On Wednesday night, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon became the first woman to serve as a head coach during a regular-season NBA game. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected during the second quarter of the team’s matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Hammon took over the team after Popovich was tossed. The Spurs ultimately lost the game, but Hammon’s name will forever be in the history books as the first woman to coach an NBA team.
Popovich was back on the bench for the Spurs on Friday night, and he made it clear that he has complete trust in Hammon, regardless of her gender, and that he believes that she has what it takes to be a full-time head coach in the league.
“It’s been business as usual from the beginning. We didn’t hire Becky to make history,” Popovich said, via ESPN. “She earned it. She is qualified. She’s wonderful at what she does. I wanted her on my staff because of the work that she does. And she happens to be a woman, which basically should be irrelevant but it’s not in our world, as we’ve seen as it’s been so difficult for women to obtain certain positions. It was business as usual for us.
“Women do the same jobs as well and better than men. That’s a fact,” Popovich added. “There’s no reason why somebody like Becky and other women can’t be coaches in the NBA. On a larger scale, that’s why it wasn’t a big deal to me — because I know her. And I know her skills, and I know her value and I know her future is very, very bright. I understand the attention it got, but in all honesty, I assumed that most people already knew that she was qualified to be a head coach in the NBA.”
Hammon, a WNBA legend, has been an assistant with the Spurs since 2014. She has risen through the ranks since then to serve as a head coach for the Spurs in a number of different capacities prior to Wednesday’s game against the Lakers. She has led the organization’s Summer League Team, and as the Spurs rotated head coaches during the scrimmages leading up to the NBA’s restart in Orlando last season, she coached the team in an exhibition matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. But when Popovich had to be away from the team last season for personal reasons, it was team legend and then-assistant coach Tim Duncan that stepped into Popovich’s chair as head coach.
Duncan stepped down after last season, though, clearing the way for Hammon to earn that distinction now. While the distinction will last only for Wednesday’s game, she will almost certainly get a permanent chance down the line. Many believe that Hammon is the heir apparent in San Antonio and will take over the Spurs when Popovich retires. If not, she has interviewed for head-coaching jobs with the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers. Eventually, she is probably going to be a full-time NBA head coach.
But Wednesday’s matchup with the Lakers was her first chance to do so in a game that counted, and while beating the defending champions was hardly a realistic goal, she has acquitted herself well in the role she may one day occupy permanently.