Why Becky Hammon and Teresa Weatherspoon's coaching paths are equally important

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Having a nuanced stance on an issue shouldn’t seem radical, though in the dominant “take culture” it often seems like it is. 

For example, this writer’s feelings on Becky Hammon recently leaving the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach to become head coach of the Las Vegas Aces. 

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My immediate reaction was one of disappointment. Hammon was the first female full-time assistant coach in any of the top four American men’s professional sports leagues when she was hired by Gregg Popovich in 2014. As the years passed, there’s been speculation she’d be an NBA head coach at some point.

She could still do that, of course, but in that moment it felt like leaving the NBA might be a negative for Hammon. Maybe it’s a detour, so NBA general managers can see Hammon running a team and better judge her ability to do that; at the moment, she has only some Vegas summer league games as a head coach on her resume plus more than half a regular season game in 2020, when she made more history as acting head coach after Popovich was ejected. 

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Or maybe Hammon will love coaching in the W and decide she’d rather stay there. The Aces have been to the conference finals each of the past three seasons, with one Finals appearance, so they’re primed to take the next step. Helping to craft a team (though the Aces’ announcement of Hammon’s hiring does not mention her also being general manager, there are reports indicating she’ll at least be de facto GM) and potentially winning it all with the organization that retired her number would be an amazing thing.

Hammon did what she wanted to do and what she felt was right for her. Of course that’s how it should be. All of us should have that freedom. 

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And really, just because NBA commissioner Adam Silver believes it will be sooner than later we see a woman become a head coach in the league doesn’t mean it will happen this year or even next. Kim Ng interviewed for the Los Angeles Dodgers GM opening in 2005 and it was 15 years before she was finally hired to run a front office, by the Miami Marlins in November 2020. 

So maybe it would have been Hammon eventually, but maybe it wouldn’t have been. Anyone who has been the first and trod that path doesn’t always get to see the work through to its end.

The good news is, in the years since Hammon was hired in San Antonio, other NBA teams have added women to their coaching staffs. Given that basketball is fundamentally the same sport no matter who is playing it and the NBA fancies itself to be more progressive than the other American pro leagues, hopefully it won’t be a decade or more until we see a woman ascend to the head coaching role.

There’s a chance it could be Teresa Weatherspoon. 

Why Becky Hammon and Teresa Weatherspoon's coaching paths are equally important
© Provided by Yahoo! Sports New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon recently withdrew from consideration for a head coaching job in the WNBA. Last month, San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon accepted the Las Vegas Aces’ head coaching role. (Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports)

On Wednesday, we learned Weatherspoon withdrew from consideration for the head coach job with another WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, to remain with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans reportedly made a hard push to keep Weatherspoon, who is highly regarded within the organization. Before he was sidelined by injury, Zion Williamson took seemingly any chance he’d get to praise Weatherspoon and the impact she’s had on him and his game. 

A member of both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Weatherspoon is also an Olympic gold medalist and one of the original players in the WNBA. She knows the game, which is requirement No. 1.

Weatherspoon has experience as a coach. She was a head coach at her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, for six full seasons, posting a 99-71 record and two NCAA tournament appearances. Before that, she was head coach of the now-defunct Westchester Phantoms of the ABA, the semi-pro men’s league.

But there’s so much more to being a coach. 

Last year, Williamson credited Weatherspoon with getting him to add a baseline jumper to his repertoire, giving him confidence and reminding him to have fun. Teammate Kira Lewis has said of her, “She wants the best for you. She wants you to be the best version of you.”

That’s a necessary attribute for any coach or teacher. Not bending people to your will with threats and intimidation, but getting them to see how much better they can be at whatever they’re working on or working toward to help them get there. 

And check out this energy and enthusiasm. If she brings this every day, how could you not want to follow her?

“Understand your worth. You can not allow one person to tell you who you are and who you can not become…”

Pels assistant Teresa Weatherspoon tells an amazing story how she got the last laugh on a coach 🙏

(via @pelicansnba, @AshleyAmoss) pic.twitter.com/k0X1IZ3ckB

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 10, 2021

It shouldn’t be this way, but perhaps the fact New Orleans has a female owner, Gayle Benson, will mean the team is ready before others might be to name a woman as head coach. Perhaps.

Keeping Weatherspoon is the biggest win the Pelicans have had in a while; they haven’t been over .500 since the 2017-18 season. Who knows what she could do if she were in charge, and if they might switch coaches again (Willie Green is the team’s third in as many seasons), why not try her?

Weatherspoon opting to stay with the Pelicans is presumably the best decision for her, just as Hammon’s to head to Vegas was for her. 

And New Orleans’ desire to work to keep Weatherspoon gives us hope that the day when a woman is running an NBA team actually isn’t as far away as it may have seemed just a couple of weeks ago.

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