Hey, just a shout-out for the men’s basketball team from my alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, led by one of the best point guards I’ve had the good fortune to see, senior Devante Chance, and a host of other talented players. If you want to see some fantastic basketball, without all the hype and histrionics, just a bunch of good, hardworking kids, the game will be broadcast live at 3pm EST on CBS.
I’m wagering that most of you reading this don’t know who Becky Hammon is, and that’s understandable. Ms. Hammon has led a very big and accomplished life on a stage that, while not small by any stretch of the imagination, is often dimly lit, especially in the USA. She’s a world-class caliber basketball player, with 16 years playing in the WNBA and Europe, a former college standout, and Olympic medal winner.
And as of this week, Ms. Hammon is also a paid, full-time, assistant coach for the NBA’s current world champion San Antonio Spurs men’s basketball team. That’s right, I said NBA. This hasn’t happened before, and given the inequities of sport in the USA it might not have happened now were it not for a unique combination of events. Namely, Ms. Hammon recently wrapped up a stellar WNBA career playing point guard for the Spurs’ counterpart team, the San Antonio Stars. A few years ago, after experiencing a season-ending ligament injury, she approached Spurs future hall of fame coach Gregg Popovich: she wanted to coach after her playing career ended. While rehabilitating her knee, Hammon shadowed the Spurs coaching staff as a sort of intern. And she shined. When she retired, Popovich wasted little time in hiring Hammon. He would have been a fool not to.
I won’t weigh down this post with a lot of statistics–you can get more background here and here–but suffice it to say that Becky Hammon has succeeded at every level as a point guard who can score big and still distribute the ball. In high school she was South Dakota Miss Basketball as a junior and as a senior she was voted the South Dakota Player of the Year after averaging 26 points, 4 rebounds and 5 steals per game. Her teams at Colorado State reached the Sweet Sixteen, but she was not initially drafted into the WNBA.
Instead, she found her way the the New York Liberty via stints with regional teams in small National Women’s Basketball League, where she quickly became league high-scorer. Once she earned a roster spot as a third string point guard on the Liberty behind WNBA and women’s basketball legend Teresa Witherspoon. Within a year, Hammon displaced the aging Witherspoon as starter, became a fan favorite, and was voted a team captain.
During her off-seasons, Hammon supplemented her career by playing in Europe, where women’s basketball is taken more seriously and more opportunities exist for female players. Her career would take her to Spain, and then to Russia, all while still maintaining her WNBA career back in the states. Along the way, she became a six-time WNBA All-Star, was a multiple-year selection for the Euroleague All-Star team, and won the All-Russia cup. Early in her career, Ms. Hammon was part of Team USA, but she was denied a tryout for the 2008 Olympic team, despite her stellar performances. Determined to play on the world’s grandest basketball stage, she took the unconventional step of applying for Russian citizenship. She was accepted, and quickly made the Team Russia roster. She would become a major contributor in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games–despite a small degree of controversy over her vagabond credentials, and the fact that, while uncommon in basketball, changing citizenship is a fact of life in many Olympic sports.
Fast forward to 2014, and here is Ms. Hammon, breaking another convention while breaking through a glass ceiling that extends far beyond basketball to all sports. There is no reason why a woman can’t coach men–after all, men coach women–and it’s going to be exciting to watch her prove the point. I’m thrilled for her, for my daughters, and for all the young women who will once again see that there is nothing beyond their reach.
While I was devoting considerable energies into not nodding off during the State of The Union Address last night, Mrs. Junk remarked on how odd it was to see President Obama’s suddenly graying hair. As a guy who has seen his own hair take a sudden flight towards white–I’ll be in Santa country by the time I’m 55–I have to say he carries it well. He’s a handsome guy, after all, and he’s got a lot on his mind. Not only that, he’s certainly in good company. Until my own hair changed from brown to salt & pepper to–uh–just plain salty (like my personality, I guess), I have to admit that I suspected s conspiracy of Presidents. As candidates, it goes to figure, potential leaders want to appear youthful, energetic, virile, powerful and vigorous; so it goes without saying that coloring one’s hair is a simple part of a campaign not unlike wearing good suits and attractive ties. Once in office, however, the cultivated image of choice shifts to one of wisdom, maturity, and leadership–candidates are cast as agents of change, but Presidents are leaders. The are diplomats who set the tone for national discourse and international relations. Even the simplest of men, those who bore leadership as if it was no greater burden than a sack of children’s toys, have aged under the weight of responsibility and the pressure of constant scrutiny. Was I wrong to suspect that Presidents in office intentionally let their hair go gray? That some possibly even hasten the process via artificial means? I suspect I’m on to something–but I also think that these guys are missing the boat. Ronald Reagan, that canny old player, appeared to moisten his hair with waxy black shoe polish right up to his last days in office, even as he muttered “I do not recall” to inquiry after inquiry into the despicable conduct that took place on his watch–and people loved him for it. Why did folks love Reagan? Not because he denied any problems America faced with the same fervor he denied knowledge of the Iran-Contra Arms For Hostages deals, and not because he reminded many of us of our doddering old grandfathers. Reagan was beloved because he had the same hair as The Fonz. When Reagan was elected, who was the reigning cultural icon? It Arthur “Fonzi” Fonzarelli. When Reagan won reelection in 1984, American was sadly saying goodbye to that same shark-jumping icon when a wave of nostalgia carried the incumbent back for another four-year term. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
So, clearly what President Obama needs is a celebrity make-over, and the perfect celebrity has never been more clear–we need someone who is highly intelligent and articulate, someone who works as hard as Obama, and we need someone cool–if the truth is to be told, Obama needs a little help here: he’s a bit of a policy geek, and those cigarettes don’t make him seem any cooler, despite what years of Marlboro ads have said to the contrary. He gets points for playing basketball, but not enough to compensate for his wonkishness. On the subject of his rumored, rabid fanaticism for Star Trek I plead the fifth amendment and the right to not risk self-incrimination.
Not only would it be a serious upgrade in terms of both style and cool, but there would be added tactical advantages in dealing with the primarily southern, lilly-white conservative seed at the heart of Republican stubbornness, for example–that tall and proud hair is going to scare the bejesus out the closet crackers who let their backwardsassed racism foul progress. On the international circuit, do we really think a bully like Vladamir “Mad Vlad” Putin is going to give a giant like Questlove–easily 7 feet tall with the hair factored in–and backtalk whatsoever? I don’t think so–and Obama is another tall guy, so all he needs to do it thicken up, add 150 pounds, and voila….
If I was any good at computer graphics, I’d mock up a cut and paste job of Questlove’s hair on Obama, but I’m afraid we’re just going to have to wait for the inevitable since, now that I’ve loosed this cat from it’s sack, there’s no way this isn’t going to happen. In the mean time, please enjoy the video link.