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Swin Cash on her decision to join the Pelicans, what makes her tick, and her passion for the future of female Earth shakers

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New Orleans VP of Basketball Ops and Team Development is deeply committed to numerous endeavors.

2019 NBA All Star - Unified Basketball Game Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s an effortlessness to the way she wins over a room that makes Swin Cash more than just a basketball icon.

“She’s so great, isn’t she?” — Her rep couldn’t help but blurt out after our conversation.

Like many front office executives throughout the NBA, Cash occupies her position with a power and self-assuredness needed to ascend past the entry-level positions and into her role as vice president of basketball operations and team development.

Granted, confidence isn’t nearly enough to gain access to a meeting with Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. Cash is an All-Star, an NCAA tournament MVP, a two-time college champ (Connecticut), and a three-time WNBA champ (Detroit, Seattle).

Just this past month, Cash was given possibly the greatest honor an athlete can receive: a nomination into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Serving Her Community and Beyond

But Cash’s effect reaches far beyond that of just the pinewood. Her tenacious work throughout communities has earned her recognition around the country.

In 2010, Cash was made an Honoree of the Boys and Girls Clubs Alumni Hall of Fame. In 2011, she earned an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from Washington and Jefferson College. And in 2016, she received the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award.

So, what’s next for Cash?

Cash is partnering with Secret Deodorant to strengthen their “All Strength, No Sweat” campaign, a movement meant to ‘serve as a rallying cry for women of all industries, encouraging them to take pride in their power, their attitude and their right to claim what they deserve in life.’

“Over the last two years I’ve had the opportunity to see how Secret has been supporting women whether it be from equality, diversity, inclusion standpoint,” Cash told me. “(I wanted to learn about) what the brand wanted to do to not only inspire women, but to support women.”

Inequality has been a source of discord that continuously fails to meet its resolution. That was put on full display this past week at the 77th Golden Globes where a female director failed to yet again to crack into the winner’s column. In fact, only five women have earned the category nomination in the Globe’s 77-year history.

Cash became one of the leaders of this campaign thanks to the popularized commercial featured during the Golden Globes, which prompted a strong call to action.

We see it time and time again,” stated Angie Thomas, New York Times best-selling author of “The Hate U Give.” “Women and people of color are never seen as ‘equals’ to the majority, or in this case the Golden Globe voters, and are usually ‘othered.’”

Lost were the Greta Gerwigs, the Alma Har’els, Mariella Hellers and Lorene Scafarias, acclaimed directors and creators of “Little Women,” “Honey Boy,” “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” and “Hustlers.”

While Natalie Portman seized her platform to cast a light on the issue, many others remain silent.

“A lot of times we as women are disenfranchised and that’s because the people we need to be in position to make decisions are not in the room,” Cash told me. “If we continue to ring the alarm, this has to change this decade.”

As Cash’s passion poured through in our conversation, it became apparent that the root cause of her distress wasn’t one of anger or a search for retribution. It comes from a calculated determination to show the fullness of her power and that of others.

”We are going to change. Inspiring women across the globe to understand, You deserve your worth.”

The Golden Globes exists as just a lighthouse reminder and microcosm of where we all continue to fall short. An abundance of similar circumstances exist throughout our society and that’s precisely what Cash is targeting.

Breaking the Male-Dominated NBA Culture

No other instance better exemplifies the distribution of power between sexes than in the NBA. The chasm between the WNBA and the typical NBA annual salary is laughable.

  • The average WNBA player makes just over $70,000 per year (according to Forbes).
  • An NBA veteran ten-day contract pays out over $80,000 (Hoops Rumors).

Did you catch that an NBA player makes more on a ten-day contract that a WNBA player does in an entire season??

In 2013, New York Times Best-Selling Author (Book of Basketball) and creator of The Ringer Bill Simmons wrote:

“I wish WNBA scores would be banned from all scrolling tickers on ABC and ESPN. I’m tired of subconsciously digesting tidbits like “Phoenix 52, Sacramento 44 F” and thinking, “Wait, that was the final score?” before realizing it was WNBA. Let’s just run their scores on NBA TV with pink lettering. And only between the hours of 2:00 a.m and 7:30 a.m.”

In the churning #metoo era, the voices have grown quieter but many of the same prejudices still exist and are felt by some of the highest-rising stars within the WNBA.

“I think it goes beyond just the sport,” Mistie Bass told the Undefeated last year. “I think it’s just females in general. As far as we have come, I still believe that the general population of men believe that sports is for men and for women it’s not. When women get into powerful positions, it’s not the way it should be. Like we’re supposed to be living in the 1960s.”

So, Cash and powerful-thinking women like Grammy-nominated Jessie Reyez, actresses Camila Mendes and Shenae-Grimes Beech, and fitness-influencer Ainsley Rodriguez are teaming up to open a conversation, to share information and to support one another in each of their respective professions.

“With Teresa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, Sue Bird, Neil Addy, all the other women that are in the coaching ranks, executive ranks, even for me here, Mrs. Benson who is the only owner of an NBA and NFL team - I think it’s important that we continue to share information. That’s the one thing as women we have to do. We have to share information not only on salary but on how the interview goes.”

“Do I believe that in the next 5-10 years there’s going to be a female coach in the NBA?” Cash said. “Absolutely, because we’re trending in the direction that women don’t just belong here, but that they can do the work.”

“It’s no different than a man and woman. Basketball is basketball.”

Cash’s partnership with Secret is far from her introduction to this forum and her approach isn’t just subjugated to basketball. I had the chance to catch up with her this past August when she spent a week instilling her integrity into 13 and 14-year-old boys and girls of Jr. NBA Global, a group that teaches ‘life skills programming, skill development sessions, and community service projects during the weeklong competition.’ The greatest lesson of which was to use basketball to become a better person and then use those newfound skills to grow the game and grow your community.

“(I tell them) Enjoy the game of basketball,” remarked Cash. “The game of basketball is going to give you more than just the joy of playing, you’re going to learn how to be a great teammate. And all those different attributes that you’re going to acquire and learn and characteristics of who you are as a person will help you in your next job. I always tell young girls, learn from the game and then go back and give to the game.”

But it’s not just the next generation of women that hears Cash’s message. It isn’t just the women that occupy locker rooms. The weight of these words carry to even fans of the New Orleans Pelicans and there exist some pretty powerful colleagues among them.

“I love how she uses her platform to encourage and motivate other women,” stated Angie Thomas. “I also love that even though she is in a male-dominated space, she doesn’t “shrink” herself as women are often made to feel like we have to do in such environments. Swin is her true authentic self. She inspires me more than she may ever know.”

Bringing Her Passion to the Pelicans Front Office

While Cash spends her idle time changing the world, she still brings a desperate hunger every day to the Pelicans facility. Between drills and film sessions, she finds time to use that ‘human’ connection to improve her players both as players and as people.

“If you’re a basketball player, you want to win, and anyone that can help you win, you want to speak to. So our guys don’t worry if I’m Swin the female or Swin the basketball player. They just want to talk about hoops.”

There’s no identification of gender in these moments of intellectual growth, only two parties concentrated on the same improvement. The Pelicans have immediately taken to Cash due to her pedigree, her confidence, and most importantly, her preparation.

“They’re open to so many of my ideas because they understand the human side of it, and there’s a trust level that we had to build with one another. And when I can sit down with a player and say, ‘What do you want to work on this offseason, where do you feel your game’s at right now?’ I’m able to do that from a position of understanding what it means to be a pro. So I love those intimate moments of being able to share my stories, sharing my passion and history and letting them know, ‘Listen, I’m here and I’m with you and we’re in this together.’”

The regular season is a grueling schedule and many teams across the league struggle to find a harmonious work/life balance.

The NBA has to its credit worked extensively to study the psychological approach of a season and how to best help their athletes rest both in body and in mind. Cash’s experience as a former pro athlete helps to instill those moments of fun with her squad when the occasion calls for it.

“When some of the guys saw the commercial from the Golden Globes, they’re cracking jokes and asking me questions.

- Well, you’re kind of famous now, so do we need to treat you different?

- So, how long were you watching the Golden Globes?

- Oh, no no that was my wife, oh no.

- You were watching the whole Golden Globes, okay.

“We all just have jokes all the time. Our guys are such a fun group.”

If there’s any wonder how the Pelicans were able to withstand the second-worst record through the first 28 games without coming apart at the seams, look no further than David Griffin assembling a group of genuinely good people. The Pelicans locker room is not only composed of quality human beings, the staff is filled with committed, iron-willed professionals like Cash.

“That’s the side that people don’t see. They think there’s such tension. But I just want to give a shoutout to those guys that are being allies and understand that they should support women, and for all the women out there that are unapologetic about their strengths.”

While joining up with a championship-winning general manager as well as the slew of other profile hires and picks that accompanied them came with benefits, coming to New Orleans after the departure of Anthony Davis was bound to come with its set of challenges. Was it the right choice for a first-time NBA executive like Cash?

“I had to get informed first and foremost. Before I even started talking about whether I was going to come to New Orleans, I did my research. I did my homework. I reached out to people. I reached out to my female friends that were in the NBA. I reached out my male friends who have been supportive and allies for women, and I think that’s what really gave me that comfort and that additional confidence to say, ‘Look, you can take on this role. You can be successful in it, and you don’t have to dim your light. You do not have to feel that you can’t be yourself. You just have to go out there and do the best that you can do and let your work and let your resume speak for itself.’”

So far, so good.

The Pelicans survived a brutal 13-game losing streak and have turned things around since the return of Derrick Favors, the team’s defensive anchor. Now, just a handful of games back from the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans receive a reprieve in the league’s fifth-easiest remaining strength of schedule.

And they are just weeks — maybe days — from welcoming back Zion Williamson.

While the organization continues to ascend alongside its developing youth, Swin continues to find ways to lead the team and others through her podcasts, communities and public campaigns earned at making a difference.

“I absolutely love Swin. I was a fan of hers when she was in the WNBA, and I was honestly fangirling on the inside when I met her. I’m happy to say I kept my cool (I think),” said Thomas.

In the meantime, Cash should soon realize the culmination of her playing career.

“It would mean.....” Cash was speechless for the first time in our conversation as you could feel the emotion overwhelm her. “....I don’t know....A job well done? It would be a true blessing. Very humbling.”

“A job well done?”

Hardly.

It should be abundantly clear that since the moment Swin Cash joined the Pelicans organization, her on-court achievements are just the beginning of what she ultimately hopes to accomplish in New Orleans and beyond.

For the entire conversation, please download The Bird Calls Podcast!