NBA Draft

After WNBA title, talk of coaching in NBA

It didn’t take long for Becky Hammon’s future to became a hot topic after she coached the Las Vegas Aces to a WNBA championship on Sunday.

Shortly after the Aces secured their first title, the former Spurs assistant was asked by a reporter if she thought “everyone in the NBA” should feel “dumb” for not hiring her as a head coach.

“I’m used to people not picking me; I don’t know if you’re aware. I just do me.” Hammon said.

Indeed, Hammon has a long history of proving doubters wrong.

When she was coming out of high school in Rapid City, South Dakota, they said she didn’t have the athletic tools as an undersized guard to make it as a Division I player.

After starring at Colorado State as a three-time All-American, Hammon heard skeptics say she wouldn’t succeed in the WNBA as an undrafted rookie. Sixteen seasons later, including six as an All-Star, there was talk about whether she could cut it as one of Gregg Popovich’s assistants after she joined the Spurs.

And even after she more than proved herself on Popovich’s bench, she got rejected by several NBA teams that interviewed her for their head coaching vacancies.

“I sat in a lot of (NBA) head coaching interviews, and (there are) two things people always said, ‘You’ve only been in San Antonio, and you’ve never been a head coach,’ ” Hammon said after the Aces hired her in late December by promising to make her the WBNA’s first coach with a salary that topped $1 million.

By leading the Aces to a championship, she proved that neither of those facts were a negative.

Chelsea Gray scored 20 points to lead the Aces to a 78-71 victory in Game 4 of the best-of-five series, an outcome Hammon celebrated on the court with her sons Cayden, 7, and Samuel, 4.

Popovich was quick to praise Hammon.

“We are all thrilled for coach Hammon,” he said in a statement the Spurs posted on Twitter.

“Winning a championship is a remarkable achievement for a first-time head coach in her first year with a team. Yet I am not at all surprised by her success.”

The Spurs made Hammon the first female full-time, paid assistant in NBA history in 2014 after she completed a playing career that included eight seasons with the San Antonio Stars, who moved to Vegas in 2018.

Hammon left the Spurs after last season to coach the Aces. She becomes the fourth member of Popovich’s coaching tree to win a championship, joining the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer and Doc Rivers, who won a title with the Boston Celtics.

She is also the first in WNBA history to win a title in her inaugural season as a head coach.

So much for her lack of experience.

“Every hard thing that I’ve gone through has built something in me that I’ve needed down the road,” Hammon, 45, said after Sunday’s game, per “And even though it sucks in the moment to not to be picked or to get hurt (as a player) or whatever it might be, the hard stuff builds stuff in you that’s necessary for life, and you’ll use it down the road, (though) it may not feel like it in that moment.

“For me, it’s not really about proving other people wrong, it’s about proving myself right.”

Only five NBA rookie head coaches in the last 60 years have won a league title, reported. The most recent to do it was Nick Nurse, with the Toronto Raptors in 2019. Nurse, though, had served as a head coach for several years at other levels.

With her success as a pioneering assistant with the Spurs, Hammon seemed positioned to become the first woman head coach in one of the the United States’ four major men’s professional leagues.

She may still get that opportunity.

“Becky has proved over and over that she has a unique understanding and passion for the game of basketball,” Popovich said. “Congratulations to Becky, her players and the entire Aces organization. They played the right way the entire season and were a true joy to watch.”

Many Spurs fans would like to see Hammon return to the Spurs after Popovich, 73, retires. The NBA’s all-time winningest coach and five-time champion is under contract through this season as the league’s highest-paid head coach, earning a reported $11 million.

Even with the championship she earned Sunday, Hammon still might find it difficult to break the NBA’s glass ceiling.

“…If my name was Brian and I played 16 years in the NBA, I would have been hired and fired a few times as an NBA coach already,” Hammon said. “That’s just what it is.”

Hammon’s experience with the Spurs prepared her well for leading the Aces.

In 2015, she coached the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League title. In December 2020, she filled in as acting head coach after Popovich was ejected from a game against the Los Angeles Lakers

“(He) made such an investment in me,” she said of Popovich. “I had thousands of hours sitting next to him at games, at film sessions, at dinners learning things.”

Among the things she learned from Popovich: Relationships, whether with family, friends, colleagues or teammates, are more important than wins and losses.

“She feels she was so fortunate as a player to have coaches who saw the bigger picture,” Hammon’s wife Brenda Milano told ESPN. “It isn’t just about basketball, but life.”

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