After 8 years as NBA assistant, Becky Hammon to lead team in WNBA
Becky Hammon was ready to lead her own team. So she went back to where her professional career began — the WNBA.
Hammon, an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, will take over as the Las Vegas Aces’ head coach and general manager after the NBA season concludes.
“Being the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces is a step forward and a step in the right direction for myself and for women’s basketball,” Hammon said. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this opportunity that I have. There’s something to being a head coach.”
Hammon has spent eight seasons as a Spurs assistant and has interviewed for several NBA head coaching jobs. But for now, her dream of becoming the first woman to lead an NBA team is on hold.
“I sat in head coaching interviews (in the NBA) and people said two things: ‘You’ve only been in San Antonio and you’ve never been a head coach,’” she said. “NBA jobs are hard to get. In some ways, I feel like the NBA maybe is close. In other ways, I feel like they’re a long ways off from hiring (a woman head coach). I don’t know when it could happen.”
There are still a half dozen women assistant coaches in the NBA. Hammon’s resume earned her plenty of respect: She will be the WNBA’s highest-paid coach.
Hammon will replace Bill Laimbeer, who has been with the team since it moved to Las Vegas in 2017 and led the Aces on deep playoff runs the past three seasons, including a WNBA Finals appearance in 2020. Last season, the 64-year-old coach took a step back, letting assistant Tanisha Wright run more practices and in-game huddles. Wright left in the offseason to be the head coach of the Atlanta Dream.
“This is the organization that made it very, very obvious they wanted me really, really bad,” the 44-year-old Hammon said.
The Aces finished with the second-best record in the WNBA last season at 24-8 before falling to the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals. The franchise, looking for its first WNBA title, has a solid core led by former MVP A’ja Wilson.
“We have some really good pieces in place, so it’s about adding new pieces that will fit my style of play,” Hammon said. “We’ll probably shoot a few more 3s to be honest, run up and down a bit more. The type of player I really want is a competitive one.”
Hammon played in the WNBA from 1999-2014. The six-time All-Star began her career with the New York Liberty, who also interviewed her for their coaching vacancy earlier this month. She finished with the San Antonio Stars, who later became the Aces.
Las Vegas retired her jersey this season and she spent a little bit of time with the team, including working with Kelsey Plum.
“We’re very excited to have Becky return to the Aces’ franchise as our head coach,” team president Nikki Fargas said. “Her success in the sport of basketball as both a player and a coach is unparalleled, and fueled by a tenacious desire to be the best she can possibly be. We have one of the most talented rosters in the WNBA, and Becky is the absolute best person to lead this team.”
WNBA ratings continue to rise, and they were particularly good before the NFL season began. Then the Minnesota Lynx played their only home playoff game opposite a Vikings-Seahawks game at U.S. Bank Stadium, and the deciding game of the Sky-Mercury finals went up against an NFL Sunday.
Stop it. Even baseball, once America's most popular sport, can't compete with the NFL.
The WNBA should seize the summer, when it would be in competition with only baseball, which, during the regular season, is a regional sport. If the WNBA insists on playing in the fall — a mistake — then at least schedule games other times than Sunday afternoon.
As a general sports columnist, I desperately search for topics during the summer and am overloaded with options in the fall. When the Lynx play during the summer, I love covering a meaningful basketball game instead of just another baseball game.
Last year the Lynx had to "cut'' Layshia Clarendon or Rachel Banham to stay in compliance with roster and payroll limitations.
On a related note, new Lynx/Timberwolves owner Mark Lore texted Lynx GM and coach Cheryl Reeve to ask why WNBA player salaries were so low.
Lore became a billionaire by investing heavily in ideas he loved. NBA owners who also own WNBA franchises should see the growth and positive trends surrounding the WNBA and pay the players, expand the rosters, expand the league and, later, reap the rewards, just like the investment-first owners in every major men's sport has done over the last century.
Charter planes instead of making teams fly commercial. At least for the playoffs. Want to sell yourself as a major sport? Act like a major sport.
The Chicago Sky brought to their victory party the door that Mercury star Diana Taurasi broke during the finals. Brilliant.
The WNBA already has brilliant players, brilliant basketball and brilliant competition to sell. What has made the NFL an overwhelming success is the way people react to it. They bet, play fantasy football, overreact, follow social media for interpersonal dramas and memes and insults.
Play it up. Have some fun. Engage fan emotions.
Yes, so much of this comes down to money. The WNBA needs to pay its players enough that they don't need or want to play overseas. Napheesa Collier didn't make it back for the beginning of the 2021 season and Kayla McBride missed training camp. If the Lynx had gotten off to a faster start, they may have earned a second bye, and Clarendon, a key to their success, might have been healthier.
All WNBA games should be available on readily-accessible broadcast channels. Facebook doesn't deserve this league, and watching games on Twitter is annoying, and forcing fans to buy an extra subscription is a bad idea.
You can gouge people after you've captured a satisfactory market share. Not now.
The WNBA punches well above its weight when it comes to social issues and social justice. It is America's most admirable league.
Keep it up. The people alienated by your stances were never going to attend a WNBA game, anyway. There are millions of good people out there who will gravitate toward women's basketball as the league grows in popularity and scope.
And as Maya Moore has demonstrated, there are things in life more important than basketball. Keep using basketball as a means to make the world a better place. It will pay off.
It already has.
FILE - San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in San Antonio. Hammon is finalizing a deal to become the next coach of the Las Vegas Aces. A person familiar with the situation confirmed the move to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made. She’s expected to be the highest paid coach in the WNBA, earning way more than the highest paid player in the league. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)