Amid mild controversy, fueled by a few bad takes, Spurs center Pau Gasol penned an impassioned defense of female coaches in support of San Antonio assistant Becky Hammon, who will become the first woman to interview for an NBA head coaching job when she meets with the Milwaukee Bucks.
In an open letter on The Players’ Tribune, Gasol opened a window into how the world views gender, sharing a personal anecdote about how people mistook his father for the doctor and his mother the nurse when in reality the roles were reversed in his hometown of Barcelona, before he eviscerated a few misconceptions about female coaches in the NBA and, more specifically, Hammon’s experience.
Gasol shoots down The Mike Francesa Argument
First, Gasol tackled what we’ll call The Mike Francesa Argument. Among the many sexists things the longtime host of WFAN’s afternoon sports talk radio show in New York said in a sexist rant last year — which included his astonishing belief that women “are not players,” are unqualified, “don’t have any way to be in the league” and cannot manage 25 men — was this cringeworthy exchange with a caller:
Francesa: You want to see it because you think that you’re closing off an avenue to your daughter. But that’s not closing off an avenue. That’s something that’s not realistic. For her to coach the men is not a realistic destination. It’s not realistic. Plus, it would be so — I don’t think you understand how difficult it would be. I don’t think you understand — a woman in a locker room running 50 men. Do you understand how difficult that would be?
Caller: And so you think this lady out in San Antonio has no shot?
Francesa: To be the head coach of an NBA team? No shot. No shot. No shot. I mean, the odds on that are a million to one. And if it wasn’t Gregg [Popovich] — if it wasn’t the most dominant coach in the league doing that, I’m not even sure anyone else would even hire a woman right now. I think it’s an honorable thing, but the bottom line is what you’re asking her to do is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It really would be unfair. It’s not even something that would make sense to aspire to.
You don’t need Gasol to tell you why this is a bad take, but the future Hall of Famer did and did it well:
If you’re making that argument to anyone who’s actually played any high-level basketball, you’re going to seem really ignorant. But I also have a simple response to it — which is that I’ve been in the NBA for 17 years. I’ve won two championships … I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.
Hammon is one of the most accomplished players in the history of women’s basketball, earning six trips to the WNBA All-Star Game, winning a title in Spain and playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Long considered a cerebral and highly competitive point guard with exceptional leadership skills, she sat in on Popovich’s coaches’ meetings for a year before being hired because, as the five-time NBA champion and three-time Coach of the Year recipient said, “She’s a coach, and she’s good at it.”
For the past four seasons, she has been on the same bench that produced recently hired Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego and features several highly sought-after assistants. During that span, the Spurs pegged her to lead their 2015 Las Vegas Summer League squad. She promptly led the team to a title, and, as Spurs general manager R.C. Buford put it, “We got better over the week.” So, yeah, she was a player, she is qualified, she did have a way into the league, and she can lead men.
Which brings us to …
Gasol shoots down The Amin Elhassan Argument
Next, Gasol took on what we’ll call The Amin Elhassan Argument. After news broke of Hammon’s upcoming historic interview with the Bucks, a pair of popular NBA commentators expressed their belief that Hammon is somehow “skipping the line” in terms of the league’s traditional hiring order:
Becky Hammond is skipping the line, yall
— Wos (@BigWos) May 5, 2018
It’s not that hard. Name the last head coaching candidate with
– no prior NBA playing experience
– no prior meaningful head coaching experience
– less than 5 years assistant coaching experience, of which all has come from the second row.
— Chillin in my Bacta (@DarthAmin) May 6, 2018
It is fairly remarkable that Amin Elhassan, an ESPN commentator who worked in the Phoenix Suns front office, believes prior NBA playing experience fulfills one prerequisite for coaching consideration but a 15-year WNBA career does not, because otherwise no woman would ever be qualified. There are plenty of NBA players who will rave about the skill level and fundamental knowledge of WNBA players.
The larger point by Elhassan and popular podcaster Big Wos — which, as best I can tell from their extensive explanations on Twitter, is that Hammon should wait her turn behind “way more qualified people, namely black people” — is also flawed, as SB Nation’s Zito Madu did well to explain earlier this week. This line of thinking only serves to push one minority down in an attempt to lift another, when in reality any system of hiring that doesn’t treat both parties equally is broken for everyone.
You shouldn’t need Gasol to tell you this, either, but he will:
But if you think I’m writing this to argue why Becky is qualified to be an NBA head coach … well, you’re mistaken. That part is obvious: One, she was an accomplished player — with an elite point guard’s mind for the game. And two, she has been a successful assistant for arguably the greatest coach in the game. What more do you need? But like I said — I’m not here to make that argument. Arguing on Coach Hammon’s behalf would feel patronizing. To me, it would be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.
Gasol shoots down every other argument
The Spurs center took the time to shred several other misconceptions, from the laughable idea that not sharing a locker room with her players is somehow an impediment to the job to the idea that her hiring by the Spurs — and by extension her interview with the Bucks — makes her merely a token.
Here’s Gasol again:
Another argument that I’ve seen tossed around — maybe even sillier than the previous one — is that Becky rose to her current position because having her on staff was “good p.r.” for the Spurs.
No. We’re talking about the NBA here — a business where there’s a lot of money on the line, and little patience for mediocrity. Also we’re talking about the San Antonio Spurs, one of the most successful NBA franchises of this century: a system that has produced David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker — and that’s just the Hall of Famers. This is a team that won 50+ games for 18-straight seasons, and five championships in the last 20 years.
Would you really expect Coach Pop to develop his staff any differently than he develops his players? Of course not.
But Gasol shouldn’t have to tell you any of this, because Hammon already did.
“Just because something’s never been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” she told the New York Daily News a year into her tenure on the Spurs. “Leadership has no gender. The point is, ‘Do you know basketball? Do you know what it takes to lead people?’ We’re not asking the male to get up and leave his seat. We’re just saying scoot over a little bit. Make a little room at the table for the ladies.”
Those who don’t believe Hammon can’t possibly coach men and isn’t qualified for an NBA head coaching job may not be willing to hear that from a woman, so maybe they’ll listen to Gasol instead.
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