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Ward: Becky Hammon, the rightful next NBA head coach

| Friday, September 11, 2020

In August 2014, after a 16-year WNBA career and six All-Star appearances, Becky Hammon made history when San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich rang her phone and offered her a job on his bench as an assistant coach. Hammon accepted the challenge and become the first woman to hold a full-time coaching position in the NBA.

It was a moment celebrated by many who were hoping to usher in a new culture, but at the same time, there were plenty of people who rejected the idea of having a woman coach in their men’s league. There were even many people who were very vocal about their concerns. Some who found themselves shading Hammon were simply voicing their archaic views on gender and sexuality, but others brought forth good points about the risks that Hammon may actually be taking. Nonetheless, the criticism remained outside the league. 

Four years after Hammon was hired by the Spurs, she had proven herself across the league to be perfectly equipped to coach an NBA roster, not just as an assistant but on her own. Before the 2020 season was put on delay, Popovich came under fire from critics and fans when he chose to have Tim Duncan fill in as head coach. But four years later the controversy that Hammon started had still not died down. 

People still did not like Hammon sitting on an NBA bench. People did not like the idea of women in sports. They didn’t care if it was Becky Hammon in the NBA or Sarah Thomas wearing a referee uniform Sundays in the NFL. Even women away from the court fell victim to the sexist slander that derives from the toxic masculinity that sports can tend to create. To these people, women had no place in sports.

“This is a man’s world. Women can try to rise in rank in a male dominated landscape, but they will never succeed. Instead of adding more female talent to our professional sports leagues we should take the female talent we already have out of the leagues. They are simply a waste of precious capital. Why put money into the pocket of a woman when you could invest it into making your team better?”

Sounds ridiculous right? Well, the argument is still being made. It’s an argument that irks me to my core even though I will never be able to look at the situation through a woman’s perspective. The Indiana Pacers fired head coach Nate McMillan after getting swept by the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Playoffs about two weeks ago.

I wasn’t thrilled about the move. And I wasn’t thrilled about ESPN’s senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeting Houston’s Mike D’antoni may be a candidate for the job what felt like mere seconds after breaking the news about McMillan’s firing. But by the end of the week Indy Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel had published a column about Hammon being on a long list of early candidates, and then I was thrilled. But I had seen this before.

A coaching spot in the league opens up; managers and presidents start conducting interviews. One name that almost never fails to make a short list be it for a position at head coach or an executive spot: Becky Hammon. Although, no one would make the move. She remained in San Antonio.  

I read Doyel’s column and was a little less optimistic. The summary is that it seems too much of a risk to bring in a woman as a head coach, even though if you were to take Hammon’s resume and look at it blind, nine times out of 10 you would make the hire. It took one of the greatest coaching talents in our generation to be able to acknowledge the skills of Hammon for the rest of the league to open its eyes and adapt to the change.

Today, women employees are found in nearly one third of all NBA franchises. For these teams, bringing on a woman to their coaching staff was not a move to conform with the times. Instead they were purely basketball decisions. Hammon made the San Antonio Spurs a better team. Pop took advantage of the fact that likely very few teams at the time were thinking about hiring out of the WNBA pool. And he has reaped the rewards. If you don’t believe me, ask six-time NBA All Star Pau Gasul

Imagine if baseball never had a Jackie Robinson, though. One hundred years ago, Black men did not belong in baseball. One hundred years later, and somehow women aren’t allowed either. Well, I think it’s been long overdue for the NBA or the NFL or the MLB to have a woman as a head coach or owner. It is sad it has to be said this way for owners to understand it, but they need to start looking at what is really best for their team. 

Sure, there are plenty of great coaches in the NBA right now, but can you seriously say and actually back up the archaic view of “It’s a man’s league” when sitting in the locker room across from you is an assistant coach that just so happens to be a female who could vie for the head coaching position in your locker room.

The coaching carousel is in full swing yet again, but this time it should be different for Hammon. If the the Pacers, the Bulls, the Pelicans and the 76ers pass up on Hammon, it will show how truly blind some of these NBA owners are. It is a problem that was even addressed when the NBA had to halt its playoffs because George Hill told his team he wasn’t comfortable playing after the Kenosha shooting of Jacob Blake. LeBron James told the owners they need to dedicate themselves more to issues of social injustice. These owners can lag behind of the times sometimes, but Hammon is so long overdue for a coaching job in the NBA, it is laughable.

The next face of the NBA will be Hammon. Hopefully it is sooner rather than later because the only way this league can continue to grow and to be great is to take steps geared toward the future.When it comes to Hammon and most of these teams in need of a coach, she could provide a better future. Not only would she be a huge favor for your team, but she would be inspiring a generation of women to grow up loving sports.

Hammon will strengthen the already existing bridge between the WNBA and the NBA, and she might just go down as one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time, who knows? She has spent six years learning from one of the greatest coaches of our generation but for some reason she is still doubted. I predict time will be kind to coach Hammon.

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About Jimmy Ward

Jimmy is a senior at Holy Cross College, where he studies English and sports management. He is originally from Westfield, Indiana. Currently, Jimmy serves as an associate sports editor at The Observer. You can find him at @jimmyyward on Twitter.

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