Becky Hammon’s move to WNBA is missed opportunity for NBA

By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer

For years, the record books were waiting. Becky Hammon was going to be the first female head coach in NBA history.

But the years kept passing, and what once seemed like an inevitability began to appear as though it were nothing more than a mirage. Hammon spent eight years as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, but she never got the ultimate call-up.

Gregg Popovich, who had long claimed he’d retire when Tim Duncan called it quits, has remained at the helm long after his brightest star played his final game in 2016. Popovich has shepherded the team through the Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan eras, and the 72-year-old is still on the sideline today.

In the meantime, over the past two years, Hammon interviewed for head-coaching jobs with Milwaukee, Orlando and Portland, and she was a finalist for the Trail Blazers’ job before they hired Chauncey Billups. But after a while, it became questionable whether she was viewed as a serious applicant by the teams or was interviewed as a public relations move.

Eventually, Hammon clearly got tired of waiting to shatter the glass ceiling. On Friday, she signed a five-year deal to become the head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

“I am so excited to return to the WNBA and grateful for Mark Davis and Nikki Fargas having a vision for me to lead the Aces,” Hammon said in a news release from the team. “This is where I come from, and I wouldn’t be me without the W. I’m thrilled to be able to give back and lead this next group of women.”

Some will view this move as disappointing. Even many of the female assistant coaches around the WNBA thought Hammon was going to be the one who made history. 

After all, she went from being undrafted to becoming a six-time WNBA All-Star. She went from attending Spurs practices to learn about coaching to impressing Popovich so much that he brought her onto his staff in August 2014.

In 2015, she was the first female head coach of a Summer League team, leading the Spurs to a championship in Las Vegas. In December 2020, she became the first woman to coach an NBA game after Popovich was ejected before halftime.

Becky Hammon on breaking barriers in the NBA

Becky Hammon on breaking barriers in the NBA

Becky Hammon sits down with Charlotte Wilder to discuss her groundbreaking NBA career, including stepping in to coach the Spurs when Gregg Popovich was ejected from a game in 2020.

That night, her players sang her praises. Said Dejounte Murray: “I love Becky to death. We are really, really close.” Added DeRozan: “She’s one of us. When she speaks, we are all ears.”

But Hammon never got the call she was hoping to receive. And when some head-coaching gigs opened up in the NBA’s sister league, multiple franchises were quick to check in with her.

It would be misguided to view Hammon’s move to the WNBA as a step in the wrong direction. In fact, her decision is admirable. There are very few head-coaching jobs in the professional basketball ranks, and Hammon has snagged one of them. She’s going to become the highest-paid coach in the WNBA.

It was a great move by the Aces. It was a great move for Hammon.

But even though it should be celebrated, there admittedly is a bit of sadness, too. The NBA missed an opportunity to hire a brilliant mind. The league that is often at the forefront of diversity and inclusion failed to give young girls who love the game the ultimate role model.

To be fair, there are many highly talented assistant coaches around the NBA who have never received a chance to become a head coach. It’s an incredibly competitive profession with very few openings. Hammon said so herself.

“There’s 30 jobs, and they are incredibly hard to get,” she told The Associated Press in August. “When I say there are 30 jobs, not all 30 are available, so I’m really talking about three or four, and they are really hard to get.”

It’s just a shame that none of them went to her, and the basketball world will have to wait longer to celebrate history.

In the meantime, Hammon will continue to thrive at the highest level. The Aces got their ace.

As for the rest of us, we’ve been pushed a bit further from a reality we had hoped was just around the corner.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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