The first female full-time assistant coach in NBA history, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon became the first woman to interview for an NBA head-coaching position, with the Bucks.
That has sparked plenty of discussion about her, women in coaching and the wider notion of fairness.
San Antonio center Pau Gasol has jumped into the conversation.
But if you think I’m writing this to argue why Becky is qualified to be an NBA head coach … well, you’re mistaken. That part is obvious: One, she was an accomplished player — with an elite point guard’s mind for the game. And two, she has been a successful assistant for arguably the greatest coach in the game. What more do you need? But like I said — I’m not here to make that argument. Arguing on Coach Hammon’s behalf would feel patronizing. To me, it would be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.
Gasol goes on to shoot down a few arguments – that women aren’t capable of coaching men, that the Spurs hired Hammon just for publicity, that there’d be an awkwardness in the locker room.
The first is obviously bogus. Nobody’s coaching acumen is defined by their gender.
Why did San Antonio hire Hammon? I can’t get into anyone’s head, but Popovich has long insisted it’s just about her coaching ability.
Would there be locker-room issues? Gasol shoots down the most basic suspicion – noting that players and coaches change clothes in different spaces, anyway. But it’d be naïve to think there are no NBA players who’d say uncomfortable things about her in the locker room. Not that teams should accommodate those backward-thinking players. Just pointing out an issue.
I’d rather discuss what Gasol glosses over, though: Is Hammon qualified to be an NBA head coach?
She was an all-time great player in the WNBA then has spent the last four years as a Spurs assistant behind the bench. That’s a nice résumé, and her career is advancing accordingly.
But it’s unprecedented for an NBA head coach.
How much to value her WNBA experience is tricky, though an endeavor teams should undertake. The NBA has not only a different playing style, but a different lifestyle. NBA players, with high salaries and massive fame, face different issues than the rest of us. Maybe Hammon can and does relate, but it’s not simply due to playing in the WNBA.
She also hasn’t yet become one of the top three Spurs assistants who sit on the bench during games. Those three: Ettore Messina, James Borrego (since hired as the Hornets’ head coach) and Ime Udoka. Hammon sits behind the bench. Practically all NBA coaches who rose through the assistant ranks to become a head coach graduated to an on-bench role first.
Hammon faces obstacles her male counterparts don’t, and that she made it this far speaks to her ability. Perhaps, she’s a coaching prodigy who hasn’t gotten a chance to show her genius in a male-dominated profession. If so, a team should hire her as head coach.
But maybe she’s like most people, possessing some natural ability that must be refined with time and hard work. Four years as a behind-the-bench assistant isn’t typically seen as enough to become a head coach.
So, is Hammon already qualified to be a head coach? Maybe, and Gasol’s endorsement counts. But I definitely don’t find it to be as obvious as he states.