Does the NBA deserve Becky Hammon? It’s a question worth asking after a year of hoops openly asking, “Does Becky Hammon deserve to coach in the NBA?” Hammon’s career as a three-time All-American at Colorado State, the all-time top scorer in the Western Athletic Conference, an unlikely WNBA star (after her athletic questioning as she graduated from college and not even enlisted), and eight years with the San Antonio Spurs were seen as unprofessional. Enough to win a party. Although she was already the first woman to receive a paid assistantship in the NBA, and although she coached the Spurs Summer League team with great success, she found herself with her nose pressed against Adam Silver’s window. Despite the fact that Greg Popovich’s coaching tree in the past four years has produced head coaches in Charlotte (James Borrego was bafflingly fired) and Boston (Im Udoka, who unexpectedly led the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals), Hammon was not selected To be filling any of the vacancies. Teams like the hapless Portland Trail Blazers turned down a chance to become a part of history – to live up to their title – and gave Hammon her well-deserved shot.
But Hamon did not skip a moment. She signed on to coach the Las Vegas Aces from the WNBA, and in her first season, her team won the title against the Connecticut Sun. This feat is even more impressive when we consider that the WNBA has only 12 teams, as opposed to the 30 teams in the NBA. The talent concentration in this league is intense. Their teams’ first-round draft picks are cut short, and no one blinks. One would have understood if it took a while to get her sea legs. But Hammon proved adept at managing a team led by WNBA MVP Aj’a Wilson, Kelsey Plum and MVP Chelsea Gray in the Finals.
In the process, Hammon embarrassed every NBA general manager and franchisee who decided—even though she had paid more than she was due and had an impressive resume—that the league’s players weren’t ready for a head coach. Sexism is the only logical explanation.
A few years ago, I got an up-close look at a particularly intense San Antonio Spurs practice, and Hammon was a leader in her field, leading drills, speaking with strokes, and driving laser focus for her players. I assumed teams would line up not only for their talent but also for a chance to make history. Instead, I heard people say, “Well, these are Spurs, so that’s different.” They were assuring that a team of championship vets renowned for their professionalism was much easier on Hamon. “How would you do with a 20-year-old team?” This was a question that always seemed gender biased to me, because being able to put together a very small team is a challenge that every coach, especially my first year coaches, faces. The idea that this would be a private problem for Hamon is an insult not only to her, but to the competence of the NBA players. One could also claim that a team of grizzly vets would be less likely to accept a young female trainer, if someone wanted to blow that particular narrative. Of course, there are degrees of difficulty with team experience, and veteran leadership is important, but it’s ridiculous to say that Hamon, who is stronger than a $3 steak, would find such a challenge intractable.
There is no doubt that Hammon deserves to coach in the NBA. It deserves the accompanying financial guarantee that the WNBA, which has been hobbled by a lack of investment, is struggling to provide. But is the NBA worth Hamon? Whether the jump should be their decision – with all rights, teams should wait for it with open arms. But a league that struggles to learn the value of Hammon is a league that not only needs to live up to its commercially orchestrated progressive goodwill; You also need to grow and hire the best people for the jobs.