Yesterday the San Antonio Spurs announced that it had hired Becky Hammon as a full-time assistant coach. You read that right, the Spurs became the first team in the NBA (and the first team in any of the three major professional sports—football, basketball, baseball) to hire a full-time female coach. While recently the Los Angeles Clippers named Natalie Nakase as an assistant coach for ten-days on its summer league team and Lisa Boyer worked as a part-time member of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ coaching staff during the 2001-2002 season, Hammon is the first to act in a full-time, full-season, paid roll. They trust that she can help lead the organization to another championship and is going to pay her (probably pretty handsomely) to do so. Pretty epic stuff.
To many, Hammon’s hiring may have seemed surprising. After all, it was just a mere two weeks ago, after almost sixteen years in the WNBA, that she announced that this season would be her last as a player. So how does one go from not spending one actual day in retirement from the WNBA to signing on to coach in the NBA (an opportunity that most seasoned male coaches will never get)? Easy, she knows the game. Anyone who’s spent even a brief amount of time with Hammon on the court knows that she possesses a stellar basketball IQ. Her knowledge of the game and how it should be played actually surpasses her ability as a player…and the lady can play. Her expertise of the game led her coaches to ask her for advice as a player and allowed her to spend most of the 2013-2014 NBA season around the Spurs’ organization. During her time with the Spurs she impressed the front office and players with her mastery of the game. The organization was so impressed that it, without pomp or circumstance, broke a seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling and set the stage for what could possibly be a new era for female coaches. The Spurs said, Hammon knows the game, so she can coach.
The Spurs and Hammon are collectively saying that women can and do understand men’s basketball, just like men do and should be given the opportunity to prove it. If you let that sink for a second, you’ll realize what a big deal that really is. For years and years…and years women have been told that they couldn’t keep up with the men’s game; that their level of understanding just couldn’t possibly rise to the level of professional basketball because women don’t play “above the rim;” that it would be impossible for women to be indoctrinated into the culture of professional men’s basketball as coaches; that male athletes wouldn’t give them proper deference…I could go on, but you get the picture. Well, the Spurs and Hammon are calling bull on all of the naysayers. The Spurs, who have never been very orthodox in how they prosecute the sport of basketball, are putting a portion of its legacy on the line and taking a chance on women. They aren’t just taking a chance on one woman, they’re taking a chance on all women because the success of this novel hiring will in fact set the tone for female coaches down the line. Hammon is putting her reputation on the line. Her success or failure at this level will follow her around for the rest of her life. They are taking the risk because they both believe that if you know the game, you can coach.
It truly is wonderful that the Spurs and Hammon are collectively saying that sex does not matter. A high basketball IQ, one worthy of coaching professional men’s basketball, can be possessed by a man or a woman. Sex does not determine one’s knowledge or ability to execute that knowledge. But it’s what’s between your ears, not your legs that really makes the difference. My belief is that they are absolutely right. My prayer is that they have formed an alliance that proves that they are right. Only time will tell but I sincerely pray that the Spurs and Hammon will have a success that inspires other teams and other sports to open its coaching offices to women. Not just any women, but women who truly love and know the game.