The jokes flew from the players when Swin Cash came waddling through the New Orleans Pelicans practice facility, fully pregnant, but the respect was still evident for the highest-ranking Black woman in basketball operations.
“Yeah, my kick game is still nice,” Cash would often say to the players, referring to her collection of Nike basketball shoes. “Maternity clothes and kicks, you know, they go together.”
Normalizing that level of fashion is small potatoes compared to the doors Cash has been smashing through the last couple of years. Becoming vice president of basketball operations under David Griffin was the first endeavor, one of his first hires in June 2019.
Then with national TV cameras in the Pelicans war room watching on draft night last November, she nonchalantly stood up and soon after, her phone was buzzing.
“People from the league were texting me like, 'Oh my God, you’re pregnant in a war room like what is going on here,'” Cash told Yahoo Sports. “One of my old colleagues from TV had hit me and was like, that might be the first time that we've seen a pregnant woman in that position. I guess we’re just kind of breaking all kinds of records.”
Cash takes immense pride in being the first Black woman in such a position in basketball operations, recognizing the gravity while also still wanting to learn every aspect of basketball operations — even amidst a pandemic.
So she kept the pregnancy quiet for a bit, choosing to focus on the work before the Pelicans went into the Orlando bubble last summer.
“I didn't want it to be a thing where, you know, a lot of times people announce like they're pregnant and you become this kind of a show where they have to take care of you, and ‘Are you OK?’, and ‘We don't want to bother you,’” Cash said. “And so I just kept grinding and I love that fact that I can look back and be able to tell that story.”
Cash now has a 3-week-old boy to go along with a 3-year old son, jokingly calling herself a “Boy Mom” as a play to the late Kobe Bryant’s term “Girl Dad,” but she hasn’t had time to truly reflect on the barriers she’s crossed over the last couple years. Her connection with Griffin stemmed from their days at NBA TV in Atlanta when they would spend hours discussing the game and the players. Griffin saw her acumen and told Cash he wanted to hire her when he got back into leading basketball operations.
Cash actually thought he was bluffing until he followed up on his word, knowing she carries cachet with today’s players and possesses the temperament for team building.
Her own basketball credentials are second-to-none: three-time WNBA champion with the Detroit Shock, four-time All-Star and two-time USA Basketball gold medalist (2004, 2012).
Diversity in NBA front offices has been a mixed bag through the years, better than the NFL but not nearly where the league wants it. Being a Black woman in a white man’s world, succeeding in it and commanding respect makes Cash a unicorn of sorts.
Even the stigma for being a former player, as the criteria for what front offices routinely look for, she’s had to battle.
But Cash has excelled in every facet of her basketball life, a quality analyst to the point where nobody bats an eye now when seeing WNBA great Candace Parker on NBA studio shows for TNT.
“I’ve just been about doing it, to be honest, because I'm in it,” Cash said. “And I feel like at some point I am going to have to breathe in. And the thing that's probably going to be after our season.”
It’s been full-speed ahead, even as Cash was preparing for the ultimate slowdown: delegating responsibilities to her teammates in the front office so they could survive without her.
Women in the workforce deal with that struggle through all walks and often return to settings that have moved on from them. Not that she needed permission, but Cash has found nothing but support and enthusiasm from Griffin and her co-workers.
“I've heard some horror stories, and I'm just really happy that that was never kind of my case,” Cash said. “One of the questions a lot of women asked was, ‘Do you take the whole maternity leave, do you feel it’ll lessen your value somewhat?’ You know, if you step away, like out of sight, out of mind.”
She credits Ramon Sessions, Adam Barnes and Alex Kaufman for helping in her stead, saying “It feels pretty good to know I have supportive colleagues, a great team and a progressive-minded staff and players to work with.”
“And we've been still pushing out and doing a lot of things that if I was still there would be getting done,” Cash said. “And so that's what it kind of makes me proud about this whole process is like, I guess less about me and more about like, Hey, this is how you effectively can continue to do your job.”
She knows she’s an example on a bunch of levels, especially in an unprecedented time. And there’s still an opportunity to create new norms.
“Be a mom like, yeah, it's not always easy, I’m not gonna say it’s peaches and cream,” Cash said. “But as I'm going back into this, what I feel like the first end of it, of preparing to step away, is done. Now I'm preparing to step back into it. And hopefully, that still would be in stride.”
The trade deadline is approaching, so perhaps she’ll be on calls with the Pelicans or with other teams while pumping — because infants eat on their own schedule regardless of what a team is doing.
She chuckles at the novelty of it all: Players have pregnant wives and girlfriends, family lives and circumstances that pull them away all the time.
“Don't just limit yourself,” Cash said. “If I want to have a family, I can't be a GM. I can't do this because it takes up too much time. Right? So I'm like, OK, so that it can take up too much of a dad's time, but it can't take too much of a mom. Make that make sense for me.” The seamless transition could very well be a model for front offices and coaching staffs around the league. If the most tumultuous circumstances can produce an adult-like adjustment, there’s no reason why it can’t happen when life returns to normal — or whatever normal looks like in a post-COVID society.
WNBA great Teresa Weatherspoon is an assistant on Stan Van Gundy’s staff, and more are sprinkled across the league. At some point, a franchise will make history and name a woman as head coach.
It won’t be Cash, though.
“Look, I wouldn't want to be a coach for anything in the world,” she joked. “I'd rather be in the front office. I wouldn't want to deal with them jokers every day.”
But there’s no glass ceiling above her, if things work out and she can lead a franchise as a team president or general manager, she wouldn’t run from it.
“I work with some great people,” Cash said. “And I told Griff and he's been great about it, too, is like, I want to learn all aspects of our business. If I aspire one day to kind of get there, great. If I don't, and I pivot in a different career at some point, that's fine, too.”
Just don’t tell the Boy Mom she can’t.