When she was hired, she became the first female full-time assistant coach in NBA history, and looks like a good bet to eventually become the first ever female head coach in league history. When the day finally comes is anybody’s guess, but it’s hard to argue that she isn’t qualified for the opportunity.
Her basketball mind is nearly unparalleled. She spent over a decade as one of the premier players in the WNBA, earning six All-Star appearances. Her performance as a sharp-shooting floor general also garnered her two All-WNBA First Team selections as well as two All-WNBA Second Team nods at point guard.
In a league where past professional playing experience for a head coach is hardly a requirement, Hammon instantly gains credibility for her terrific playing days. She has a solid grasp of strategic orchestration of the game. Her Hammon has the talent and experience to be able to further empathize with the unique challenges faced by athletes she’s leading.
That bond goes a long way in the respect of a superior.
That’s not to say that someone who never played professional basketball can’t be a successful coach. Popovich is the perfect example of this. Isiah Thomas may have been a legend as a player, but that talent on the court certainly didn’t translate to an ability to coach. Guys like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley were both former NBA players, and had fantastic success as head coaches.
The model NBA head coach really has no archetypal background.
With this abstract definition of where a great coach comes from, it makes little sense to instantly dismiss Hammon because she’s a woman. Any argument that stems from the idea that she couldn’t gain the respect of players because of her gender not only isn’t giving players proper credit, but conveniently overlooks past rifts between other coaches and players in the league.
As if players haven’t had problems dealing with male authority figures.
Jul 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Becky Hammon directs her players during a pre-game huddle before an NBA Summer League game against the Knicks at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Whether it’s Magic Johnson and Paul Westhead, Chris Webber and Don Nelson, or Penny Hardaway and Brian Hill, players having issues with coaches is a nearly inevitable part of a league in which multimillionaire athletes are being told what to do by coaches who can’t relate to them and often aren’t good communicators.
The most important factor is winning; players usually couldn’t care less about who their coach is, as long as they feel as if the team is reaching its full potential under that coach. Hammon may turn out to be a bad coach if she ever gets a head coaching job, but it wouldn’t be because women inherently can’t coach men’s professional basketball.
Maybe she wouldn’t be able to properly build camaraderie amongst the squad, or her communicative skills wouldn’t vibe with the personalities she was coaching.
What Popovich should be extremely proud of is his coaching tree of past assistants who worked under him getting head coaching jobs in the NBA. Mike Budenholzer, Alvin Gentry, Brett Brown, Earl Watson, and Quin Snyder all worked under Popovich in some capacity before they got their current head coaching gigs. Numerous general managers and executives around the league also have ties to Popovich from past jobs with the Spurs.
Popovich’s coaching staff is viewed as a viable source for new head coaching talent. Popovich’s eye for not only talent on the court, but talent on the sidelines is well respected. Hammon’s presence as a member of his staff speaks volumes to her abilities as a basketball tactician.
The unfortunate reality is that whenever a trailblazer gets an opportunity at a position historically denied to them, whether due to de facto or de jure regulations, the abilities of others that fit their description will be judged based on the performance of that first person. If Hammon were to get a head coaching job and fall on her face, the unfair result would be the perception that a woman can’t be a successful coach in the NBA.
What is clear at this point is that Hammon is presently as qualified as nearly anybody in the league to be a head coach. Sometime in the future, she’ll likely be the first woman to be a head coach in the NBA. She definitely deserves the opportunity, because her career in basketball has showcased her natural aptitude for both playing and teaching the game.
Change is an extremely gradual process for organizations, and perhaps it’s wishful thinking from a realistic standpoint to expect Hammon to get a head coaching job anytime soon. However, there are indications that Hammon may get her shot at an NBA head coaching job sooner than anybody even a decade ago would have thought possible.