Becky Hammon is changing the NBA for women one breakthrough at a time. On Saturday, she became the first woman head coach at the Summer League. Hammon worked the sideline for the San Antonio Spurs, where she's heading into her second year an assistant coach, in a 78-73 loss to the New York Knicks.
It wasn't Hammon's first time making history in the NBA. This past season, she became the first woman to be a full-time employee on an NBA coaching staff as an assistant coach for the Spurs. She is the second woman to work on a coaching staff; Lisa Boyer served as a volunteer assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2001-02 season.
The moment isn't lost on Hammon.
"I just think it's important [for] society that women be rewarded for their brains just as much as any guy," Hammon told reporters after Saturday's game.
"To me, it's always about bigger picture. We want to make sure that when your wife or your daughter goes in for a job interview, she gets the same opportunity that a guy gets. I think that's the bigger picture, that's the bigger goal. Whether it's basketball or in the army or in CEOs or in operating rooms, we want women there."
Hammon has made a name for herself in the NBA, and it appears she's opening up opportunities for other women in the league, too.
Hammon can ball, too
Hammon, 38, was a six-time WNBA All-Star after a great college career at Colorado State, where she was the WAC's all-time leading scorer. In her 16-year WNBA career with the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars, Hammon averaged 13 points and 3.8 assists per game. She was the seventh WNBA player to score 5,000 points. She became a naturalized Russian citizen in 2008 and represented the country in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics (Russia won the bronze medal in 2008). She went straight from playing into coaching, signing on to work with the Spurs before her final WNBA season had finished.
Following in the footsteps of Boyer and Nancy Lieberman, who became the first female head coach of a D-League team in 2009, Hammon broke into coaching before the 2014-15 season when the Spurs hired her as an assistant.
Hammon had spent time in the past working with the Spurs, and head coach Gregg Popovich was full of praise for the addition to his staff.
"I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff," Popovich said. "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."
Hammon has kind words for Popovich, too.
"I've spent this last year learning in the greatest learning space possible for a coach," Hammon said after Saturday's game. "It's as if Henry Ford came back to somebody and said, 'Hey, let me teach you how to make cars.' Anybody who doesn't jump on that opportunity would be crazy."
Women and the game
It's been a good summer for women in basketball. In addition to Hammon breaking barriers, Lieberman was invited by Sacramento's George Karl to be on the Kings' staff this summer and Lindsey Harding, a former No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft, is a guest on Toronto's staff in Las Vegas, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.
The Spurs lost in her debut, but Hammon got her players some good looks. In the final minute, the Spurs were down by three with the ball. Trying to set up the play Hammon wrote up, they were unorganized so Hammon called a timeout. She drew up one more play that led to an open three. It didn't go in, but the play was there.
Hammon is 0-1 in the summer league, but she'll get a shot an one more NBA first on Monday when the Spurs play again: she could be the first women head coach to get a win.