I got there.”

Marshall says now is the time to embrace all cultures — and February, which is Black History Month, is a good reminder of that.

“It’s a time when the whole nation gets to do that,” she said.

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