As San Antonio assistant coach Becky Hammon makes headlines as the first female head coach at the Las Vegas Summer League, her accomplishment both validates the efforts of the women who came before her, as well as blazes a trail for those that might come after. What ripple effects will her new promotion have further down the line?
With 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter of the Spurs opening Summer League matchup against the Knicks, Becky Hammond called a timeout, ready for her first taste of the quintessential NBA head coaching task: drawing up the game-winning inbounds play. With the Knicks up three, Hammond had no choice but to try and open up a shot from distance.
It didn’t work. The young Spurs players were confused, either from the Knicks’ defensive setup, their inexperience in the high-pressure situation, or from Hammond’s instructions.
Either way, Hammond didn’t like the action on the court, and called another timeout a mere eight seconds after the first. On a play where coaches usually don’t get a second chance, Hammond received just that.
This time, the team made the most of the opportunity. Rookie Kyle Anderson caught the ball on the wing after a screen and drove baseline, finding a wide open Jarrell Eddie waiting in the corner. Eddie let the three-pointer fly, but it only found iron.
The Spurs would go on to lose the game 73-78, but both the young roster and the newly-appointed head coach received just the invaluable experience.
San Antonio Head Coach and President of Basketball Gregg Popovich isn’t oblivious to the historical significance of appointing Becky Hammon head coach of the team’s Las Vegas Summer League team. But more importantly, Popovich knows that her knowledge of the game matters more than her gender.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. It’s the same position, it’s the same pick-and-roll, it’s the same defenses, and all that sort of thing,” he told the New York Post earlier this year. “She’s very confident in the knowledge that she has and the way she approaches the game from a point-guard position.”
Hammon isn’t the first woman to pace the sidelines on an NBA coaching staff. Former number one overall draft pick Lindsey Harding has previously served on the Toronto Raptors coaching staff during her own offseason.
Women’s basketball legend Nancy Lieberman made history by becoming the first female head coach of a men’s professional team in 2009, when she secured the position for the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League.
And former UCLA point guard Natalie Nakase has made waves internationally, holding coaching positions in Japan’s top men’s league and also serving as assistant coach for the Clippers summer league team.
Yet, Becky Hammon might be the most promising name of the bunch, especially considering where she works. San Antonio has a tendency to promote from within. The organization also has a tendency to develop excellent coaches.
Popovich praises Hammon in the same breath as some of those other outstanding coaches that have been borne out of that family tree, saying, “She’s got that same sort of Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr, [Mike] Budenholzer type thing.” All three learned the ins and outs of NBA coaching under the tutelage of Pop.
That opportunity isn’t lost on Hammon at all. She knows that she gets to work with one of the greatest minds that basketball has ever seen, and she values that.
“I’m in a space where I want to keep learning,” she said. “I’m learning from a really intelligent human being, not just in basketball, but in life. I want to continue to learn.”
It’s a privilege that any basketball mind would appreciate, man or woman. And the path that Hammon is carving out in history is significant whether she ever serves as a head coach on the NBA level or not.
The women who made history by coaching men’s basketball can’t be the only women that have held that desire. By Hammon, Lieberman, Harding, and plenty others proving themselves on the sidelines, the door is open for the many other high basketball-IQ WNBA players to slip into that role later in their careers. After all, basketball is basketball.
If Elena Delle Donne can create space with her footwork and positioning, who says a male player can’t benefit from a lesson in her technique? If Shoni Schimmel’s off the ball movement can find her open threes in the WNBA, shouldn’t that same skill help NBA players?
There are distinct differences between the men’s and women’s games. But people like Becky Hammon show us that some of those differences are a lot less significant than they might seem.
Her chance to prove her mettle in the Las Vegas Summer League is likely just a sample of her future to come with the Spurs. And maybe, a successful foray for Becky Hammon could help lead to a future in the NBA for other WNBA stars.