While University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Lisa Boyer worked as a volunteer assistant on the Cavaliers staff in 2001-02, and Natalie Nakase just wrapped up a stint as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers' Las Vegas Summer League squad, Hammon, 37, is believed to be the first female officially hired as an assistant coach in NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL history. Hammon announced plans to retire from the WNBA following her 16th season in the league, including the last eight as point guard of the San Antonio Stars.
The Stars have five games remaining on their regular-season schedule, and the playoffs extend into late September. Whenever Hammon wraps up her WNBA playing career, she will make NBA history.
“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in the release. “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”
It's been a banner year for the NBA in terms of progression. Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in American professional sports history when he joined the Nets in February, and just this past week Violet Palmer — the NBA's first female referee — also became its first openly gay ref. The National Basketball Players Association also recently elected Michele Roberts its executive director, installing her as the first woman at the helm of a major U.S. sports union.
A team seemingly always ahead of the curve in a trailblazing league, the Spurs also added two-time Euroleague Coach of the Year Ettore Messina to its staff this summer. In addition to the Italian coaching legend, the Spurs staff also features the first native African to be named an NBA assistant (Ime Udoka) and the first New Zealander to play in the league (Sean Marks).
It's a worldly bunch coaching a roster that currently features players from nine different countries, and considering the Spurs played basketball as beautifully as we've seen it during their title run, perhaps other teams will follow their lead. Hammon's hiring, in particular, opens the door to half the world's population.
"I think it is fantastic," former D-League assistant Stephanie Ready — who became the first female coach in a men's professional league upon joining the Greenville Groove in 2001 — told Yahoo's Marc J. Spears following the Hammon announcement. "Maybe this will finally silence the naysayers. If Coach Pop thinks she's capable and worthy, there is no bigger stamp of approval in today's game."
While the Hammon news came as a bit of surprise, perhaps we should have seen it coming. Popovich and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford heaped praise on Hammon in a San Antonio Express-News feature back in February. According to Mike Monroe's piece, Stars head coach Dan Hughes introduced Hammon to Popovich when she shared her post-playing career plans to coach.
A fixture behind the Spurs bench throughout this past season, when she was recovering from a torn ACL in her left knee, Hammon has soaked up Pop's knowledge in practices, video sessions and coaches' meetings ever since the Spurs coach extended an invitation last summer.
“I'm kind of just there, a fly on the wall soaking up how they run things over there in the film sessions,” Hammon told the Express-News six months ago. “I get a lot out of their film sessions, just listening to the coaches go back and forth on what they think is happening on certain plays.
“Really, I'm just a sponge and building relationships with those guys on a different level. I get to see a side of them that not many get to see. That's pretty cool.”
Inside Stuff also made Hammon the subject of a feature this past March, and Spurs players lauded her understanding of the game — a wealth of knowledge Pop compared to new Warriors hire Steve Kerr.
"She's been perfect," Popovich told Inside Stuff. "She knows when to talk, and she knows when to shut up. It's as simple as you can put it. A lot of people don't figure that out."
From the sound of it, Hammon will be treated just like everyone else on his staff.