San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, left, talks to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, right, on the court during a timeout 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, which at the same time could allow her to make history again.
Weeks after Hammon was floated as a finalist for a head coaching job with the Portland Trail Blazers, which would have made her the first woman head coach in the NBA, Hammon spoke with CNBC on Saturday to express her thoughts.
Hammon said she isn’t bitter about not getting the job and that she gained a greater understanding of the hiring process. Hammon added that she’s ready for the opportunity once the right team is ready.
“I’m not mad,” Hammon said. “This is the business, and it’s a very competitive business. But, at the end of the day, throw everything out the window — if you want to hire me, you’ll find a reason to hire me. And if you don’t want to hire me, you’ll find that reason, too. And that’s just that.”
Hammon, 44, remains an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs. She explained why she’s ready for one of 30 head coaching jobs in the NBA and pointed to her professional growth under coach Gregg Popovich as the reason.
A victim of damage control?
Going into coaching interviews with the Blazers, Hammon didn’t pretend she was the favorite for the job.
Chauncey Billups was the Blazers’ first choice — that much was clear throughout NBA circles. The former NBA guard has a relationship with team executive Neil Olshey. Hence, Jody Allen, the sister of late Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, signed off on Olshey’s choice. The Blazers defended hiring Billups at his coaching introduction while also praising Hammon publicly.
“We absolutely admire Becky,” Olshey said on June 29. “She did a great job. Obviously, making it as far as the ownership level of an interview process isn’t easy.”
Olshey said Hammon getting that far is an “endorsement to just how far she’s come and how close she is to being a head coach.” Olshey then said Billups checked all of the boxes, including “gravitas leadership skills.”
When discussing the process, Hammon said, “I knew I was second; I knew who they wanted. And I’m OK with that, because every race I’ve gotten into my entire life, I’ve been behind, and I’m OK with that. And that’s just how it is — but at the same time, I’m not ignorant to what I’m going up against.”
Assistant Coach Becky Hammond warms up with 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 once Billups’ history of rape allegations in 1997 resurfaced, and suggestions emerged that the team was interviewing Hammon only as a form of damage control. Rumors also surfaced that Hammon received less-than-glowing comments from the Spurs during Portland’s process.
Asked if she felt the rumors impacted discussions in Portland, Hammon said she didn’t read the tabloids, and she didn’t comment further on the matter.
She did add: “I take each experience, and I try to grow from it, and learn from it, and get better for the next time. If people need to justify a reason to why they did or didn’t hire me, it’s a little out of my realm of control. I just try to do the best I can in the moment I’m given.”
The Blazers process is over, though, and Hammon said she is focused on “taking the next step” in her career. “I know how San Antonio has valued me, and I’m OK with that,” she added.
Hammon is now a teacher
The spotlight remains on Hammon. The social media crowd wants to see her make history as a head coach. And her every move will be in the headlines. She has no control over the attention, which both helps and hurts, but she would prefer it for the right reason — her coaching skill set.
“I don’t want to make the news because I’m the first female,” Hammon said. “At the end of the day, I want to make news because I’m hired for my qualifications. It was the original intent of Gregg Popovich when he hired me in 2014 — which is: ‘She added something to the group. She adds something to our team. I admire her mind and the way she looks at the game.'”
It’s here Hammon reflected on her path.
She spent 16 seasons in the WNBA, which started in New York with the Liberty. Hammon made six All-Star appearances throughout her career and retired in San Antonio in 2014.
Assistant coach Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs talks 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 Association | Getty Images
“I was a former player who was trying to figure out what the next step was,” Hammon said. “And though I’ve been a student of the game …” she paused before going deeper into her credentials.
Hammon then mentioned Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — three NBA legends “who know 20 times more than me in this league and the [Spurs] system. So when you sit there and tell them about defensive coverages, you better be damn sure you know what the f— you’re talking about, and I’m just being real.”
She then pointed to earning Popovich’s trust.
The legendary head coach gives his assistant coaches scouting duties — creating game plans and strategies that he then coaches by. If Popovich doesn’t like what’s proposed, it’s back to the film room. It’s how new Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka learned. Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams learned under Popovich, too.
“That prepares us in ways that maybe some younger coaches or people that haven’t been through the wringer” aren’t prepared, Hammon said. “He gives so much freedom and leverage to his assistant coaches that prepares us more than what people can grasp. He enables and empowers you in certain situations that I don’t feel like other coaches who have his gravitas can do. He is a teacher of teachers, and he produces teachers.”
Asked what type of coach she is today, after seven seasons under Popovich, Hammon responded: “I’ve grown up under him. With him, I’ve learned a ton of X’s and O’s and different leadership skill sets. But there are things that makes it really hard to quantify how much growth I’ve had because there’s so much.”
But Hammon isn’t content
There are jobs still available in Washington and New Orleans. But the thing is, those aren’t the most stable NBA organizations.
The Pelicans are enduring team culture problems. And rival NBA executives suggest the Wizards’ philosophy and sports strategy is more hockey driven than basketball under owner Ted Leonsis.
Though Hammon is ready for the challenge, whether she’d be the right fit for those teams is unclear.
“I need to be the right coach — not male or female — the right coach, for the right team, in the right city, at the right time,” Hammon said.
And when she does land a top NBA coaching job, Hammon said, she welcomes everything that comes with it.
“I’m ready to be scrutinized,” Hammon said. “Whether I do it all wrong or do it all right — it is what it is. My job is to show up for the players and be the leader and person that believes in them the most.”
“When the world is giving them a pile of s— and throwing stuff in their ears, I’m the voice of honesty to say, ‘Hey, this is what it looks like — this is how it’s got to be, and if you’re down, I’m down to make it work,'” she said. “I don’t know how to put it to you any other way. The truth always works.”
“I am happy with what’s happening — the needle is moving,” Hammon said. “Am I content? No. And contentment has never brought anything great. There are different prices to pay to get where you want to go. And I’m at that point.”