When the San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon as the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach on Aug. 5, they were making a smart coaching decision as well as making history. Hammon, a 16-year WNBA veteran, is known for her uncanny ability to read a basketball court and dissect the opposition. That she’s a woman should be incidental. Nonetheless, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich deserves credit for making this ground-breaking hire.
It’s not surprising that the NBA was the first of the four major professional sports leagues to have a female coach. Unlike the other major sports — such as baseball and football — large numbers of women play basketball, and women’s leagues are popular and competitive. (Women’s ice hockey, while a popular collegiate sport, lacks basketball’s national appeal.) In college basketball, there’s even a history of coaches finding success with teams from the other gender. Geno Auriemma has been the head coach of the UConn women’s basketball team for 29 seasons, and he has lead that program to nine national titles. And although there are are no female head coaches of Division I men’s college basketball teams, a handful of women have found success as assistant coaches. Women have also made some inroads into the NBA’s development league — WNBA hall-of-famer Nancy Lieberman coached the Texas Legends for a season before becoming the franchise’s assistant general manager.
Hammon should be the first of many women to break into the NBA ranks, and, in time, a candidate to be the league’s first female head coach.