“You got ’em” — with that brief handover, Becky Hammon became the first woman to coach an NBA team Wednesday night, leading the San Antonio Spurs after coach Gregg Popovich was ejected in the first half.
“Obviously, it’s a big deal. It’s a substantial moment,” Hammon said after the game. She noted that she has worked toward the milestone for years, spending more than a decade in San Antonio as either a player or a coach.
But Hammon added that she would have preferred to coach her team to a victory, a tall order as they faced the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers — and on Lakers superstar LeBron James’ birthday, no less.
“Honestly, in the moment, I was just trying to win the game,” Hammon said. “I say this a lot, but I try not to think about the huge picture and the huge aspect of it, because it can get overwhelming.”
It’s her job, Hammon said, to stay focused on helping her players succeed. After the game, it seemed that focus had not wavered: As Hammon spoke, she was still holding the rolled-up sheet of stats and notes coaches rely upon to make in-game adjustments.
The Lakers — who won 121-107 — also took notice of the historic achievement unfolding on their opponent’s sideline. Hammon, James said, has paid her dues to be where she is.
“It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets,” James said. “She’s very passionate about the game. Congrats to her and congrats for our league.”
“Well deserved,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. Noting his respect for Hammon, he added, “She’s going to be a great coach one day.”
Former Laker Pau Gasol, who spent parts of several recent seasons with the Spurs, also tweeted his congratulations to Hammon.
It was just the latest groundbreaker for Hammon, who made history in 2014 when the Spurs hired her to a full-time coaching position. She has risen through the ranks since then, joining Popovich on the front row of the sideline in 2018 when former Spurs assistant James Borrego left to become the Charlotte Hornets’ head coach.
Hammon, 43, was an All-Star guard in the WNBA, playing 16 seasons for the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars as well as stints overseas. She was still on the Stars’ roster when she began spending time with the Spurs, eyeing a career change as she recovered from a knee injury.
Hammon also made headlines in 2018 when she was invited to interview for the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching job.