The WNBA season is officially in full swing and no one had a hotter start than the Las Vegas Aces. In a season that has already seen one head coach fired in Indiana, the league leaders are making history with their new first-year head coach, Becky Hammon. Hammon started the Aces off at 9-1 which is the best 10-game start to a coaching career in WNBA history. Not only that, but in the Western Conference, the Aces have dominated, winning 12 of their first 14 conference battles, putting them above teams like the Seattle Storm, Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoneix Mercury.
Given this start and what Hammon has been able to do with a roster that is only two seasons removed from winning a title, there's little room for doubt that she is finally in the position she belongs in.
Hammon's Basketball Journey: From Dominant PG to NBA Assistant
After joining the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach in 2014, Hammon had long been rumored to be a top candidate for open coaching jobs in the NBA the past several years. Given the number of head coach vacancies last year it seemed prime time for her to take the title of the first-ever female coach in NBA history. Instead, she went back to her roots and became the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces.
Hammon initially went undrafted out of Colorado State, but then signed with the New York Liberty in 1999. She would go on to play 15 seasons in the WNBA, the NWBL, and in Russia, as well. Yes, that Russia. The one that has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner. But that's not what we are here to talk about.
Over her entire 15-year career as one of the best point guards in women's basketball, she averaged a .533 effective field goal percentage, a .897 free throw percentage, 3.8 assists per game, 13 points per game and was elected to six WNBA All-Star Games. She has been named to every WNBA Anniversary Team since 2011 and had her number 25 retired by the San Antonio Stars (the now Las Vegas Aces) in June of 2016.
When injury forced her to sit on the sidelines for the Stars in 2013, she attended San Antonio Spurs practices, games, and even coaches meetings. They would go on to hire her as the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history the following year, which put her in a position to handle the team's summer league activities. She would make more history when she became the first woman to step into the acting head coach position after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from a game in December 2020.
When she joined the coaching staff, Popovich said of her, "I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff. Having observed her working with our team for the past season, I'm confident her basketball IQ, work ethic, and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs." Later, when Hammon replaced him after his historic ejection, Pop doubled down on his praise. "She earned it. She is qualified. She's wonderful at what she does. I wanted her on my staff because of the work that she does. And she happens to be a woman, which basically should be irrelevant but it's not in our world, as we've seen as it's been so difficult for women to obtain certain positions. It was business as usual for us." Pop finished his time with the media by adding, "I know her skills, and I know her value and I know her future is very, very bright. I understand the attention it got, but in all honesty, I assumed that most people already knew that she was qualified to be a head coach in the NBA."
She has not only earned great praise from coaches around the league but players as well. In a piece he wrote about her in The Player's Tribune former Spur, Pau Gasol, had this to say:
"I've played with some of the best players of this generation...and I've played under two of the sharpest minds in sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I'm telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I'm not saying she can coach pretty well. I'm not saying she can coach enough to get by. I'm not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA's male coaches. I'm saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA Basketball. Period."
When Will a Woman Be an NBA Head Coach?
So, the question is...why isn't she? She interviewed for both the Portland Trailblazers and Orlando Magic jobs last year but ultimately didn't land them. Instead, Portland went with Chauncey Billups and Orlando went with Jamahl Mosley. Are NBA front offices really ready to take the next step and hire the first female coach in league history? Or is it just a performative measure at this point much like the Rooney Rule is in the NFL?
To be fair, the Trailblazers did also interview South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley as well. It may be baby steps but we all have to start walking at some point. And don't worry gentlemen, I'm not here to advocate that every team in the NBA should eventually be coached by women. I am here to point out though that there are many VERY capable women such as Hammon that are qualified to do so.
Don't worry about Becky though. She's very happy with where she landed. In her first press conference after she was hired she simply said:
"I am so excited to return to the WNBA and grateful to Mark Davis and Nikki Fargas having a vision for me to lead the Aces. This is where I come from, and I wouldn't be me without the W. I'm thrilled to be able to give back and lead this next group of women."
I mean, how could you not be happy to coach a roster that includes A'Ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Dearica Hamby, Chelsea Gray, and Sydney Colson to name a few. The Aces currently stand in first place in the league with a lead over the Connecticut Sun in the East. If her coaching career is anything like I, and those that are much more knowledgeable about the game think, she might be the first female to ever coach in both leagues. I doubt we could ask for a better ambassador.
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