By Victor A. Rodriguez
When you accomplish something that hasn’t been done in 72 years, it’s fair to say you’ve had a pretty good year. In 2018 James Borrego did just that when he was named the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. With the nod Borrego broke a barrier and went where no Latino has gone before. The first full time Latino head coach in the history of the NBA.
"What connected me with other cultures was sports... Basketball really brought us together..."
As a third generation Mexican, the 40-year-old Borrego grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s said on several occasions that he credits basketball in helping him to connect with kids from other cultures. “What connected me with other cultures was sports,” Borrego told The Orlando Sentinel in 2015. “Basketball really brought us together. They saw I was a pretty good basketball player. They said, ‘Hey, why don’t you join the game?’ and all of a sudden we have two, three and four cultures come together to play a game, and from that those guys became my best friends.”
The road to NBA Head Coach was a long and winding one. Borrego, played basketball during his college years at the University of San Diego. Post grad he went on to serve as assistant coach with the San Diego Toreros from 2001 to 2003. Then the NBA came calling and he’d get a basketball education one could only dream of serving as a video coordinator for the San Antonio Spurs during the 2003-04 season under Head Coach Gregg Popovich. It is well known that the San Antonio Spurs runs one of the tightest ships in the NBA and Coach Pop, a task master. Borrego would rise through the ranks of the Spurs organization to become an assistant coach for a period of seven years and coaching on two of their championship teams. He would move on the serve as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans and the Orlando Magic (where he would also serve as Interim Head Coach). Eventually Borrego returned to the Spurs. The training in San Antonio would serve Borrego more than anyone would know.
In 2018 when the Hornets were looking to fill their Head Coaching position Borrego answered the call, signing a four year deal with the team. In selecting Borrego, Hornets G.M. Mitch Kupchak told the Undefeated that “[Borrego] has been a part of teams that have ascended to the highest levels of success in our league and understands what it takes to win in the NBA."
While his first season has been challenging Borrego currently has the team in contention for a play-off position, a marked improvement from seasons past. If Borrego can break the barrier of NBA head coaches, were confident he can also take the Hornets places they have never gone before.