A thick glass ceiling shattered in the sports world Tuesday when the San Antonio Spurs announced that they were adding WNBA star Becky Hammon to their coaching staff as an assistant coach.
Hammon, 37, not only becomes the first woman paid to coach full-time in the NBA; she becomes the first woman paid to coach full-time in any of the four major professional sports. Lisa Boyer was a part-time assistant coach on John Lucas' coaching staff for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002, but she did not travel with the Cavs and she was getting paid by the Rockers, Cleveland's WNBA team on which she also served as an assistant coach.
Former UCLA guard Natalie Nakase was an assistant coach for the Clippers during this year's summer league, but is not a regular member of their coaching staff. "Obviously, this is a big deal," Hammon said Tuesday in a telephone news conference. "I feel in some ways it is trailblazing. But there are so many women who are doing really, really great things and I am just following on their path."
Gregg Popovich has long been known as an outside-of-the-box thinker. The Spurs were the first team to truly go global and add a number of foreign players. When Hammon was injured last season, the Spurs' coach invited her to spend some time with his staff and apparently liked what he saw.
"I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement. "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."
Hammon, who first became a basketball star playing for the Liberty, is a six-time All-Star who spent her last eight seasons with the San Antonio Silver Stars. She announced several weeks ago she would retire at the end of this season.
On the Spurs, Hammon will have the same duties as the rest of the coaching staff. "Coach Pop made it clear to me I was being hired because of my basketball IQ and my qualifications," Hammon said. "He said 'It just so happens you're a woman.' "
Of all major sports leagues, the NBA has been at the forefront of giving women visible opportunities. They first hired women referees in 1997, and now have three women officials. Last week, the players union announced that it had hired Michele Roberts to be its executive director, marking the first time that a woman has headed up a sports union for one of the four major sports.
"This announcement marks, yet, another achievement for women in sports and leadership," said Deborah Slaner Larkin, CEO for the Women's Sports Foundation.. . . "We applaud the Spurs organization for making this choice. Becky is breaking boundaries, for all women, and will surely be leader for the Spurs organization and inspiration for many girls and women."Hammon, who had considered a more lucrative career in broadcasting, was asked if she thought a woman could ever be a head coach in the NBA.
"I think anything is possible," Hammon said. "People ask me all the time if there will ever be a woman player in the NBA, and to be honest I think the men are too strong. But when it comes to the games of the mind, there's no reason a woman shouldn't be in the mix. In every other area of life, women are trailblazing paths. I think this is another area."