Becky Hammon is ready to be a head coach in the NBA.
Gregg Popovich, possibly the greatest coach in NBA history, thinks so. LeBron James, the biggest name in today’s game, thinks so. And Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, repeatedly has said he thinks so.
Yet the people who don’t seem all that convinced are the ones who matter the most, the executives of three teams who officially have coaching openings — the Knicks, Orlando and Charlotte. Not once has Hammon’s name come up as a candidate for these openings.
The Knicks actually have a connection to Hammon, given that she was an All-Star point guard with the Liberty. They have been connected to close to a dozen candidates, running the gamut from 60-year-old Mike Woodson to G League coach Jerry Stackhouse to Villanova coach Jay Wright. But not Hammon.
“I think she should be a candidate for any teams that do have openings,” Silver said Thursday in his annual meeting with The Associated Press sports editors. “I think Becky has done an excellent job of sort of breaking through that glass ceiling for a lot of women. She’s highly respected around the league with the work she is doing in San Antonio.
“I know she has had some offers from some college positions and she’s elected to stay on the NBA track. If I were a team that needed an NBA coach, she would be on my list.”
As for NBA executives, they aren’t so much looking to make history as they are looking to keep their jobs. All too often, the right hire translates into the safe hire, a name that has been bandied about on the talk show airwaves.
Hammon, who has spent four seasons under the tutelage of Popovich, has more actual NBA coaching experience than Stackhouse. Yet Stackhouse, who has spent one year as a Raptors assistant and two years as a G League coach, has been mentioned as a candidate for all three openings.
This is not to say that Stackhouse does not deserve to be a coaching candidate. It’s just to illustrate how much higher the bar is for Hammon. She is as far away as you can possibly get from a safe hire. This is something Popovich made clear in a recent feature article on Hammon in The New Yorker.
“It’s going to take somebody who has some guts, some imagination and is not driven by old standards and old forms,” Popovich said. “If somebody is smart, it’s actually a pretty good marketing deal — but it’s not about that. It’s got to be that she’s competent, that she’s ready.”
Popovich told The New Yorker he wasn’t trying to make a political statement when he made history by putting Hammon on his staff in August 2014. He just believed she was the best person for the job.
“It has nothing to do with her being a woman. She happens to be a woman,” Popovich said.
While there are plenty of men coaching in the WNBA and women’s college basketball, women only now are starting to break into the men’s game. In addition to Hammon, the Kings have had two female assistants. Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was on George Karl’s coaching staff for several years. Most recently, Jenny Boucek was hired last August as an assistant.
Silver said Thursday that he not only thinks the NBA is ready for a female head coach but wants the league to make bringing more women into the coaching ranks a priority.
“It’s something that we in the league are very focused on, to ensure that more women than just Becky Hammon are even in the pipeline,” he said. “There’s recognition that in almost every case before you are a head coach, you are an assistant coach. Therefore, we have to work for teams to increase that pool.”
This is something that at least one star player would welcome. James, who is a big fan of Popovich and his staff, has had nothing but praise for Hammon.
Said James earlier this month: “I mean, listen, at the end of the day, basketball . . . it’s not about male or female. You know the game, you know the game.”
And Becky Hammon knows the game.
With Mike Rose