This summer has been a good season for women in the NBA.
On Tuesday, the San Antonio Spurs announced the hire of Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the NBA’s first full-time female coach. The 37-year-old will become the second woman to serve on the league’s coaching staff, following Lisa Boyer, who was a part-time assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2001 season. Hammon’s role is a paid position, while Boyer served as an unpaid volunteer for the Cavaliers.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Hammon at a news conference from the Spurs facility. “But I think the bigger point is I’m getting hired because I’m capable because of my basketball IQ and stuff that they’ve seen in me personally.”Hammon, who played for the San Antonio Silver Stars franchise, was named in July 2011 as one of the WNBA’s top 15 players in league history, and she is a six-time All-Star player in the league. Hammon is the Stars’ all-time leader in assists with 1,112, and ranks second in points for the league with 3,442. She also played for Russia in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Hammon announced on July 23 that she would retire this month from the WNBA after 16 seasons.
She worked with Spurs in an unofficial role this past year, coaching players and leading team meetings and tape review sessions.
“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,” said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs’ announcement is not the only high-profile female hire the NBA has made this summer. Just last week, Michele Roberts became the National Basketball Players Association’s first female executive director. “We’re thrilled the players selected Michele Roberts as #NBPA Executive Director! Congrats to our players & exec comm for a historic choice,” the association tweeted.
The Los Angeles Clippers also named its video coordinator Natalie Nakase as an assistant coach for the team’s summer league games in Las Vegas. Speaking from the bench, where she was the only female assistant coach, Nakase told msnbc that “it’s definitely an honor that people are noticing [Hammon], or even announcing it … that [she] could be the league’s first female coach.”
Nakase added, “My mom told me I should be a Clippers’ spirit girl, but, for me, it was always all just about basketball.”
She referenced Nancy Lieberman when asked if she knew of another woman striving to coach in the NBA. In 2010, Lieberman became the first female professional head coach of a men’s sport. She coaches the Texas Legends, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.
“I met her one time last year at a coach’s clinic. She basically was telling me to keep going, keep trying. You’re going to get a lot of criticism. You’re going to get a lot of negativity,” said Nakase.
Hammon also shared her thoughts on the challenge of being a woman working in professional basketball. “The best way I know how is just to be myself,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s any magic formula. You know, this is a tremendous opportunity, and I take it with great responsibility, but … as cool as it is, this is basketball. And there’s women that have trail-blazed much bigger paths and really trail-blazed the path for things like this to happen.”
She continued by saying that “even to be sitting here today, to be able to have the playing experience that I have as a professional basketball player, women went before me to pave that trial. So I am really just reaping the benefits of all their hard work and labor. I am incredibly blessed and humbled by the whole thing.”