Four summers ago, Becky Hammon became the first woman to be hired as a full-time assistant coach in the history of major men’s American sports when she accepted an offer to join Gregg Popovich’s staff with the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. This summer, the WNBA legend turned NBA grinder has her sights set on making another barrier-breaking move: one that lands her all the way at the head of the bench.
The Milwaukee Bucks plan to interview San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon for the franchise’s head coaching job, league sources tell ESPN. Hammon is the NBA’s first female assistant coach — and now will be the first to interview to be a head coach.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 5, 2018
Wojnarowski reports that Hammon, 41, “isn’t considered a frontline candidate on a Bucks list that included at least 10 possible candidates, but Milwaukee ownership and general manager Jon Horst were intrigued enough to ask the Spurs for permission to speak with her.”
It’s no secret that the Bucks’ owners respect Hammon’s acumen. Last summer, they contacted her over their general manager opening, despite her having no previous front-office experience. She didn’t wind up making their final list, and returned to the Spurs for a fourth season.
After essentially interning with San Antonio’s coaching staff during the 2013-14 NBA season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, Hammon, then a star point guard for the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars, announced her retirement in 2014 and moved into a spot on the Spurs’ staff. Popovich raved about the “basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills” she displayed during that year-long introduction, praised her work as a full-time staffer, and gave her the chance to coach the Spurs’ entrant in the 2015 NBA Summer League; she repaid it by winning the tournament, touching off leaguewide discussion over when — not if — Hammon would get an opportunity to make even more history as the NBA’s first female head coach.
“I think a female coaching a team these days has got a lot to do with the people on the teams maturing as individuals, as civil members of a society, understanding that it’s not about any of those things,” Popovich said during a 2015 radio interview. “It’s about talent. It’s about respect. And I think, you know, people like Becky, over time, who gain respect and people understand that this is possible … it can happen.”
Hammon has spent the intervening years developing into one of Popovich’s most trusted voices on a staff that includes several other highly regarded assistants — European coaching legend Ettore Messina, former Orlando Magic interim coach James Borrego, former NBA player and longtime San Antonio staple Ime Udoka — reported to be in the running for the multiple open coaching positions in the NBA this summer.
“She’s established a great presence in our group,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel earlier this year, when she arose as a potential candidate for the men’s basketball coaching job at her alma mater, Colorado State, before deciding to stay in the NBA. (Hammon also reportedly considered an offer to take over the women’s hoops program at the University of Florida, before making the same decision.) “She’s got the respect of our coaches, our players and our organization. She has great insight at two different levels, both in the coaching environment and strategic discussions and she can also take [instruction] to our players and discuss with them.”
Hammon’s work has generated widespread respect outside the Spurs organization, too.
“I think she should be a candidate for any teams that do have openings,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last month during his annual meeting with The Associated Press sports editors. “I think Becky has done an excellent job of sort of breaking through that glass ceiling for a lot of women. She’s highly respected around the league with the work she is doing in San Antonio […] If I were a team that needed an NBA coach, she would be on my list.”
As she continues to build her résumé and move toward a potential new first for women in men’s sports, Hammon seemed to express “ambivalence about her role as a pioneer,” according to Louisa Thomas, who recently wrote a feature on Hammon for The New Yorker:
She recognizes that she is an inspiration for many young women, and a target for many wary men. At the same time, she resists the attention to her gender. “If you don’t want a female coach, don’t hire one!” she said, with some exasperation. But, she continued, if “you want to hire somebody who’s qualified and will do a good job, then maybe you should consider me.”
Her current boss certainly thinks you should, anyway. More from Thomas:
Popovich said, “She knows what she knows and she knows what she doesn’t, and, what she doesn’t know, she gets her ass in the film room, or nails down one of the other coaches.” He added, “I think she’s a star.”
Whether or not Hammon winds up booking the Bucks’ job — and with it, the chance to coach All-NBA game-breaker Giannis Antetokounmpo — that star, it appears, is on the rise.
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