There has never been a female head coach in the NBA. By the end of the offseason, it’s likely this will still be true. But for the first time in NBA history, a woman is being interviewed for a head coaching position.
…After firing head coach Jason Kidd earlier this season, the Milwaukee Bucks will interview Becky Hammon as one of the 10-plus candidates to fill the team’s head coaching vacancy. While higher-ups in the Bucks organization are likely aware of the positive public relations credit this move could build, the idea of Hammon as a head coach is no gimmick.
Hammon retired from playing in the WNBA ‒ in which six of the league’s 12 team’s head coaches are women ‒ in 2014, capping off a career in which she finished as fourth all-time in assists and eighth all-time in scoring.
She accepted an assistant coaching position under San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, whose pedigree and knowledge of basketball is well-regarded as the best in the sport. In 2015, Hammon coached the Spurs’ summer league team to a championship in the Las Vegas Summer League.
But Hammon didn’t hold her status as the only female assistant coach in the NBA for long. Nancy Lieberman ‒ the first female Development League head coach ‒ joined the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach in 2015, and Jenny Boucek ‒ a WNBA head coach for the Seattle Storm ‒ joined the Kings as an assistant coach in 2015, after Lieberman stepped down from her post, citing her mother’s poor health.
Three female assistant coaches spread across two teams over four years may not seem substantial – and it’s not. But progress has to start somewhere. Breaking down obstructions caused by sexism in sports is never something that happens quickly enough, because those barriers should never exist.
But because society is patriarchal, those barriers are pervasive. Despite the fact that women are often unwelcome in all levels of sports, Hammon’s success marks legitimate progress.
The idea that a woman could become a head coach in the NBA would have been ridiculous even a decade ago. Sure, people would acknowledge that, yeah, one day, maybe, somehow, a woman could do it. But that day was just that: one day. One day in a distant future that only existed in the imagination.
Now, that day is tangible. While it seems unlikely that Hammon gets the Bucks’ job, that’s more a result of other candidates like ex-Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer being on the market than a knock on her credentials and capability as a head coach.
I’m sure her gender is a concern for any front office, which likely sees a risk in hiring the first female head coach and considers that if Hammon isn’t successful, more women won’t get chances as head coaches.
That mentality underlies a notion that women like Hammon need to be sheltered, as if becoming a professional female athlete alone isn’t a lifelong training in defending against sexist stigmas.
Yes, Hammon will likely face much greater scrutiny if she becomes an NBA head coach. But it’s not like Hammon will suddenly receive that criticism and crumble.
She’s an intelligent, veteran basketball mind, and the fact that she is being considered to be a head coach is a sign that more and more NBA teams are noticing that basketball intelligence is gender neutral.