Coach Hammon and The Spurs are leading the way on gender equality in the coaching space.
In early December of 1996, while general manager of The San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich fired his head coach, previously successful Bob Hill, after a 3-15 record to begin the season coming off a disappointing exit in the playoffs the year prior. Popovich, who likely didn’t believe he would need a plan to replace his coach early in the season after posting 62 and 59 wins the prior two seasons, decided to go with a coach who not only was available, but also shared his vision on how to coach the team; himself.
This was one of many decisions by Gregg Popovich which was greeted by skepticism at best, cynicism the norm, and certainly bucked tradition. Decisions that he was comfortable with, and could not care less what sports pundits, traditionalists, and critics alike had to say and write. Critics had a platform after he finished the season a paltry 17-47, and he didn’t waiver, returning the next season to coach again. Despite the critics, “coach Pop” did and continues to do what he believes is right, and with conviction.
Insert Becky Hammon, who excelled in South Dakota high school basketball, but received little attention from larger universities, and accepted the opportunity to play for Colorado State. She too had her skeptics.
“My story, just in general, is a story of someone who was overlooked, someone who was told they can’t, someone who was told, ‘You’re too slow. You’re too short.’ I’ve heard every reason why I shouldn’t be successful, and yet, you just take that all in. I always say you should be very careful with the voices you listen to, and my closest voices have always told me, ‘You can.'” – Becky Hammon
Hammon went on to be a three time All American at Colorado State while becoming the schools all-time leader in points, three-pointers, assists, and steals, also setting the all time record for points in the Western Athletic Conference, men or womens. This still wasn’t enough for Hammon to be drafted to the Womens National Basketball Association, where she eventually would sign a contract with The New York Liberty. Once again, she excelled proving all the “experts” wrong, earning All WNBA First Team in 2007, All WNBA Second Team in 2005 and 2008, and an All Star seven times (and multiple other accolades too lengthy to list but can be seen here). Needless to say, Becky Hammon can ball.
Meanwhile, Gregg Popovich was defying his own odds, and doing things his own way despite what the “experts” had to say. Popovich implemented a fundamental heavy, team first style, which included role players other teams had little interest in, foreign born players that weren’t suitable or athletic enough to succeed in the NBA, and he scoffed at what was said elsewhere. This culminated in eleven division titles, nine conference title appearances, six NBA Final appearances, five NBA titles, and Popovich is currently the longest tenured head coach in all major sports at eighteen years and counting. Needless to say, Gregg Popovich can coach some ball.
In typical fashion, Popovich strayed away from “traditional wisdom” and simply did what he always has done, what he felt was right for the team, and the organization; he hired Becky Hammon as an assistant coach because “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 stated in August of 2014, making Hammon the first paid female NBA assistant. Make no mistake, this was no stunt or public relations move, Popovich believes Hammon is good for the team, nothing more, or less.
Last week The Spurs announced that Hammon will be their head coach during the NBA Summer league in Las Vegas. This is the league that every NBA team uses to develop their young and learning talent. A league that will be used to implement the same system that has guided Gregg Popovich and The Spurs to a dominant force in the NBA.
Congratulations Becky, coach Pop, and The San Antonio Spurs. Again.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/File