Becky Hammon Discusses Decision to Leave Spurs, NBA to Become Aces HC in WNBA

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 19, 2022

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay

For Becky Hammon, there were a number of factors at play before she chose to accept the Las Vegas Aces' head coaching job.

It seemed like Hammon, who has been an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs since 2014, was poised at some point to become the first woman to be hired as an NBA head coach. Those aspirations are on hold for the time being.

The 44-year-old told The Athletic's Chantel Jennings she understood how her decision to return to the WNBA carried an added significance:

"It definitely weighs on your mind, for sure. Because I know for me, I felt like I was on this path doing this and I’m still on the path, right? This is the coaching path. This is what I'm doing. And just because of the movement, or like moving the needle or even the progress that has been made, you always want to make more (progress). And so, you want more representation. You want the needle to move faster. And so, yeah, I would be lying if I didn't say it crossed my mind, for sure. It crosses my mind. It can't be the main factor."

Hammon added she "really just felt like this was the next best step for me professionally, personally."

The 44-year-old was a perennial NBA head-coaching candidate in recent years, most recently interviewing with the Portland Trail Blazers before they hired Chauncey Billups.

However, Hammon may have been staring up at the proverbial glass ceiling.

The WNBA legend told CNBC's Jabari Young she "knew I was second" in the Blazers' search. She also offered telling comments during her introductory press conference with the Aces, per the Associated Press' Doug Feinberg:

"I sat in head coaching interviews (in the NBA) and people said two things: 'You've only been in San Antonio and you've never been a head coach.' NBA jobs are hard to get. In some ways, I feel like the NBA maybe is close. In other ways, I feel like they're a long ways off from hiring (a woman head coach). I don't know when it could happen."

Working outside of San Antonio would've benefited Hammon. Gregg Popovich is a legendary coach in his own right, but there's plenty of insight to be gained outside of the Spurs ecosystem.

To the second point Hammon referenced, though, a lack of head coaching experience hasn't been a roadblock for others as they climbed the ranks.

Ime Udoka is the same age as Hammon and never worked as a head coach before the Boston Celtics hired him. Billups only had one season on the Los Angeles Clippers' staff, which was enough for the Blazers. Jason Kidd hadn't worked as a coach at any level before getting his first shot with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013.

For Hammon, it remains to be seen whether succeeding in the WNBA will even be enough to convince NBA front offices.

Bill Laimbeer was a two-time champion and four-time NBA All-Star with the Detroit Pistons. He then led the WNBA's Detroit Shock to three titles.

Perhaps his reputation as a player during the Pistons' "Bad Boys" era preceded him, but Laimbeer was unable to land an NBA head coaching gig when he began looking in 2009. After spending three years as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he returned to the WNBA.

If nothing else, Hammon has at least dictated the terms for her coaching career. She now has her chance to prove herself and silence her skeptics.