When the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: Silver’s Golden Idea

It’s time to Break It Down!

In a couple of previous posts I’ve written about the NBA and it’s efforts to integrate females into the fabric of its coaching rubric. In 2014, the Spurs hired Rebecca (Becky) Hammon as an Assistant Coach. I first mentioned her in a post on August 6, 2014, entitled, “First The Spurs Won The Title: Now They Are Making History!” That story detailed the Spurs opting to bring her into the organization. Subsequently, I reprised her as a subject July 22, 2015, in a post entitled, “The Spurs and Becky Hammon: Another Chapter Added!”

This story discussed her leading the Spurs to the Championship of the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League the previous Monday evening. In a more recent footnote, Hammon became the first Female Assistant Coach for an NBA All-Star Team in 2016 (coincidentally, the winning West squad). Clearly, even though she largely flies beneath the radar, she is amassing serious NBA coaching bona fides. However, if one takes a step back, low profile notwithstanding, it should not come as a surprise that the League, which like other professional sports businesses, is exploring staging teams internationally, is also looking for ways to leverage its commitment to this element of coaching diversity.

NBA Commissioners are noted for their heavy involvement with various League protocols. Former Commissioner David Stern, who at one time responded to his concern about the image of NBA Players, actually instituted a dress code to ensure that players comported themselves in an acceptable manner, sartorially speaking, anyway. To that end, it is entirely conceivable that if this Commissioner believes (and it is clear he does) the League will benefit by adding women to its coaching carousel, it almost certainly will do so. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN discussed the matter with Commissioner Adam Silver and reported that the Commissioner not only believes it could happen, but that it could happen in the near, or at least, not-to-distant future. According to the ESPN reporter, Silver said:

“There definitely will (be a female NBA Coach), and I think it is on me to sort of ensure that it happens sooner rather than later. There’s ‘”absolutely no reason”’ a woman can’t handle an NBA head-coaching role.

He added, the league is “very focused” on making it happen. He mentioned three leading possibilities in the pipeline that might break the proverbial glass ceiling, according to ESPN:

  • Becky Hammon, Assistant Coach, San Antonio Spurs
  • Nancy Lieberman, Assistant Coach, Sacramento Kings
  • Natalie Nakase, Assistant Video Coordinator, Los Angeles Clippers

In an interview to promote both the league and Leanin.org’s new campaign to raise gender-equity awareness, Commissioner Silver indicated that the league also hopes to hire additional female game officials as the referee roster increases by 25 percent over the next three seasons. Lauren Holtkamp is the only woman currently officiating games. Violet Palmer and Dee Kanter have previously officiated league contests.

In a completely different camp than Silver is radio host Mike Francesa. During a recent broadcast, Francesa said a woman has no shot at being a head coach, and if one were to be hired, it would be a publicity stunt. The Commissioner, in responding to Francesa’s suggestion noted that in coaching, there are no physical requirements, unlike with players. He went on to say:

“When it comes to coaching, there is absolutely no physical requirement. When it is not a function of how high you can jump or how strong you are, there is no physical litmus test to being a head coach in the league. There is absolutely no reason why a woman will not ascend to be a head coach in this league. We are very focused in on it.”

Years ago a similar debate centered on whether people who never played in the NBA could coach in the league. Obviously, that concern has long since been vanquished. People with a public forum, such as Francesa can surely escalate the topic as a key point of discussion. One person, in addition to Commissioner Stern, who doesn’t consider Francesa’s point to be pertinent, is Spur’s Coach Gregg Popovich (Hammon’s boss). In fact, the word “Pop” used to describe Francesa’s comment is nonsense. Incidentally, Hammon recently turned down an offer to coach the University of Florida’s Women’s Basketball Team, in order to focus on becoming the first woman coach in the NBA. Popovich added that he views the matter of the first female head coach in the NBA as a societal issue, and that he doesn’t see Hammon as the first female anything. As he went on to put it:

“In America, we are great at sticking our heads in the sand and being behind the rest of the world in a whole lot of areas. We think we are this big democratic, fair place. But you look at our world now, whether it’s gender-wise or racially or religiously, there’s all kinds of stuff that is not the way it’s supposed to be.”

“I think a female coaching a team these days has a lot to do with the people on the teams maturing as individuals, as members of a society understanding that it’s not about any of those things. It’s about talent. It’s about respect. People like Becky over time will gain respect and people will understand that this is possible. It can happen. It’s like women getting the vote. Think about how long that took before change was made.”

“I think since 2000 changes have been pretty damn lacking in a lot of ways. I think people are fed up with it, injustice, and people not respecting other people’s space and who they are. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Ultimately, we do not know when a woman will join the ranks of NBA coaches. After all, how many woman coach men’s D-1 college basketball teams? The answer to that question is zero. In fact, there has only been one, and she only coached one game, as a result of a quirky set of circumstances. Teresa Phillips, Athletic Director at Tennessee State University, appointed herself coach for a game during which the incumbent had to sit out due to players fighting during a game. I admire Commissioner Silver’s instincts and intentions. I believe he will, if he stays around long enough, make it happen. But let’s be clear, he’s swimming against the tide. I’m pulling for him though. When the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: Silver’s Golden Idea!”

I’m done; holla back!

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