When Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trudged through the tunnel at the AT&T Center after being ejected Wednesday, the magnitude of the moment — Becky Hammon replacing him to become the first woman to act as head coach in a regular-season NBA game — didn’t immediately set in.
“Not on the way to the locker room,” Popovich told reporters on a video conference call before San Antonio played host to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. “I was otherwise engaged, emotionally.”
As Popovich’s rage subsided, recognition for Hammon’s historic feat began to sweep across the country. And the man who added her to his staff seven seasons ago wondered why anyone was surprised.
“It’s been business as usual from the beginning. We didn’t hire Becky to make history,” Popovich said. “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.”
Popovich, a five-time champion, three-time Coach of the Year and surefire Hall of Famer, said Hammon “knows more about the Lakers than I do” and was tasked with scouting the defending champions heading into the game.
And the 71-year-old Popovich was adamant that there are plenty of other women out there like Hammon, limited by societal stereotypes but not by aptitude.
“Women do the same jobs as well and better than men. That’s a fact. There’s no reason why somebody like Becky and other women can’t be coaches in the NBA,” he said. “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, 43, was a six-time All-Star in the WNBA in her 16 seasons with the New York Liberty and San Antonio Silver Stars. She was the first woman hired full time to an NBA coaching staff in 2014. Last season, there were 11 women on NBA coaching staffs throughout the league.
“There are many, many, many qualified women who are being held back,” Popovich said. “And it’s just the nature of the world. It’s slowly changing, but the sooner the better.”