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Becky Hammon calls first experience as coach of Spurs' summer league team 'eye-opening'

Becky Hammon coaches the San Antonio Spurs during

Becky Hammon coaches the San Antonio Spurs during an NBA summer league game against the New York Knicks on Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP / Ronda Churchill

LAS VEGAS - Becky Hammon's mind was racing. She's used to running a team with a basketball in her hand, not a dry-erase board.

Hammon, the former guard for the Liberty and the San Antonio Silver Stars of the WNBA, devised a game plan. She stood, sat, shuffled players in and out, called out plays, drew up some and did everything a coach does.

Everything about it was new, though -- and not just for Hammon.

She became the first woman to serve as a head coach in an NBA summer league game when the San Antonio Spurs played the Knicks on Saturday at Thomas & Mack Center.

In the closing seconds of the Spurs' 78-73 loss, Hammon called timeout with her team down by three. She had the board in hand and all eyes were on her as she designed a play.

It worked. Hammon got undrafted forward Jerrell Eddie an open corner three-pointer. The shot didn't fall, but it didn't matter nearly as much as what the moment represented.

"I think it's important that women be rewarded for their brains as much as any guy," Hammon said. "It's about the bigger picture.

"You want to make sure that when your wife or daughter goes in for a job interview, she gets the same opportunity that a guy gets. Whether it's basketball or the Army or CEOs or the operating room, we want women there, and statistics will tell you it's important that a woman is in the mix."

This wouldn't have been possible if not for the always-forward-thinking Gregg Popovich and the NBA's model franchise, the Spurs.

After Hammon tore her ACL in 2013, Popovich allowed her to sit in on Spurs practices and video sessions. He hired her last season to join his staff, and Hammon became the NBA's first female assistant coach.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity," Hammon said. "I've spent this last year in the greatest learning place for a coach. If Henry Ford came back and said, 'Hey, let me show you how to make cars,' anybody who doesn't jump on that opportunity is crazy.

"I'm learning all sorts of things, not only about X's and O's but also about how to handle a team, how to speak to guys. I feel like I'm just a flower getting great roots but far from blooming. Far from blooming."

Hammon isn't the only woman coaching in summer league. Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman is working as an assistant for the Kings and former WNBA player Lindsay Harding is a guest on Toronto's staff.

Many thought Lieberman would be the first woman on an NBA bench. She coached in the WNBA and was the head coach of the Mavericks' D-League team, the Texas Legends.

After Hammon was hired by the Spurs, she reached out to Lieberman.

"She texted me and said, 'I'm sorry,' " Lieberman told NBA.com. "I got on the phone and said, 'I'm going to kick your behind. Don't ever say you're sorry. You're opening up a door.' It doesn't matter who opens that door as long as somebody does it. I'm just happy to be a good friend and a mentor."

Hammon can't help but think that way about herself sometimes. But she's focused on her job first and trying to become a good coach. Her journey is not complete.

She said her first experience running a team was "eye-opening" and that her "brain was just going the entire time." She also said she hopes not every game goes down to the wire.

"That's freaking stressful," Hammon said.

In her second game Sunday, Hammon settled in nicely as the Spurs beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 89-74.

"I was a lot more comfortable," she said. "I'm still growing, too."

Hammon sat behind the bench her first season under Popovich. The next step would be on the bench, and finally for a woman to be a head coach in the NBA. Hammon believes it will happen.

"I think so. Why not?" she said. "Players recognize players. That's it. Growing up, I didn't get picked with the guys until they knew I could help their team. Then I started getting picked. If guys feel you can bring something and they trust that you know what you're talking about, I don't really think the mouthpiece matters. It's knowledge and game recognizes game.

"I think it'll happen at some point. I don't know who it will be, but I know there's lots of capable women out there."

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