The game of basketball evolves.
Whether it’s rule adjustments, new play-styles, or simply the popularity of the sport; no aspect of the game is safe from change. Forty years ago, if a guy took a 35-foot three-pointer he just would instantly be told to grab some pine. A couple of rule changes later, a wave of sharpshooters hitting the league, and whaddya know a 35 footer could be the best look you get in a 24-second possession. The game had unwritten barriers that needed to be broken.
When the league started in 1946 it was just a bunch of out of shape white guys that were as entertaining as Mall Cop 2. College ball had integrated teams, but at the time the NBA was white oriented. That was until 1950 when Earl Lloyd broke the color barrier by becoming the first black player to register a minute in the association. The barrier needed to be broken, but there were a lot more.
While other sports like baseball had women involved in front offices, the NBA was a little late to the party. The barrier for women in baseball was broken in 1946 when Edith Houghton became an independent scout for the Phillies. While women in the NBA held small positions in front offices throughout the 80s they faced heavy workplace discrimination, and for the most part, weren’t taken seriously. This somewhat changed in May 1991, when Susan O’Malley became the first female team president in the league. She served for 16 years, endured some very rough seasons but nonetheless did the job. She broke the barrier, but there were still more.
Generally, coaching is and was seen as a male-dominated profession at the highest level. It’s just how it is. While college ball had been more accepting of women longing to coach, the NBA wasn’t as welcoming. Lisa Boyer broke into the league in 01’ as an assistant for the Cavaliers, but she was out by the end of the season. She got the credit for trailblazing the profession for women, but no headway was truly made. We didn’t see another woman in a coaching position until 2014. Enter the Becky Hammon era.
Becky Hammon at 43 years old has been involved in the sport as much as pretty much anyone else. She’s played since before high school, and even enjoyed a 14 year WNBA career. She’s played on gold-winning Olympic teams, and she’s been named as a top 15 player all-time. After suffering a potentially career-ending injury, she began to visit the Spurs facilities. It was here that she began connecting with players, building a relationship with the coaching staff, and just got involved at practices. After a year of this, she made a strong impression on the legendary Greg Popovich, leading to her hire in 2014. She was named assistant coach to this generation’s brightest basketball mind, who at the time was just coming off a championship. Pop began to strategically pick the perfect times to let her shine, like in 2015 when he gave her the head coaching reigns to the summer league team. They wound up winning the league, which generated a buzz around her name. It even got her an interview to be the possible Bucks GM, but that never came to fruition.
Fast-forward to a few days ago where a heated Pop gets tossed in the second quarter of a game against the reigning champs. Becky was thrust into the head coach position mid-game and… lost. Unfortunately, her debut had to be against L.A, but hey history was made. In all seriousness, she worked her ass off for years to finally get a chance. She’s been put in a system that breeds success. Now with a great endorsement from Pop, a bunch of players coming to her defense, and the fact that the NBA wants to be viewed as PC – she could land a head coaching spot as early as next season.
There’s no denying the NBA is in need of fresh minds. Each year when a coaching position becomes vacant, it’s like each team picks from the same group of previously failed coaches. The same few guys get passed around shitty teams until ultimately the situation implodes. Teams bring guys in now to be ego-managers more than anything. So yes, I guess that puts me in the party which hopes Becky can secure a job. Instead of giving the spot to another experimental player turned coach, analyze the facts. You have champions like Pau Gasol who have praised her tactics, Pop letting her take over timeouts, and as of recent, it’s like they are running a co-op. The argument that players won’t listen or respect a female coach is a valid concern, especially with teams that have big-ego guys. Let’s be honest though, Fred Hoiberg didn’t command a locker room any more than Becky could. Also, it would be quite hypocritical on the players to not respect a female coach, especially after 90% of the league have become advocates for equality. The world around the league is changing, and the league is feeling the ripple. This is the most accepting the association has ever been, so if there’s a time to break the next barrier it’s now.