It’s time to Break It Down!
Last August, I wrote a post entitled, “First The Spurs Won The Title: Now They Are Making History!” (http://thesphinxofcharlotte.blogspot.com/2014/08/first-spurs-won-title-now-they-are.html) It heralded the introduction of Ms. Becky Hammon to the NBA, after her hiring by the then World Champion San Antonio Spurs.
Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurts made Ms. Hammon the NBA’s first full-time Regular Season female Assistant Coach on August 5, 2014. It was clear at that time she had cultivated a history with the Spurs, and that she had established a relationship with both Coach Popovich and a number of Spurs’ players. Other women had served in support roles, one as an Assistant during the Summer League, and another as a Volunteer Assistant during the Regular Season. Hammon, however, assumed full coaching responsibilities, and traveled with the team.
The NBA Summer League is a series of off-season competitions designed to bring National Basketball Association teams together to try out different summer rosters instead of their regular season line-ups. Usually, participants include a mix of rookies, second year players, and unsigned free agents. The current summer league consists of three separate leagues: the Las Vegas Summer League, the Utah Jazz Summer League, and the Orlando Pro Summer League.
Summer leagues have existed for decades. Historically, there was not an organized structure, with leagues sometimes overlapping and not officially coordinated. In 2004, the league held the Las Vegas Summer League for the first time; it is by far the largest league, with 23 NBA teams plus an NBA Development League all-star team participating as of 2015.
The Orlando Pro Summer League has been held since 2001. The Utah Jazz Summer League began play in 2015, replacing the Rocky Mountain Revue, an event held from 1984–2008 before going on a lengthy hiatus due to declining participation.
On Monday evening, Ms. Hammon led the Spurs to the Championship of the Vegas Summer League, as the Spurs beat the Phoenix Suns 93-90. By doing so, she became the feature attraction in yet another chapter in the annals of history, after having added one just two weeks ago, when she became the first woman to serve as Head Coach of an NBA Summer League Team. The Spurs lost their first Summer League game to the NY Knicks, but rallied from that point, winning the rest of their games, including in the end, persevering in a hotly contested Title Game.
In describing the experience, Hammon said:
“It was a grind. They’ve been together about 17 days. They really started to kind of gel here these last two or three games. They listened, and they played really hard for me. So I’m just really [appreciative of] their attentiveness and alertness and their desire to win.”
Along the way, Becky Hammon has diffused a number of the lingering concerns about whether her instincts and experience connected effectively with the rigors of the men’s game. The end result of her performance in this highly competitive environment, in which all the actors recognized her unique role, with no place to hide, should silence some of those concerns. It probably won’t, but it should.
A number of Hammon’s players recognize the value of her voice on the bench. Former Tar Heel Danny Green lauded Hammon when the Spurs hired her. At that time he said:
“Everybody here respects her. She’s a really good player and also a good person to have around. She understands the game.”
He had this to say in an interview with NBA TV during Monday’s game:
“She gives another perspective on the sidelines for us. She sees some things that we don’t see. She’s obviously a player, everybody respects her, she’s well respected. She knows the game. She understands the game. She sees it from a point guard perspective, but a female perspective [too], which is very different for us.
She’s one of my favorites … She’s doing very well. I’m happy for her.”
Jonathon Simmons won the Championship’s MVP honors. As he described it, it was “amazing” to have Hammon on the sidelines. He said:
“She’s a real cool coach and she’s a player coach and that’s what guys like my age — we like that. She’s experienced, you can’t take that away from her.”
Simmons later addressed the importance of Hammon’s trailblazing role in the league, when he told Sports Illustrated (SI):
“It’s always good to be a part of history. This day will go down in the books for years to come … I love her. I barely know her and I love her already.”
Hammon, in turn, acknowledged the relationship she’s forged with her players, when she noted, also to SI:
“I’m just thankful that [Popovich] trusted me with the guys in that locker room, and that those guys trusted me back.”
One writer at YAHOO Sports, Kelly Dwyer, (Editor Ball Don’t Lie Blog), has already opined that Ms. Hammon is “ready” to become an NBA Head Coach. Admittedly, I don’t write or follow sports for a living, but I think Mr. Dwyer is wrong about that. Yes, her accomplishments are impressive. She has played the game in college, in Europe, in the WNBA, and in the Olympics. She has the background, skills, and experience that ensure she could be ready in the not too distant future. In fact, I would not be surprised if she becomes the NBA’s first female coach, though not likely in the coming year.
Yesterday, Mr. Dwyer wrote:
“These basketball reasons are why the NBA needs to get the novelty of the first hiring of a female head coach out of the damn way. Becky Hammon can coach your favorite team, and she can coach it well. And when she is hired and when she does coach it well, we can move on to more important things. Like gender equality in jobs that actually matter.”
In his blog, he suggested if Jason Kidd can be trusted running a $100-plus million dollar payroll weeks after retiring (Milwaukee Bucks), or Derek Fisher can survive a 17-win season, Hammon deserves a shot. Dwyer noted Steve Kerr is a Gregg Popovich protégé, as is Ms. Hammon. Moreover, absent coaching experience on any level, he led the Warriors to a Title in his first year.
While all of that is true, their disparate records demonstrate wildly different outcomes. At the very least, those results suggest that the potential of the team a coach goes to, any coach, plays a key role in the outcome of the coaching effort. And, as we know, and Mr. Dwyer conceded, Ms. Hammon won’t be coaching the Spurs in the near future.
Let me frame it this way. The Spurs have long since established themselves as a savvy franchise. They have assembled a mixture of veterans, free agents and young skilled players from around the world, all with an abiding willingness to accept “winning” as the preeminent mission. When they hired Becky Hammon, it was fair to presume she was or would become adept at coaching. By all accounts, she is doing just that. After Monday night’s Summer League Title, that factoid is in clearer focus than ever before.
No, she’s not ready to assume the reins of a Franchise when the NBA Season begins in November. But don’t sleep on her; she will be in the foreseeable future. I wrote last August, “Welcome to the NBA Ms. Hammon. “First The Spurs Won The Title: Now They Are Making History!” Today, “The Spurs and Becky Hammon: Another Chapter Added!”
I’m done; holla back!
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