BC Law alum Sonia Raman ’01, who had a great experience at BC Law and seemed bound for a lengthy legal career, instead became the 14th female assistant coach in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA) on September 11 after being hired by the Memphis Grizzlies. Raman’s hiring is unique as she is the first South Asian woman to coach in the NBA.
So, how did this happen? First, a summary of Raman’s professional trajectory and then her interview with reporter Austin Chandler in November after she settled into her new job with the Grizzlies.
Following her graduation from Boston College Law School in 2001, Raman went directly into the US Department of Labor (USDL), where she worked in the Employment Benefit Security Administration. While in that role, Raman accepted what was supposed to be a one-year interim assistant coaching position at Wellesley College. She would hold on to the position at Wellesley College for six years, all while transitioning her career in law from the US Department of Labor to Fidelity Investments, where she worked in the risk and compliance division. In those six years Raman realized her passion for coaching was strong enough to leave the rest behind. When the opportunity to apply for the head coaching position at MIT Women’s Basketball presented itself, she decided to pursue a full-time career in coaching. Twelve years and 152 wins later—an MIT Women’s Basketball record—Raman left MIT to begin the next stage of her career—this time in the NBA.
Q: Did you always dream of making it to the NBA as a coach? No, not at all. I’ve always been one of those people who’s really happy with the job I have, and I’m constantly trying to do the best I can in that job. Even with changing from the legal profession to coaching, it wasn’t because I didn’t like my law job and was looking for something new. I liked law but I found a passion somewhere else—in coaching. For me, it was always more about fit, the pursuit of excellence, and trying to do something at the highest level.
Q: How does your background in law affect your coaching? I don’t think it impacts me when it comes to the communication with my players. It does impact my approach to the game and how I approach a problem: a scouting report, a game, the postgame debrief in terms of how we can analyze the situation from all angles and see what we can do to make improvements. There’s a methodical approach and an analytical side to that, and the way they educate you at Boston College Law School is to teach you how to think in a really specific way. That has really benefitted me both as a coach and in compliance. I helped out with the Covid Action team while at MIT, and my approach and my background [enabled] me to contribute to the people in the athletic department.
It’s such a versatile degree, it can help you in any profession, and I’m really glad that I did that because I got so much from my time there.
Q: Are there any BC Law professors or classes that particularly influenced or inspired you?All of the professors there were so incredible. I loved my sports law class. I thought for a little bit that that would be the route I would go.
I especially loved my constitutional law class with Professor [Kent] Greenfield. I found him to be very inspiring. Not only was he brilliant in the classroom and his instruction, but—I think it was Fridays—everyone would go to the [Quonset] Hut and play basketball. He would get out there and play hoops with the students while also being a leader in his field and in the classroom and in his larger profession. He’s one of many, but he’s the first professor who comes to mind when I think of my time there.
Q: Where does your passion for basketball come from? My mom’s side of the family are big sports fans. Back in India, it was much more cricket and tennis, but my mom played a little bit of basketball when she was younger. When she immigrated to America and moved to Upstate New York, she started watching Syracuse men’s basketball with [coach] Jim Boeheim; that was her beginning. For me, it was tagging along to the tennis courts, and one day going to a new court where I could see a hoop and was like, “What’s that?” I watched the kids play, and the next time I went there I brought a basketball. [After that,] I would pretty much always shoot hoops while my family played tennis; that was my beginning. I grew up a Celtics fan, so watching those ’80s Celtics and the Celtics-Lakers rivalry was really fun.
Q: When you look at where you are now, what moments along the way were the most significant to your reaching the NBA? The people I have worked with and known along the way have been really influential in getting me to where I am—my mentors, my coaches, my fellow assistant coaches, my staff at MIT, and so many friends who are also colleagues in the profession. Having a supportive network of people, you can count on for advice when you’re on a losing streak or can tap into for best practices when you’re doing well and trying to sustain excellence has been instrumental to me and my personal growth.
Q: Your hiring brought the total number of female assistant coaches in the NBA to 14. What does this mean for future generations, and how does it feel to be a trailblazer for other women hoping to make it to the NBA? I think it’s great. It’s really important that women have the same opportunities that men have. That sounds simple, but that’s what it comes down to. I think you’re going to see more and more women getting hired in the NBA. I’m fortunate that some incredible women came before me and blazed that trail for me both as a college coach and in the NBA. The Memphis Grizzlies hired Niele Ivey a year ago, so I’m not even the first woman here, which speaks volumes about the progress that’s being made.
Q: As someone who’s climbed the ladder yourself, what advice would you give to aspiring coaches, male or female? First of all, don’t think of climbing a ladder. Think about where you are and how you can contribute. What’s the mission and the goal of your team or organization and how can you find ways to further that goal to contribute to that mission?
Coaching is a bit of non-traditional career and it includes non-traditional hours, so be prepared to take that on and embrace it. Coaching is really fun. It’s a game, it’s a sport, and basketball is fun, so if you’re doing it right, it shouldn’t feel like a job.
The last thing would be, really value your network. Value relationships and put time into them. Lean on the people you know and expand your network to people you don’t know. I think you can constantly be a student of the game when you do that, so seek out people who are different from you and have different things to add and offer to your own development.
Read article in New York Times.
Photo: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)