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Why isn't Spurs assistant Becky Hammon an NBA head coach yet?

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 11/15/2018 Greg Moore
PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 14:  Assistant coach Becky Hammon (C) of the San Antonio Spurs sits alongside head coach Gregg Popovich (R)during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 14, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) © (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 14: Assistant coach Becky Hammon (C) of the San Antonio Spurs sits alongside head coach Gregg Popovich (R)during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 14, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Here’s an idea: How about we all leave Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon alone for a while and let her work? It’s not for her to make the case that she’s ready to run an NBA team or to answer why she doesn’t yet have a head coaching job.

Her resume and endorsements stand for themselves, and she should be in line for a gig in the next wave of openings — of course, nothing is certain.  

“You can never say when that’s gonna happen,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday. “I think it’s more about other people than her.”

Popovich is famously terse, but not about Becky Hammon.  

“She has the ability as far as innate knowledge of the game, a feel for the game, a work ethic,” he said. “She’s gained the respect of all of our players, including guys that are no longer here, like Manu (Ginobili) and Tim (Duncan) and Tony (Parker), so all that’s in place.

“But my personal belief is, it’s gonna take somebody that has some courage and isn’t steeped in the old status quo of who can coach and who can’t. Why can’t a woman do what I’m doing or what anybody else is doing in the NBA?” 

‘No gender in coaching’

Hammon has been on the San Antonio bench since 2014. In the years since, tens of thousands of words have been published by countless well-meaning writers all trying to convey the same basic message: Becky Hammon is a woman coaching men; get over it.

Hammon, at this point, declines media requests.

So, really, what’s left for her to say? Besides, the people speaking on her behalf don’t leave gaps.   

“She’s tough,” veteran forward Rudy Gay said.

“She knows basketball,” Gay said. “Obviously, she’s played it, and she’s been successful at it. But as far as being a coach, she comes out here, and she coaches. She shows that there’s no gender in coaching.”

Matter-of-fact support such as this has her “firsts” piling up – and getting more obscure – seemingly by the day.

She’s the first full-time, paid female assistant coach in the NBA. She was the first woman to coach in an NBA All-Star game. She was the first woman to lead an NBA Summer League team. She turned down a chance to become the first woman to coach an NCAA D-I men’s basketball team. She was the first woman to interview for an NBA head coaching job. And most recently she was the first woman to be promoted to “front-line assistant coach” of an NBA team.

There are few people better positioned to become an NBA head coach. Could we blame her if she were the first woman to be sick of all the questions about whether she’s ready? Especially since everyone keeps saying it’s no big deal?

“It was like, there wasn’t anything unusual about it,” Spurs guard Patty Mills said, recalling when Hammon joined the team in 2014.

“It was comfortable. A lot of helpful tips coming from a point guard’s point of view,” Mills said.

‘A real one’

The number and caliber of people who vouch for her is staggering.

Four-time All-NBA forward Pau Gasol said in an open letter published by The Players Tribune that “arguing on Coach Hammon’s behalf would feel patronizing. To me, it would be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.”

Nancy Lieberman, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, predicted in an essay published by The Washington Post in 2014, everything Hammon is wading through.

“People will tug at her and place endless demands on her time,” Lieberman wrote. “The team will have to protect her from the constant media attention and requests to talk to her wherever she goes.”

a person standing in front of a crowd: San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, high fives forward Dante Cunningham (33) before a NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix on November 14. © Cheryl Evans/The Republic San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, high fives forward Dante Cunningham (33) before a NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix on November 14.

Good thing Hammon’s tough.

“Becky’s a real one, man,” Gay said.

Hammon has helped Gay return from a torn Achilles. It’s helped that she knows what it’s like to come back from a career-threatening injury.

She tore the anterior cruciate ligaments in each of her knees, yet she was All-WNBA four times and selected as one of the 20 greatest players in league history.

Maybe NBA teams will need a push to tap her for a job. Maybe not. Either way, it’ll be monumental for society, even if it’s anticlimactic for basketball.

She’s been leading the team during games, diagramming plays, correcting mistakes and commanding huddles.

“She’s been doing that for years … and she’s been doing a great job of it,” Mills said.  

In a lot of ways, she’s already the first. She just needs her own team.

“As I said, it’s gonna be more about other people than about her whether she’s gets a job or not,” Popovich said, “But it’s not gonna be easy, because that’s the world we live in.”

Maybe if we leave her alone and start calling general managers and team presidents instead?

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Why isn't Spurs assistant Becky Hammon an NBA head coach yet?

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