Becky Hammon, a 16-year WNBA veteran, has been named an assistant coach for Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, making her the first female to be paid by an NBA team as a coach.
Just how big of a deal is this?
“I think it’s a big deal; it’s a groundbreaking thing,” Washington Mystics WNBA coach Mike Thibault said on The MoJo Show. “You have the NBA champions going first in this route. I think she’ll be a terrific coach. I’ve always felt like she could be a coach in our league at some point. She spent most of last season working with (the Spurs) in the winter – almost like an internship – trying to soak up as much knowledge (as she could), and they found out she did a good job and they liked her. This is a great, great move.”
Thibault, whose 224 wins are the most in WNBA history, doesn’t believe Hammon will face as many challenges for being female as one might assume.
“If she was coming in cold, the biggest challenge would be NBA players respecting a woman player coming in,” Thibault said. “But she’s been a part of that organization. They’re tied to each other, so the players there know her. So I don’t think that there will be a huge (issue) there. I don’t know exactly what her duties are going to be. They have a lot of specialized coaches on their staff, so I don’t know what they’re going to do. I think the biggest thing is just earning the respect of new players coming in, but she’s such a good player.”
“I think in this day and age,” Thibault continued, “the male player that’s in the NBA has an appreciation for the WNBA player. You see more and more NBA players at WNBA games, so I think that it’s a much different world we live in as far that than maybe a generation ago.”
A six-time All-Star, Hammon, 37, played for the New York Liberty from 1999-2006 and has played for the San Antonio Stars since 2007. In 2011, she became the seventh player in WNBA history to score 5,000 career points, and she has also been voted one of the 15 greatest WNBA players of all time.
Not bad for a 5-6 combo guard who went undrafted out of Colorado State – despite being an All-American.
“She was a short guard that was undersized coming in and made her mark,” Thibault said. “She’s been able to knock down threes and attack the basket. She’s just one of those gym rats that learned how to get her shot off against bigger players, and it’s (helped) her in her career.”
In fact, she’s almost like the female version of Tony Parker.
“In many ways,” Thibault said. “She’s been able to be a pick-and-roll player like him, is a better shooter than Parker was in his younger (days) and certainly a better three-point shooter. She’ll be a great addition to help players become better shooters.”
Thibault, a three-time WNBA Coach of the Year, also coached in the NBA for the Lakers and Bulls in the 1980s and later for the Hawks, Knicks, SuperSonics and Bucks in the late-90s and early 2000s. He does not know exactly what role Hammon will fulfill for the Spurs.
“It depends from team to team, but now it’s a little bit more specialized,” he said. “When I was in the NBA, you only had a couple assistants, and then my last year in the NBA, you had four. Now you have some teams with six and some are just in charge of scouting reports and game preparation. Others are position coaches. You have post coaches and guards coaches, so it varies from team to team.”
“So how (the Spurs) divide up their duties, I’m not quite sure. But she’ll be given something specific, and maybe a lot of it in the first year will involve game preparation for opponents.”