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.