…This should be the response to anyone who finds it noteworthy that a woman has been hired as a coach (assistant be damned) for an NBA franchise. Becky Hammon, the new assistant coach for the 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, should be congratulated for being selected to the premier coaching staff of sports, not simply because she’s the first female on a sideline not named Violet Palmer or Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. The fact that this is groundbreaking in 2014 should be appalling – not lauded; women have long proven themselves to possess the acumen to be successful leaders of women and men alike for quite some time (reference Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Oprah Winfrey, Chancellor Angela Merkel or a well-mannered child raised by a single mother in your neighborhood).
Coaching has absolutely nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with mentoring, analyzing and creating opportunities for players on the court. It is accessing the game and developing methods to succeed at that game. Becky Hammon stated this herself, “But when it comes to things of the mind, things like coaching, game-planning, coming up with offensive and defensive schemes, there’s no reason why a woman couldn’t be in the mix and shouldn’t be in the mix.” Mental aptitude in a sports game is not – nor has ever been – gender specific. Moreover, the NBA has plenty of male coaches who exemplify the adage that “those who can’t do, teach”. Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers and former NBA coach Larry Brown – with successful tenures and 4 NBA titles as coach between them – were measurably better drawing up plays from the sidelines than wearing a jersey. Meanwhile, the struggles of Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan as mentor/coach/GM/Owner are in stark contrast to their careers on the court.
The Spurs, with their mix of young and seasoned talent, are the definition of precision basketball. In 2013-2014, the Spurs boasted – rather did not boast about – just four entries in the top ten for any major statistical category (blocks, blocks per Game, three-point percentage and steals). As a team, the Spurs shot and assist percentages, combined with their lack of offensive rebounds as well as low number of team fouls solidify that they clearly are the masters of execution and smart play. Precision like this befits a team that does not have a player with the physical presence of an LBJ, KD or D12, akin to WNBA players who overall lack the physical presence of their male counterparts, even of their own contemporaries. This is why the women’s game is more fundamentally sound. This is why Becky Hammon is already prepared to excel; she transitioned from a head smart player to a coach on a team with a similar approach to the game. Her gender will not be the reason why she fails or succeeds; it’s her ability to understand basketball. The Spurs have a history of acquiring talent who understand basketball, and this is why sustained success remains in the forecast for the Spurs by adding Becky.