LAS VEGAS — As the sun set on another day at the N.B.A. Summer League this month, a group of 60-odd power brokers gathered at an upscale restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. They were among the league’s elite: executives who help engineer blockbuster trades, salary-cap gurus who devise contracts and scouts who identify prospects.
They sipped wine, nibbled hors d’oeuvres and made conversation; perhaps an unremarkable scene except for one thing: They were all women.
“This is the first time, to our knowledge, that this has ever happened,” said Liliahn Majeed, the N.B.A.’s vice president for diversity and inclusion.
Long known for its progressive approach toward social issues, the N.B.A. has emerged as an industry leader among men’s professional sports leagues when it comes to hiring and promoting women. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, recently released a study that found that the N.B.A. had the highest percentage of women working at the league office and with individual teams, outpacing the N.F.L. and Major League Baseball. Women hold 31.6 percent of team management positions in the N.B.A., according to the study.
Some of those gains were on display in the summer league, where women worked games as referees, drew up plays as assistants and crunched numbers as statisticians.
“We’re covering the full spectrum,” Majeed said.
The morning before many of them got together, there was big news: Chelsea Lane, the Golden State Warriors’ head performance therapist, had been lured away by the Atlanta Hawks to run its training staff. The Mercury News described her departure from the Warriors as a “painful free-agent loss.”
Amanda Green, the director of information management and team counsel for the Oklahoma City Thunder, looked around the restaurant and reflected on just how much the environment had changed since she started working for the league as an intern over 10 years ago — even if there is still progress to be made. The focus at the event, though, was clearly on camaraderie rather than any challenges that remain for them while working in a field still dominated by men.
“It’s awesome to have everyone come out and make connections and see that we can use each other as resources,” she said.
There is power in numbers. That was one of the points that Teresa Resch, the vice president for basketball operations and player development for the Toronto Raptors, set out to illustrate when she came up with the idea of organizing the happy hour this month.
The idea came to her when she was chatting with female colleagues at the N.B.A. Draft Combine in May in Chicago. Like Resch, they were all planning to attend the summer league. Perhaps, Resch thought, they should get together in a more formal way.
Resch often hears from women who are interested in working in the N.B.A., but there are only so many openings in her own organization. What if, she thought, she were able to meet more women from different branches of league operations so that when she did hear from qualified candidates she could pass along recommendations? She figured a happy hour at the summer league could be the start of something important — a way to expand the pool.
“Most of the time, you just get together with people you already know,” she said. “But we really wanted to include as many people as possible.”
A few weeks after the draft combine, Resch was in New York for a luncheon put on by an organization called Women in Sports and Events, which was honoring Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ president, for his advocacy of women in leadership positions. At the luncheon, Resch mentioned her happy hour idea to Majeed, who soon emailed Commissioner Adam Silver.
“I think Adam replied back with one word — ‘fantastic’ — when we told him that we were doing this,” Majeed said. “We believe that we’re better when we have women at the table.”
As the attendees made conversation — and, in many instances, introductions — Majeed outlined three goals for the event: build a sense of community, promote the league’s goal of getting more women involved in basketball operations, and encourage women to provide the names of other women who have expressed an interest in joining the field.
Majeed said she wanted the event to be large enough next year to move it to a bigger venue.
Becky Bonner, the director of player development and quality control for the Orlando Magic, said she recognized just a handful of the women at the restaurant, and perhaps that alone was noteworthy. Bonner, who had been at the summer league for over a week, also said she was glad to take a break from being around “a lot of dudes” — for a couple of hours, at least.
“No offense to you guys,” she said, adding, “I just think it’s nice to connect with other women in the league and share stories and experiences and learn.”
Shante Anderson, who was coming off her first season as a referee in the N.B.A.’s development league, had no idea what to expect at the event. Most of the time, she said, she just hangs around with fellow officials. But she saw this as an opportunity.
“We’re all in different roles — different teams, different capacities,” she said. “But maybe we can each bring something from our part of the industry that will help somebody else. We can empower each other.”