Aaron Gordon at Nuggets and his mom are determined to bring diversity to the tech world – The Undefeated
Aaron Gordon noted that he seldom saw anyone who looked like him or even his mother when he was attending her tech job in Silicon Valley as a kid. And that image – re: reality – led the Denver Nuggets forward and his mom to launch a program with their family foundation in hopes of inspiring disadvantaged colored kids to get into the tech world.
“I was probably 10 years old, and what I noticed later, when I think about it, were all white men,” Gordon, whose mother is white and father is black, recently told The Undefeated. “She was one of the few women there. She broke through a glass ceiling herself. But they were only white men. That is not right.”
Gordon played for Orlando Magic in 2018 when he and his family founded the Gordon Family Giving Foundation, whose mission is to “provide opportunities for underserved and underrepresented young students through science, technology, engineering, and math.”
Gordon and his mother, Shelly Davis Gordon, decided in 2019 to use their expertise from 35 years of working as a computer scientist and engineer in Silicon Valley to create CodeOrlando, an immersive STEM experience. The free four-week summer camp for eight- to twelve-year students introduced students from various schools in Orlando, Florida to programming, robotics, and nanotechnology. The students are primarily colored and have an underserved background, the groups that are most underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math. Over the years, the program’s children have participated in group projects, three-day internships, and attended local colleges, technology development companies and organizations.
Aaron Gordon (left) with participants in a Gordon Family Giving Foundation program.
The Gordon Family Giving Foundation
“We did a lot of things like Christmas presents, Thanksgiving stuff, summer basketball camps and things like that,” said Davis Gordon. “But Aaron and I always talked about how we really wanted systemic change, and we really wanted to do something that was more sustainable than just a giveaway. We’ve talked a lot about his love of technology and my experiences with it, and how the college dropout rate for black men is 60%. It’s no wonder the pipeline for blacks, Hispanic, and women to get into technology and then stay in it remains small. There are just so many things that prevent people from participating. “
Gordon said, “We’re just trying to show these kids that there is another way than fiddling with microphones [in music] and dribbling basketballs or drug trafficking and gangbanging. There are other ways to break the generational curse. “
Davis holds a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from San Diego State and a master’s degree in marketing from the University of San Diego. She began her technical career in 1982 in Silicon Valley as a product marketing engineer. She worked for Intel as a product marketing engineer; at LSI Logic as product and customer marketing manager; at Xilinx Inc., primarily as a senior manager in engineering programs; Altera as Senior Product Marketing Manager; and returned to Intel as Partner and Marketing Solutions Director.
From the 1980s to the 2000s, being a woman in a white male dominated industry was a huge challenge for Davis Gordon. As the mother of three multiracial children, she was also very aware of the lack of diversity and often sat on multiple diversity and inclusion boards.
Shelly Davis Gordon (center) with some participants from CodeOrlando.
Shelly Davis Gordon
“I was the first woman in product marketing for my company, and after I got there they hired more,” said Davis Gordon. “There were very few people who were black and Hispanic, and very few women. There was always the idea that we would like to have hired more, but the pipeline was very small. And then the company’s ability to really understand who it was hiring and the equity portion of that was very difficult. Often times, even if you hired people, they didn’t last long because it wasn’t a super-inviting, fun environment for people to be.
“A lot of the women I started with when we were younger just didn’t stay in the industry. So when I was in my early 50s I was one of the few women in this age group who were still in my company. “
When asked if she was addressing sexism in the tech industry, Davis Gordon said there were daily incidents that were “rooted in the culture”.
“When I looked back at it, you took it because it was exactly what you did,” said Davis Gordon. “There used to be nobody in the HR department who even blinked an eyelid. When I look back on it, some of the things I’ve been through were so hideous, just awful, but when you’re in the middle of it you just soak it up and move on because you do and you don’t have no legal title. “
Gordon said, “She came home angry sometimes because she was overqualified, more qualified than the white man who got promoted over her just because she was a woman and he was a man.”
Statistics from the last few years in the tech industry also inspired Gordon and his mother. Of nearly 50,000 Google employees in 2014, 83% were men, 60% white, and 30% were Asian, while 2.9% were Latinos and 1.9% were black, according to the Los Angeles Times. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 6.5% of all STEM college graduates were black in 2016. The People of Color in Tech Report, published in 2020, said that of its 1,207 respondents, 16% were black, 16% Asian, 12% Hispanic, 5% Indigenous, and 7% other such as multiracial.
Gordon said that in addition to working in the tech industry, his program’s alumni have come back to help current CodeOrlando attendees. Davis Gordon retired from Silicon Valley in September 2015 and became CEO of the Gordon Family Giving Foundation. She now works with CodeOrlando Mentoring and keeps in touch with the current and previous participants.
“If you just don’t have anyone in your church who is in this world, you never see this world. It’s the old saying, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be. If you can see it, it can be you. ‘ And I think that’s really true. So we wanted to do something that would bring technology to kids, ”said Davis Gordon.
Gordon certainly came from a basketball family as his father Ed played in San Diego State, sister Elise played at Harvard, and brother Drew is a former NBA player who now plays in Ukraine. But thanks to his mother, the eight-year-old NBA veteran is also a self-proclaimed “computer idiot” who loves to have the latest tech products and is informed about the latest products.
Closing the gap for low-income high school students
“She brought the computers home for us and we took them apart and searched the entire computer, all the chips, and anything that made the computer work,” said Gordon. “I didn’t even have the patience to put it back together. I just wanted to take part in the destruction, but we were always close to the latest technology in Silicon Valley.
“We were near projectors. We were near augmented reality glasses for video games. We were test children for many of the latest technologies that were coming onto the market. “
With CodeOrlando thriving, Gordon plans to start a new code program soon in Denver, where he is now doing well with the Nuggets.
Gordon averaged 12.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in seven seasons with the Magic before being traded for the Nuggets on March 25th in Denver after the trade, but also made a strong impression defensively. The Nuggets saw enough of its value after the deal to sign him on a four-year $ 92 million deal during the off-season.
“We liked his versatility and his defense,” Calvin Booth, general manager of Nuggets, told The Undefeated. “Of course we lost Jerami Grant. We were looking for someone taller to protect Mike [Porter]. Apparently, [Gordon] played a No. 1, No. 2 role in Orlando. We felt that he would be a good addition for us.
“I think he had to grow since last season, but what happened is that we had a whole summer to make him healthy, to work more on his game and to streamline some things. I think he feels better with his body and his skills. “
The Nuggets are still without Star Point Guard Jamal Murray, who is rehabilitating from a torn left cruciate ligament and has no schedule for his return. Murray’s absence has certainly made Gordon more of an offensive contributor. Gordon averaged 13 points and 7.3 rebounds in the first four competitions in 30.3 minutes per game. Optimistic that Murray will return later this season, he believes the Nuggets are a title contender one way or another, with three-time NBA All-Star Nikola Jokic leading the way.
“We’re going to be dangerous either way,” said Gordon. “We’ll get Jamal at the end of this year or maybe next year, but with all the players we have on the team, we’re still down. We still have guards who can score and defend. Obviously there is no substitute for Jamal. Jamal, he’s Jamal. He’s one of the best in the league.
“I do a little of everything. I’m there to be like glue, to make sure everything runs smoothly, to make sure everyone is happy, to guard the best player every night and to just take care of me. “
Gordon is best known as one of the NBA’s greatest dunkers. His often controversial dunk contest loss to Zach LaVine in 2016 in Toronto is considered one of the biggest as it included six perfect results in a row. So will Gordon compete in the 2022 NBA dunk contest in Cleveland and maybe add a creative STEM twist?
“I’ll do the dunk contest again, but it has to be a grip [financially]”Said Gordon. “I’m not sure what the price will be, but it will be a lot. It will be entertaining. It’s going to be a tie. I still have it. People still want me to enter the dunk contest. I know whatever they’re going to pay me, they’re going to make triple, quadruple that anyway. You can afford it. “
Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dive in on you, but he hasn’t done it in years and his knees still hurt.