This Woman Is Changing the NBA
By Beejoli Shah
In what’s been an uncharacteristically absurd basketball off-season, what with all the news of teams engaging in emoji battles and tone-deaf reporters wondering whether cute kids should be banned from their athlete parents' press conferences.
But among all the digital handwringing, a far more interesting, record-breaking NBA story has quietly slipped under the radar: Becky Hammon. She made history last summer when she became the NBA's first female assistant coach when she joined the San Antonio Spurs, and then this week by becoming the first woman to coach a game in the NBA as a head coach.
Considering this woman is clearly cracking away at professional sports’ glass ceiling, it’s time we all learned her story…
How Becky Became a Powerhouse
Hammon is a six-time WNBA All-Star, who is known to be one of the league’s best players. She spent the bulk of her career playing for the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars. Over the course of her college and WNBA career, she became known for her uncanny ability to quickly analyze opposing players and their styles, much like a coach would.
As Kate Fagan would go on to write for ESPN, Hammon's basketball acumen was so deep from a young age, that even in college when playing for the Colorado State women’s basketball program, her proclivities towards coaching were apparent.
"She could see a play once and know all its options and offshoots, categorize them from most to least effective. And she could do this for every position on the court, instantly — as if the X's and O's had been coded into her DNA. Most of the time, the team's coach approached Hammon for her insight — rarely was it the other way around."
Last summer, after a 16-year career in the WNBA, Hammon announced her retirement in August 2014. News immediately broke that she would be joining the coaching staff of the five-time championship winning NBA team, the San Antonio Spurs — a team she had worked with in a consultant capacity while rehabbing a torn ACL injury in 2013. Though this was the first time Hammon would make history, it certainly wasn’t the last.
Making History — Twice
By joining the Spurs' staff for the 2014 season, Hammon became the first full-time female assistant coach in the history of the NBA, as well as the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major North American professional leagues: the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB. Hammon further made history this week when she became the first female head coach in the NBA, after Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich elected Hammon to lead the team as they compete in the Las Vegas Summer League. Hammon earned a win on her first head coaching effort, leading the Spurs to a 74-71 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Spurs, one of the most progressive organizations in the NBA, have long been known for giving their assistant coaches and assistant coach candidates as many chances to lead as possible.
UPDATE – 7/21: Hammon continues to make history — she coached her team to victory! During yesterday’s title game, the Spurs took home the Las Vegas Summer League championship.
While summer league games are solely pre-season matchups, and Hammon will resume her duties as assistant coach in the fall, her quick rise in the ranks signals an opening up of a huge number of roles available to collegiate and women’s league coaches in the NBA that seemed to be earmarked for men. Hammon herself has long been vocal about the fact that women working their way into the NBA was necessary, telling ESPN in 2014, "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."
What It All Means
Short version: Things are changing. Long version: Things are changing, slowly but surely — and the NBA is becoming the men’s league to watch in terms of how they’re incorporating women into their ranks. Hammon may be the first female coach in NBA history, but she certainly won’t be the last. Last summer, just a week before Hammon was named to her coaching position, Washington D.C. power litigator Michele Roberts became the first woman to be named head of the National Basketball Player's Association, the NBA's union for its players. In doing so, she also became the first woman to be the head of any North American sports union ever. Both Hammon and Roberts remain shining examples to their female counterparts in other basketball leagues that the tide is finally turning in the NBA.
But as NBA commissioner Adam Silver pointed out in an interview with USA Today earlier this spring, perhaps the most telling part of Hammon’s story is how little we’re talking about her success. "She's doing so well nobody’s talking about it," said Silver. "And I think that's what Becky would say: 'I don't want people to focus on the fact that I'm the first woman who is a full-time assistant coach. I want them to focus on how I’m doing my job and how the team is performing on the court.'"
More From SELF:
• San Antonio Spurs Hire Becky Hammon as Assistant Coach, History Made
• How Much Less Do the Ladies of the WNBA Make Compared to Male NBA Pros?
• Six Reasons We’re TOTAL Cycling Converts
• This All-Girl Basketball Team Is Dominating The Boys' League
Photo Credit: Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images, SELF.com