San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon (left) speaks to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (right) on the court during a time out in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in San Antonio.
Darren Abate | AP
Becky Hammon moved the needle, but the National Basketball Association assistant coach is now focused on taking the next steps in her career that could also enable her to make history again.
Weeks after Hammon hit the market as a finalist for a head coaching job with the Portland Trail Blazers, which would have made her the first female head coach in the NBA, Hammon spoke to CNBC on Saturday to share her thoughts.
Hammon said she wasn’t bitter about not getting the job and that she had a better understanding of the hiring process. Hammon added that she would be ready for the opportunity once the right team is ready.
“I’m not mad,” said Hammon. “This is the business and it is a very competitive business. But at the end of the day you throw it all out the window – if you want to hire me, you’ll find a reason to hire me. If you don’t want to hire me, you will find this reason too.
Hammon, 44, remains an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs. She explained why she was ready for one of 30 head coach jobs in the NBA, citing her professional growth under coach Gregg Popovich as the reason.
A victim of damage control?
Hammon went into coaching interviews with the Blazers and didn’t pretend she was the favorite for the job.
Chauncey Billups was the Blazers’ first choice – that much was clear in NBA circles. The former NBA security guard has a relationship with team principal Neil Olshey. Hence, Jody Allen, sister of the late Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, signed Olshey’s election. The Blazers defended Billups’ hiring of coaching and also publicly praised Hammon.
“We absolutely admire Becky”, Olshey said on June 29th. “She did a great job. Obviously, it’s not easy to make it to the point of taking ownership of an interview process.”
Olshey said getting Hammon this far was “a confirmation of how far she has come and how close she is to being head coach”. Olshey then said Billups had checked all the boxes, including “Gravitas’s leadership skills.”
Speaking of the process, Hammon said, “I knew I was second; I knew who they wanted. And I’m fine with that because every race I’ve competed in in my entire life was behind me and I “I agree. And so it is – but at the same time I don’t know what I’m dealing with. “
Assistant coach Becky Hammond warms up with the players before the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 17, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Hammon said she felt the Blazers were “authentic” in their coaching search. But the team suffered public backlash when Billups’ history of rape allegations re-emerged in 1997 and suggestions surfaced that the team interviewed Hammon only as a form of damage control. Rumors also surfaced that Hammon received less-than-glowing comments from the Spurs during the Portland trial.
When asked if the rumors affected the Portland discussions, Hammon said she had not read the tabloids and did not comment on the matter further.
She added, “I take every experience and try to grow from it, learn from it, and get better next time. If people have to give a reason for why they hired me or not, it is something beyond my control. I just try to do my best the moment I’m given. “
The Blazers trial is over, however, and Hammon said she was focused on “taking the next step” in her career. “I know how much San Antonio valued me, and I’m fine with that,” she added.
Hammon is now a teacher
The spotlight remains on Hammon. The social media crowd wants her to make history as the head coach. And every move she makes will be in the headlines. She has no control over the attention that both helps and hurts, but she would prefer it for the right reason – her coaching skills.
“I don’t want to do the news because I’m the first woman,” said Hammon. “Ultimately, I want to make news because I’m being hired because of my qualifications. It was Gregg Popovich’s original intention when he hired me in 2014 – namely, ‘She added something to the group, something for our team. I admire her wits and the way she sees the game. ‘”
Here Hammon reflects on her path.
She spent 16 seasons in the WNBA, which started with Liberty in New York. Hammon made six all-star appearances over the course of her career and retired in San Antonio in 2014.
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon speaks to her team during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 30, 2020 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Logan Riely | National Basketball Federation | Getty Images
“I was a former player trying to figure out what the next step was,” said Hammon. “And even though I was a student of the game …” She paused before digging deeper into her credentials.
Hammon then mentioned Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – three NBA legends “who know 20 times more in this league than I do [Spurs] System. So when you sit there and tell them about defensive coverage, you should be damn sure you know what you’re talking about and I’m just real. “
She then indicated how to win Popovich’s trust.
The legendary head coach gives his assistant coaches scouting tasks – he creates fixtures and strategies, which he then trains. If Popovich doesn’t like what’s suggested, it’s back to the movie room. This is what the new coach of the Boston Celtics, Ime Udoka, learned. Milwaukee Bucks trainer Mike Budenholzer and Phoenix Suns trainer Monty Williams also learned from Popovich.
“It prepares us in a way that maybe some younger coaches or people who have not yet gone through wringers are unprepared,” said Hammon. “He gives his assistant coaches so much freedom and pressure that prepare us more than people can understand. He empowers and empowers you in certain situations that I can’t do like other coaches who have his gravitas. He is a teacher of teachers, and he makes teachers. “
When asked what kind of coach she is today, Hammon replied after seven seasons under Popovich: “I grew up under him. With him I learned a lot of X and O and various leadership skills. But there are things that make it really hard to quantify how much growth I’ve had because there’s so much. “
But Hammon is not satisfied
There are still vacancies in Washington and New Orleans. But the thing is, these aren’t the most stable NBA organizations.
The pelicans have problems with team culture. And rival NBA executives suggest that the Wizards’ philosophy and sports strategy under owner Ted Leonsis is more hockey than basketball.
While Hammon is up for the challenge, it is unclear whether it would be suitable for these teams.
“I have to be the right coach – not male or female – the right coach for the right team, in the right city, at the right time,” said Hammon.
And when she gets a top NBA coaching job, Hammon says, she welcomes everything that comes with it.
“I am ready to be examined,” said Hammon. “Whether I do everything wrong or do everything right – it is what it is. My job is to stand up for the players and be the leader and the person who believes in them the most.”
“When the world throws a bunch of S — stuff in their ears, I’m the voice of honesty to say, ‘Hey, this is what it looks like – that’s how it has to be, and when you’re down, I’m down to make it work, “she said.” I don’t know how to tell you otherwise. The truth always works. “
“I’m happy with what happens – the needle is moving,” said Hammon. “Am I satisfied? No. And satisfaction has never brought anything great. There are different prices to get where you want to go.