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Exclusive: Becky Hammon Isn’t Taking NBA History Off the Table

She just became the highest-paid WNBA coach ever, but the Las Vegas Aces’ Becky Hammon isn’t closing the door on returning to the NBA to shatter the glass ceiling.

Becky Hammon has been getting text messages from NBA teams over the past 24 hours reading: “Don’t forget about us.”

And one day after being named head coach of the Las Vegas Aces — as well as the highest-paid WNBA coach ever — she said she still may become the first woman ever to become coach of an NBA team. Just not any time soon.

“I’ll toss and turn and figure it out as I go along, just as I did with this one,” Hammon said Tuesday in a phone interview from Toronto, where she was preparing for a game against the Raptors in her current position as an assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

“Right now, there aren’t any women on the front row of an NBA bench, and that is a big part of the process. So it is very hard to say,” Hammon told Boardroom. “For me, this is a step forward to do whatever I want in the future. Right now I want to grow the WNBA, and right now I trust these women and want to lead these women.”

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Hammon had been with the Spurs for the past eight seasons and is currently Gregg Popovich’s lead assistant after starting on the back bench. She has interviewed for NBA head coaching positions in Orlando, Milwaukee, Portland, and Indiana but did not get any of those jobs, and she said it was impossible to predict who might replace her as “most likely to be first” because there is no clear frontrunner.

“The Aces now have my full attention, and I may never go back to the NBA just because I may never go back. But I’ll never say I don’t want to go back. I’m ready to be a head coach; the Aces saw that and came and got me. At first, I wasn’t going to leave. But the more I talked with them I realized it was time to leave,” Hammon said.

A day ago, after Hammon agreed to take over the Aces from Bill Laimbeer, the question needed to be asked: Who’s got next?

To put it another way: Who is the best-qualified woman head coaching candidate on the pro basketball landscape, and which NBA owner is bold enough to make history?

And when?

There are seven women currently on NBA coaching staffs: Jenny Boucek of the Indiana Pacers, Kristi Toliver of the Dallas Mavericks, Lindsey Harding of the Sacramento Kings, Teresa Weatherspoon of the New Orleans Pelicans, Sonia Raman of the Memphis Grizzlies, and Edniesha Curry of the Portland Trail Blazers. But none are in lead assistant roles, which means there is no particular leading contender.

A theory is already being floated: Should the NBA award an expansion team to Las Vegas under the governorship of Mark Davis — who owns the Aces in addition to the Raiders — it would be natural for Hammon to come along as coach. For what it’s worth, expansion is on the back burner for the NBA as they navigate coronavirus issues, though Las Vegas, Seattle, Louisville, and Kansas City have all been mentioned as possible franchise cities should the Asociation and its owners choose to expand from 30 to 32 (or even 34) teams in the years to come.

But here and now, the Aces got their woman. The same one who played for the franchise before it relocated from San Antonio to Las Vegas. They even have her No. 25 jersey retired; so far, it’s the only one hanging from the rafters.

“I hope this trend continues,” Hammon said of more women getting more opportunities. “It’s important for little girls to see that, but it’s also important for little boys to see that. Because if we’re going to talk about changing people’s minds, you have to change it generationally.”

Basketball history is filled with women who made their mark coaching in the collegiate ranks, from Margaret Wade to Pat Summitt to Tara VanDerveer to Muffett McGraw and beyond, but the history of women crossing over into the men’s game at any level is incredibly limited.

The inception of the WNBA in 1997 brought women’s professional basketball into the mainstream in the United States, where there is now a women’s professional soccer league standing on solid ground, a woman leading the National Basketball Players’ Association (Michele Roberts), women breaking barriers as broadcasters — both as commentators and calling play-by-play — and across the broader world of journalism. But putting a whistle around one’s neck and being the boss of a bunch of young men who are paid utterly handsomely to play NBA basketball? We have not seen that yet.

Except for the night of Dec. 30, 2020 when Hammon stepped in for Coach Pop after he was ejected from a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

She returns to the big chair for her first game with the Aces when the WNBA resumes play on May 6.

“It matters because representation matters… I think once we can start peeling back the layers of society and what is viewed as (a leader)… we can start hiring people based on what they bring to the table,” she said.

“There are so many great women coaches out there who should be leading their own teams and given those opportunities. We have never had these press conferences when it came to a man leading a women’s team, but there are all these conversations about women leading a men’s team. These are quality coaches, period. Take off any other label. They are great coaches, period, and quite frankly, I’ve been watching the WNBA for a long time and stealing all their plays for a while.”

Only one thing is certain for Becky Hammon: Her next stop is Vegas. And while she’s not treating the WNBA as some sort of stepping stone, her story as a head basketball coach figures to be a long one, and it’s only just begun to be written.

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