- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - The NBA again sets the standard for diversity among major professional sports leagues.

According to a report released Wednesday by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the NBA received an A-plus grade for racial hiring and B-plus for gender hiring on its annual report card. Its overall grade of A was its seventh in a row.

For the second straight year, more than 35 percent of all professional employees within the NBA league office were people of color, and 40 percent were women. There were also 45 women employed at the vice president level or higher.

Four women also served as presidents or CEOs of NBA teams, the highest total among men’s professional sports leagues.

Study author Richard Lapchick praised the NBA for its ongoing commitment to diversity but said there is room to improve.

In senior positions at the team level, women still aren’t represented well. Women hold just 82 of the 405 available team vice president jobs, and 196 of 818 total senior administrator positions.

He said elevating women into those high-profile jobs could have a larger impact across an industry that rarely sees women in positions that directly affect what happens on the court.

“I think when that happens it will sound a signal to fans and others in the league that there are no longer barriers,” Lapchick said. “It took a number of years to get women in high level business positions. But there is now an opportunity to show what can they do on the operations level.

“It was encouraging that there are four women CEOs because they have an impact on who is hired as general managers. But four out of 30 is still a small number.”

Even with its successes, the NBA is ramping up its diversity initiatives, hiring Oris Stuart as its chief diversity and inclusion officer last month. Stuart is now responsible for overseeing the league’s diversity strategies for all NBA properties, including the WNBA and D-League.

Also, in January Commissioner Adam Silver elevated Kathleen Behrens to become the NBA’s first president of social responsibility and player programs.

Lapchick predicted there would soon be a diversity-specific officer on every NBA club. The Atlanta Hawks created a similar position last year after racially charged comments by former owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry were revealed.

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/khightower

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