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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Behind Every Good Man

On Tuesday, NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich hired former WNBA star Becky Hammon as an assistant coach. The hiring makes Hammon the first woman to be a full time, paid assistant coach in the history of the NBA. Once again, the NBA is ahead of the curve of social progress.


Beyond the fact that Hammon’s gender makes her hiring historic, I think this story is going to fade quickly. It will come and go whenever a member of the media wants something to write about or talk about, likely with more going than coming. Someone at some point will do or say something insensitive related to Hammon’s gender. It, too, shall pass.

I don’t know anything about Hammon’s knowledge of X’s and O’s. We are all acutely aware of the legacy and elite level of achievement of Popovich’s NBA head coaching career. Pop is five time NBA Champion as coach of the Spurs. He is the most accomplished active NBA head coach.  He is going to coast in to the Basketball Hall of Fame when he decides to retire and is eligible. In short, Coach Popovich’s selection of Hammon is all I need to know about her qualifications.

Considering the man who made the hire, I have little doubt about Hammon's coaching potential. 1


What none of us can truly know until we see the curtain rise on the 2014-2015 NBA season is what differences, if any, will there be in the dynamic of a woman coaching men. As human beings, we approach the opposite differently, even if slightly, in different situations. How will it translate in the hyper-competitive NBA on a team seeking its third consecutive Western Conference title and back-to-back NBA Championships?

Also, whether Hammon is successful or not (see her boss for why I think she will be), she will not be the last woman to coach in the NBA. She will not be a one-off. The WBNA has a plethora of knowledgeable players with high basketball IQ’s. The NBA is always looking for talent. It is inevitable that the men’s league will pick people with coaching potential from the women’s league, just like it does from the Developmental League and did with the now defunct Continental Basketball Association.

The question is: as more women enter the NBA coaching ranks and succeed, how long will it be before there is a woman hired as the Head Coach of an NBA team. It may not happen this year or even this decade, but Hammon has broken the glass ceiling of coaching. It’s only a matter of time before a woman is hired for the top job.

How long will it be before that happens and how long before a woman is the leader of men? What kind of personality in a woman will it take to manage and coach and lead and discipline 15 elite, millionaire, alpha-male jocks? Being an assistant coach is at a completely different level of demand than being the guy (or the girl).

Hammon in the WNBA. 3

Another question I have seen floated since Tuesday’s announcement is: will there ever be a woman to play in the NBA. Hammon gave the answer that every knowledgeable sports enthusiast already knew: “No.”

This isn’t the playground, it is major league sports. Sure, a high school girls hoops team could smoke a bunch of dudes without the technical knowledge or benefit of coaching that the girls team possesses. However, on the whole, men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. The same applies when skimming the tiny, elite percentage of people occupying the 450 active roster spots in the NBA.

People who have played and closely followed sports know this truth. Casual fans or non-fans simply intrigued by the historic nature of Hammon’s hiring may not grasp or even buy into this concept. Consider that dunks are a routine occurrence, often a dozen times per night, in an NBA game and the vast majority of NBA players can go above the rim with ease. In the 18 year history of the WNBA, there have only been 20 dunks recorded by five players*.

This is the only competitive dunking involving a woman most of us will ever see live with our own eyes. 2

Hammon’s hiring is because of what she has upstairs, developed by years of what her body could do while competing against similarly talented peers. She need not be able to posterize Tony Parker to be effective from the sideline. Talk about it today. It will be yesterday’s news before tomorrow.

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