By now San Antonio's hiring of WNBA legend Becky Hammon as an assistant coach is no longer breaking news. Somewhere, the backlash has perhaps even begun, with an ill-informed radio yapper arguing that the Spurs hired the 16-year pro as some sort of publicity stunt.
Gregg Popovich, as the rest of us know, doesn't do publicity stunts. In fact, he might be the apotheosis of anti-stunt. Everything Pop does is calculated to maximize his team's chances to win championships. Which is why, even though the Spurs' PR staff probably wrote it, I believe he means this statement from the team's release on Hammon's hiring: "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."
When she was little, Hammon asked her father if he thought she could play in the NBA. He told her that she might be able to play in college if she worked hard enough. Now, even as she admits that a woman playing in the league is a longshot, she makes the case for a distaff coach, something her Dad never contemplated. “I think anything’s possible as far as women coaching men. It’s really silly. People ask me all the time, will there ever be a woman player in the NBA? To be honest, no. There are differences. The guys are too big, too strong and that’s just the way it is. But when it comes to things of the mind — game-planning, coming up with schemes — there’s no reason a woman couldn’t be in the mix or shouldn’t be in the mix."
I realize that I'm playing to type here, nodding approvingly at the inexorable crumbling of yet another artificially erected societal barrier. In this particular case, though, it's less a knee-jerk liberal reaction than a father's happy one. I'm not so naive as to think that my daughters will inherit a world free of bias, but every Becky Hammon means there's one more opportunity open to my girls and their generation.
And I agree with Andy Glockner's Twitter take on the Hammon hire, and those of a pair of European coaches, David Blatt as the Cavaliers head coach and Ettore Messina, who will be Hammon's colleague on the Spurs staff. The NBA is a global business worth billions of dollars. Very few other global enterprises succeed without diversity of thought and innovation in leadership. This is in many ways a very natural evolution.
All of this assumes, it must be said, that Hammon can actually coach. She spent the better part of last season with the Spurs, essentially interning as she rehabbed from a knee injury, and earned the respect of Popovich, his staff, and his team. The door's been opened, but walking through it is a different challenge entirely. If Hammon's not effective, she won't last long. And that's the way it should be.
Here's hoping Becky Hammon never looks back.