When Becky Hammon, soon-to-be former point guard for the WNBA San Antonio Stars, was hired by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich as a the first female full-time assistant head coach in the NBA, it made a lot of headlines and grabbed a lot of people’s attention.
But no one was really all that surprised.
San Antonio has always had a reputation of taking care of their own, and Hammon had already talked about wanting to coach once her playing days were over, telling Michelle Smith of ESPN.com:
“I’m a point guard. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time in film sessions and game planning. I’m comfortable with my basketball IQ, and I think coaching comes naturally to me. This is obviously a huge opportunity, but it’s basketball and I’m very confident in that area.”
After a torn knee ligament last year ended her WNBA season, Popovich invited her to attend Spurs’ practices and she impressed everyone with her deep knowledge of the game of basketball, taking part in what was essentially a coaching internship. So when the Spurs were looking to add to their coaching staff, Popovich knew who he was going to call, saying in the Spurs press release announcing her hiring:
“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.”
The fact that she’s a woman never even came up.
The funny part is that Hammon joining the Spurs as an assistant might just be the best case of “right time, right place” that sports has ever seen.
I think everyone can agree that not every NBA team would be as welcoming as the Spurs if a woman joined the coaching staff. It just wouldn’t fit in with the culture they have created and how they run their organizations.Other franchises where it might work are either rebuilding or have new head coaches that still have that “new coach smell” and the whole idea would be seen as nothing more than a publicity stunt.
With the San Antonio Spurs, you have everything you need to make this work. You have a head coach who, as well as being one of the most respected minds in basketball, has been with the Spurs since 1996 and isn’t going anywhere unless he chooses to.
You have an organization that just won the NBA championship, so they really don’t have to worry about publicity or trying to fill the AT&T Center every night. And in Hammon you have a woman who knows basketball, already has a relationship with the team thanks to her time with the Stars and already has the respect and admiration of the players.
But above all, and this might be most important, with the Spurs there is no ego.
Part of the reason the Spurs have been as successful as they have been for as long as they have been is because you never hear of egos clashing or of anyone putting themselves before the team. Tim Duncan could have put himself on the free agent market and could have made the entire LeBron James situation look sad by comparison.
But instead he quietly opted to remain in San Antonio, because that’s what was best for the team. Tony Parker could have tested the free agent waters after this season, but instead signed a three-year extension because he wants to play for the Spurs and no one else.
The organization just breeds that kind of loyalty and “team first” attitude that is extremely rare is professional sports these days.
If any team was going to add a woman to their coaching staff and make that kind of historic decision, there really was no other team in the NBA that could have done it other than the San Antonio Spurs.
Spurs GM R.C. Buford may have said it best when he told Nancy Armour of USA Today Sports:
“We weren’t doing this to lead the way. It’s for others to judge the monumental-ness of it. But that’s not the reason we did it. It’s that she’s the right person. She’s a good person. Why would we let her go start her involvement somewhere else when she can bring things to us?”
Becky Hammon and the Spurs have made history with her hiring, just don’t tell either of them that. For them, this was simply the right decision to make.