The San Antonio Spurs made history Tuesday when they hired WNBA veteran Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff.
Hammon, 37, will retire from her 16-year WNBA career at the end of the San Antonio Stars’ season, when she will move across the AT&T Center to the offices of the defending NBA champion Spurs. She will work with head coach Gregg Popovich on scouting, game-planning, and the day-to-day grind of practice. Hammon called the opportunity “incredibly humbling.”
“I’m up for challenges,” she said. “I’m up for being outside the box, making tough decisions and challenges. … And I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. Throw those all in there and this was the perfect challenge and opportunity.”
Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford have a reputation for bold and unconventional decisions. The Spurs have become the face of the league’s influx of international players. Many credit those decisions for the Spurs’ five NBA titles, won despite the relatively small San Antonio market.
“Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic, and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs,” Popovich said in a statement. Hammon asked to shadow the Spurs last season so she could learn while recovering from a torn ACL. She participated in film sessions and sat behind the bench at home games as the relationship grew.
“People ask me all the time, will there ever be a woman player in the NBA?” Hammon said. “To be honest, no. There are differences. The guys are too big, too strong, and that’s just the way it is. But when it comes to things of the mind, things like coaching, game-planning, coming up with offensive and defensive schemes, there’s no reason why a woman couldn’t be in the mix and shouldn’t be in the mix.”
Other female players and coaches who say they dream of an NBA job said this was a long time coming. “The one thing that people have to remember is that the San Antonio Spurs don’t do anything for effect,” said Nancy Lieberman, a former star player who coached in the NBA Development League in 2009 and now serves as a general manager. “They don’t do this for the record-breaking barrier. They do things out of respect.”
Hammon has a reputation for being a smart, hard-nosed, tough-minded player. She made six All-Star teams and averaged 13.1 points in her 16 seasons with the Stars and the New York Liberty.
As her relationship with the Spurs organization deepened, Hammon said Popovich was honest with her. “‘As cool as it would be to hire you, I have to make sure you’re qualified,’” Hammon said Popovich told her. “I think that’s the best way to go about it,” she added.
Hammon received congratulatory messages from all over the sports world. Some, like Los Angeles Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant, kept the focus on Hammon as a person. “Big fan of Becky since she was in college,” Bryant told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “Very bright basketball mind.”
Others, like tennis great and activist Billie Jean King, made her out to be a new progressive figure, praising the Spurs for “not allowing gender to play a role in their decision.”
Hammon knows she won’t walk in as an expert as a first-time coach, but she said Popovich will be yelling at her soon enough, just like with the rest of his team. “I have a lot to learn,” Hammon said. “I’m here to help these guys in any way possible, help the coaching staff in any way possible, and really just serve these guys.”