The Brooklyn Nets hiring Steve Nash to helm their championship pursuit with no prior coaching experience beyond serving as a consultant with the Golden State Warriors raised questions about the NBA’s hiring practices. When asked on Wednesday about his path to the position by comparison to his Black coaching colleagues, the two-time MVP conceded, “I have benefited from white privilege,” and, “I did skip the line,” while adding, “I’m not sure that this is an example that materially fits that conversation.”
Nash has also benefited from male privilege, and his hiring certainly fits that description.
Like Nash, San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon retired from her playing career as one of the game’s greatest point guards — a six-time WNBA All-Star who ranks among the league’s all-time scoring and assist leaders. Only she has been toiling and rising in the NBA coaching ranks for the past six seasons.
In 2017, commissioner Adam Silver said, “There definitely will” be a female head coach in the NBA, “and I think it is on me to sort of ensure that it happens sooner rather than later.” He said in 2018, “We are very focused on a woman being a head coach in our league. I am very confident it is going to happen at some point.” And Silver said last year the NBA’s goal is to fill half the league’s coaching positions with women.
In those three years, Hammon was the only woman to interview for one of the NBA’s 22 head-coaching openings, joining a list of at least eight male candidates who lost out on the Milwaukee Bucks job to Mike Budenholzer in 2018. He was reportedly their top target all along. Fellow former Spurs assistant Ettore Messina was the other finalist. Hammon will get her second interview this offseason, with the Indiana Pacers, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, along with retread Dave Joerger and 12 other men.
Interviews serve a purpose beyond the actual hire. They raise the profile of potential candidates league-wide and prepare them for expectations the next time an opportunity arises. In other words, each interview increases the likelihood that someone will both get another shot at and ultimately land a head-coaching gig.
That two years will have passed between Hammon’s interviews illustrates just how slow this process is moving for women. And she is not the only woman whose résumé warrants serious consideration. Here are six of the most qualified female coaching candidates (among many) with whom the five NBA teams still searching for head coaches could request an interview, three years after Silver began addressing the issue.
We have covered Hammon’s legendary playing career, experience enough to earn current coaches Nash, Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers their first head positions. She first sat in on Spurs practices in 2013, when she was recovering from an ACL tear during her final years as point guard of the San Antonio Stars. A year later, she became the NBA’s first full-time female assistant when Gregg Popovich named her to his staff — a role that has produced at least a dozen other head-coaching hires across the league in two-plus decades.
Over the past six years, Hammon has risen to the lead assistant spot on the bench of one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. During that span, she also coached the Spurs to a summer league title in 2015.
As Pau Gasol wrote in a thoughtful Players’ Tribune essay on this subject in 2018, “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.”
The 50-year-old has coaching credentials no Hall of Fame player could claim prior to accepting a possible NBA head-coaching position. The six-time WNBA All-Star guard led the South Carolina women’s team to the NCAA championship in 2017, her second Final Four appearance. After posting a program-best record in eight years as the Temple women’s head coach, she began her tenure with the Gamecocks in 2008. She has held the position ever since, now amassing a 477-178 career record in two decades as a head coach.
Staley has also been the head coach of the USA women’s national team since 2017, leading the program to a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup. She also won three Olympic gold medals as a player.
Per South Carolina’s WACH-TV, Staley is open to interviewing in her hometown for the vacant Philadelphia 76ers job. The Sixers “will consider at least one woman for the position,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Marcus Hayes reported, but it is unclear if Staley is a candidate. She is every bit as accomplished as Jay Wright, the Villanova men’s coach who removes himself from consideration every time the job opens. Heck, the Chicago Bulls, also in need of a coach, hired Fred Hoiberg in 2015 with nowhere near Staley’s credentials.
It has been a decade since Lieberman became the first head coach of a professional men’s team. In her lone season at the helm of the Dallas Mavericks’ G League affiliate, she led the Texas Legends to a playoff appearance in the 2010-11 season. The organization has made the playoffs just once in the 10 years since, despite a list of coaches that includes longtime NBA head coach Del Harris and multiple ex-NBA players.
A Hall of Fame player at Old Dominion in the late 1970s and in multiple women’s leagues throughout the 1980s, Lieberman first served as a head coach for the WNBA’s Detroit Shock from 1998-2000, when she was also the franchise’s general manager. She has been a mainstay in NBA circles over the past decade, serving as a studio analyst for the Oklahoma City Thunder before taking an assistant coaching position with the Sacramento Kings from 2015-17. She currently serves as a broadcaster for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Lieberman also became the first female head coach of the BIG3 basketball league in 2018, leading former NBA players Quentin Richardson, Ryan Gomes and Chris Andersen to a title in the three-on-three league. However you consider that accomplishment, it was the opportunity she was given, and she performed it better than someone like Reggie Theus, another BIG3 coach who had his NBA head-coaching opportunity.
The former UCLA standout began her coaching career in 2008 with a women’s team in Germany. Two years later, she joined longtime NBA coach Bob Hill’s staff in Japan’s top men’s pro basketball league. She eventually became the league’s first female head coach before returning stateside to pursue her NBA goal.
In 2012, Nakase accepted a position as a video coordinator with the Los Angeles Clippers. By 2014, she was the first woman to sit on an NBA bench as an assistant for the organization’s summer league squad. She joined the Clippers’ G League affiliate as an assistant in 2017 and was promoted to Rivers’ staff as a player development assistant a year later. Her meteoric rise is not unlike Erik Spoelstra’s on the Miami Heat.
“The coaches that I look up to most are Erik Spoelstra and Mike Brown,” Nakase told Clips Nation in 2018, when she became an assistant for a team that is now contending. “They both started in video and their transition up the ladder, for me, was a great example of ‘I can do that too.’ Erik has also given me great advice about staying the course, working extremely hard and trusting that everything will fall into place.”
After her playing career at Coppin State, Ready joined her alma mater’s men’s program as an assistant in 1999, while also serving as head coach of the school’s women’s volleyball team. Two years later, she was named an assistant for the National Basketball Development League’s Greenville Groove, with whom she won a title in 2002. She joined the WNBA’s Washington Mystics as an assistant after the Groove folded.
In 2004, Ready left the Mystics to become a sideline reporter for the Charlotte Bobcats broadcast. Her work earned her a spot alongside Eric Collins and Dell Curry in the Hornets booth in 2015, when she became the first full-time female analyst for an NBA team. They formed one of the league’s best broadcasting teams.
Almost two decades after her trailblazing turn as a developmental coach, Ready is working as an NBA analyst for Turner Sports. It is a role that Kerr, Rivers and others have ridden to head-coaching interviews.
The University of Virginia defensive standout began her coaching career as an assistant on the Mystics in 1999. Boucek spent the next 16 years on WNBA benches, winning two rings as an assistant for the Seattle Storm. Her players included Sue Bird and Swin Cash, both of whom now have roles in NBA front offices. Cash is a vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans, who just fired head coach Alvin Gentry.
Boucek worked in player development for the Sacramento Kings from 2015-17, between stints as head coach of the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs and Storm. After earlier stints studying under fellow Virginia product Rick Carlisle with the Dallas Mavericks, Boucek officially joined his staff as an assistant in 2018.
If you think her sub-.500 record in six seasons as a head coach in the WNBA — four of which ended in playoff appearances — should preclude her from interviewing for the top job on an NBA bench, you must also think Joerger should not have been among the Pacers’ first calls for their vacant coaching position.
It has now been two years since Carlisle told ESPN, “I've known for a long time she was qualified to be an NBA coach. Once you spend time with her, there is no doubt. ... This is an important moment for our league. Qualified women are a reality. They are bright. They are ass-kickers. They belong in this league.”
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