When it comes to sports teams hiring women, 'almost' doesn't count

There are many situations in which "almost" means nothing.

You can't "almost" cross a deep, rocky canyon in a '66 Thunderbird. You can't "almost" fully cook a chicken breast. You can't "almost" quit smoking. If you almost did any of those things, you'd end up dead (ask Thelma and Louise), sick with food poisoning, and still smoking like a chimney.

The same thing can be said about professional sports teams hiring women as coaches: "almost" doesn't count.

We found that out when the Portland Trail Blazers, after days of reports touting their serious interest in hiring San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon to be their new head coach, hired the far less experienced Chauncey Billups instead.

In the week leading up to the announcement of Billups' hiring, we heard about how Hammon was the first woman to make it to the final stage of the head coach interview process. Hammon and Billups were the only two people who were reported as making it to the final stage. That a woman's name was leaked definitely made the Blazers look good.

When a team is portrayed positively for merely considering a woman for its top coaching job, you can't help but question how serious it is about actually hiring her.

Hammon has been an NBA assistant coach for seven years, and before that, she had a 16-year career as a professional basketball player in the WNBA and abroad. She's a six-time WNBA All-Star and her jersey number is the only one that has ever been retired by the San Antonio Stars (who now play as the Las Vegas Aces).

If Hammon was a white man, she'd probably be coaching a team by now, so making it a big deal that she's the first woman to make it to the final stage of an NBA head coach interview is nakedly patronizing. It gives the impression that the Blazers are trying to get positive press for considering hiring a woman so they can be thought of as "progressive" and "forward-thinking" even if they end up doing what every NBA team has always done in the history of the entire league: hire a man — which is exactly what they did.

Becky Hammon looks on from the sideline during a Spurs game.
Despite her experience as both a professional basketball player and a coach, Becky Hammon was again passed over for an NBA head coaching position. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Hiring a woman requires no fanfare

When Gregg Popovich hired Hammon in August 2014, there were no leaks before it happened. There were no reports about the Spurs thinking about making history and hiring the second woman to ever coach in the NBA.

Popovich and the Spurs just did it, because it was about hiring the right person for the job and not getting positive press for hiring a woman.

Kim Ng spent decades working in MLB before she was hired as not just MLB's first female general manager, but the first female general manager in all of male professional sports. She's had to deal with the same public relations point-scoring that's happening with Hammon.

After being the first woman to present an arbitration case in 1995 and the second woman hired as an assistant GM in 1998, Ng interviewed for her first GM position in 2005. She would interview for at least four more GM jobs over the next decade, and was always at the top of analysts' lists of GM candidates. But the same thing happened over and over: a report would leak that Ng was being interviewed, the team would generate good press for considering a woman and the job always, always went to a man.

When the Miami Marlins hired Ng to be their new GM in November 2020, it was a complete surprise. There had been no leaks or rumors that they were thinking about making history. They just did it.

Why hiring Chauncey Billups was even more controversial

What makes this situation even tougher to take is who the Blazers chose to hire.

Billups' NBA career ended in 2013 after 17 years, one more than Hammon, and the Los Angeles Clippers hired him as an assistant coach in November 2020. Now, with less than one full year of NBA coaching experience — compared to Hammon's seven — and numerous unanswered questions about his 1997 sexual assault allegation, Billups is being handed the keys to an entire NBA team.

To add insult to injury, Blazers GM Neil Olshey chose to be deeply patronizing about Hammon during Billups' introductory news conference.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

If the Blazers had hired Hammon, it wouldn't have erased their brazen attention-seeking by (allegedly) leaking Hammon's interview status, but at the very least, we'd know there was actual intention behind it.

But since they didn't, we know the leaks about her making it to the final round were just a continuation of the same hollow, performative rumors we've heard for years.

The Blazers want credit for considering Hammon as a finalist, but they shouldn't get any. Almost hiring her is meaningless, and treating her final-round interview like some kind of incredible accomplishment is infantilizing, especially since they passed her over in favor of the far less experienced candidate.

"Almost" doesn't count. Professional sports teams have spent years using up all the middle ground with their almosts and maybes, and now that there are none left, they no longer get a participation trophy for simply thinking about hiring a well-qualified woman to be a head coach.

Hire a woman or don't. Anything outside of that is just disingenuous theater.

More from Yahoo Sports: