NEW YORK — Becky Hammon believes the possibilities are limitless for women coaching in pro sports.
One year ago this week, she broke the gender barrier becoming the first full-time paid female assistant coach in the NBA. Now Hammon’s happy to see she’s no longer the only woman in the profession.
Nancy Lieberman accepted an assistant coaching job the other day with the Sacramento Kings, and the Arizona Cardinals made Jen Welter the NFL’s first female coach last week.
“I think anything is possible,” Hammon said Sunday before the New York Liberty honored her at a game. “Just because something’s never been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Leadership has no gender. The point is, do you know basketball? Do you know what it takes to lead people?”
Clearly for Hammon, the answer was yes. The 5-foot-6 former WNBA star once hoped to play in the NBA. Now she’s a trailblazer of a different sort.
“If you have a daughter, or even a woman in your life, it is worth supporting because of the bigger picture, because of the opportunities it will lead to down the road for little girls,” Hammon said. “We’re not asking the male to get up and leave his seat. We’re just saying scoot over a little bit. Make a little room at the table for the ladies.”
Hammon said she hasn’t had a chance to chat with Lieberman yet since she was hired, but the two did talk when they were both coaching in the Las Vegas summer league last month.
“First, I’m very proud of Becky as much as I’m proud of Jen Walter. I’m friends with both of them,” Lieberman said. “Just to see the opportunities that they got. Becky opened up a lot of doors even for myself with what the Spurs did and then with her success at the summer league. It has an effect on a lot of people’s thinking and the acceptance.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sees Hammon and Lieberman as the start of something. He has “no doubt” there will be a female head coach one day.
“I think just like we’ve seen enormous change in our society, just in the last decade, I think that’s another ceiling, another barrier that will be broken,” Silver said last month. “And it takes women like Becky being out there. You need pioneers, and there’s been other pioneers before her, but I think you couldn’t ask for more of a complete package in terms of former player, student of the game and someone who’s able to work within a strong organization like the Spurs.”
Hammon knows that timing can mean everything. She tore a knee ligament in 2013 and instead of playing overseas decided to stay in Texas and rehab the injury. She asked Stars coach Dan Hughes if coach Gregg Popovich and Spurs general manager RC Buford would mind if she “popped her head in on a few practices.” Soon after she was attending all of the Spurs’ coaches meetings and film sessions.
She acknowledges that such an arrangement might not have worked with another team, and she’s thankful San Antonio gave her a chance. She hasn’t disappointed them, helping guide the Spurs summer league team to a championship in Las Vegas last month.
“Someone had to be brave enough to do the right thing and not care about gender,” Hammon said. “I hope we get to the point in society where this is not news anymore and (it becomes) ‘We hired this person because they are best for the job.’”
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