This March, SLAM is highlighting different women in the game who are breaking down barriers, elevating the game and continuing to empower others.
Cynt Marshall is used to making history. He has done it many, many times.
She was the first black president of the senior class at her high school in Richmond, California; She was one of the first black cheerleaders at the University of California-Berkeley, where she graduated with degrees in Business Administration and Human Resource Management, and the first African-American president of the North Carolina State Chamber of Commerce.
“Usually when I’m first I don’t to know I’m the first until someone tells me,” Marshall tells SLAM. “I’m just doing what I do, or if someone comes up to me and it seems like a good fit, we do it; like the job I’m in right now.
In 2018, Marshall became the first black female CEO in NBA history when she joined the Dallas Mavericks.
“I like to say that Mark Cuban was not hard to make history, he was trying to make a difference. He didn’t think about… I didn’t think about that. And then when they told me I was the first African-American CEO of an NBA team, I didn’t really believe it,” says Marshall. “I thought, this is 2018. I can’t be the first.”
But she was and is. And it’s a position the 62-year-old has taken with gusto, pride and enthusiasm.
“It just means we’re breaking ground and it’s an opportunity for me to do a great job, and that’s what I’m focused on,” says Marshall, who has managed the Dallas Mavericks franchise since March 2018.
As CEO of the Mavs, Marshall spends her days running the day-to-day operations of the franchise owned by billionaire Mark Cuban since 2000. After strategy sessions, appearances and meetings, she will then head to the team’s home arena. , American Airlines Center, and she sits in her seat of honor, right behind the team dugout. In February, Marshall was there, dressed in her signature Mavs blue, waving and waving to everyone, whom she knows mostly by her first name, 45 minutes before kickoff.
“My energy comes from the Lord. The Lord sustains me. Do you know the song, ‘This joy I have, the world didn’t give it to me?’ Well, it’s the same with the strength I have. I get tired like everyone else,” says Marshall. “The Lord gave it to me. Especially after he blessed me to overcome cancer. I’m running and I’m not tired yet, we have work to do.”
Marshall’s success is a testament to his unwavering strength and resilience: In 2010, he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, and this summer it will be eleven years since he underwent chemotherapy.
Marshall had chronicled his battle with cancer in a journal, but at the request of many, he decided to write an autobiography, to be published later this year.
“That was on my wish list; be an author My mother’s response when I told her I had cancer was: This is for His Glory. God will use your cancer to tell a great story about HimMarshall recalls. “We will see what the world says about it. It is truly to inspire people. Many of us are affected by cancer and I want people to know the good, the bad and the ugly of that story. I can not wait [people] to read it.”
Marshall came to the Mavs after a 36-year career with AT&T, where he led the organization in various roles while improving diversity and cultural practices in the workplace. He brought a vision for Dallas to become the NBA standard for inclusion and diversity, guided by a specific set of values: character, respect, authenticity, fairness, teamwork and safety, both physical and emotional. “Everything we do, everything we respond to, our business plan, everything, everything is based on these sets of values. I love the people of the Mavs. We are like the best sports organization on the planet and I work with wonderful people.”
She leads the Mavs and her own life through the lens of her faith and a spirit of servant leadership. “I am called to serve others and I am inspired to help others.”
As the mother of four adopted children, Marshall also serves as president of Dallas Casa, a nonprofit organization that advocates for abused and neglected children. “I want us to take care of saving children, caring for them and placing them in safe, permanent homes with caring adults. We have to save these children.”
She wants the next generation of girls and boys to know that they, too, can achieve whatever they want in life.
“I want them to know that they should do whatever they want to do and the key is Yes they want to do it,” Marshall says as he ponders what message he would send to teens. “When I was a kid, my mom taught me a poem that says “Be the best”. the message is [that] no matter what you want to do, whatever your passions, wherever the Lord takes you, be the best and know you can do anything.
“Once you decide what that is or land in that place, be the best,” Marshall continues. “Don’t limit yourself. Unlimited.”
His story has become an inspiration to many, including Poizon Ivy, the Mavs’ in-house entertainment guru. “Growing up, my dream was to be the first female commissioner of the NBA, so having Cynt in her role as the first black CEO continues to affirm that anything is possible,” says Ivy. “She leads with an unparalleled style, infused with swag, humility, confidence, [and] responsibility all to an extremely infectious level.
“There is not a moment that I am in the community that I do not congratulate myself on how fortunate we are to work under his leadership and guidance. That’s the kind of leader I aspire to be and she makes it seem so easy and effortless.”
While she is the first black CEO in the NBA, Marshall firmly believes there will be many, many more women in top sports management positions. And she is working hard to make sure that happens.
“Yes, there will be more. We are not doing our job to the fullest if it is not. That’s what I love about being in this League, in the NBA. We’re very focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and very focused on that channel and making sure that we’re raising others and giving them those experiences to be successful.
“We know that we are better together when we have a diverse group of people around the table with unique skills.”
When thinking about the strength of women in today’s world, Marshall envisions a triangle with each side representing a woman’s heart, hands, and head.
“Women know how to take her heart, her hands and her head, put it all together and do something great with it. We have passion and compassion; we’re smart, we’re resilient, we know how to make a dollar out of 15 cents. We are very considerate.
“When you take our hands, heads and hearts and we use them to work together, this is what makes you strong,” says Marshall. “We don’t just rely on one or the other, we know how to make everyone work together for the good. This is our strength.”
Photos courtesy of the Dallas Mavericks.