Becky Hammon made history Wednesday by becoming the first woman to act as head coach during an NBA regular-season game.
The San Antonio assistant coach filled in for head coach Gregg Popovich after he was ejected in the first half of the Spurs’ 121-107 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Lakers.
“Obviously, it’s a big deal,” Hammon said after the game. “It’s a substantial moment. I’ve been a part of this organization, I got traded here in 2007, so I’ve been in San Antonio and part of the Spurs and sports organization with the Stars and everything for 13 years. So I have a lot of time invested, and they have a lot of time invested in me, in building me and getting me better.”
Popovich received a technical foul and was run from the game with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter for arguing with a referee over a no-call as his team trailed the Lakers 52-41.
There was little pomp and circumstance involved when the three-time coach of the year handed duties off to Hammon on his way to the locker room.
“He officially pointed at me. That was it. … That was it,” Hammon said. “Said, ‘You got ’em,’ and that was it. Very Pop-like.”
Hammon is in her seventh season on the Spurs’ coaching staff. She was a six-time All-Star in the WNBA with the New York Liberty and San Antonio Silver Stars.
When Popovich was ejected from a game against the Portland Trail Blazers in November 2019, Hammon and the rest of the Spurs’ staff filled in during his absence. Afterward, however, Popovich said that assistant Tim Duncan ultimately assumed the head-coaching responsibilities to finish out the game.
Duncan stepped down from a full-time coaching role with the Spurs during the offseason.
This time around, Hammon said she was flanked by Spurs assistant coaches Will Hardy and Mitch Johnson to finish out the game.
“Everybody just gets on board, and it was a great team effort and they’re in my ear giving me suggestions and helping with substitutions and whatnot,” Hammon said. “So when Pop gets tossed, we all come together and become kind of another team.”
With Hammon roaming the sideline, the Spurs were able to cut the defending champs’ lead to five in the second quarter and came as close as eight on multiple occasions in the second half.
“The guys responded great. I thought we gave ourselves some chances. We battled back multiple times,” Hammon said. “I think it was business as usual. They’re used to hearing my voice in practice.”
Hammon’s players heaped praise on their coach after the game.
“Becky played, and any player who knows the history of women’s basketball knows what she meant to the sport,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “You don’t think twice about it. She’s one of us. When she speaks, we are all ears.”
Added Dejounte Murray: “You’ve got to tip your hat to her. I pay attention to all those little things. She’s been here since I got here. I’ve been watching her talk to every single player, whether he was a veteran dude or a young dude. Just using her voice and her knowledge of the game.
“I love Becky to death. We are really, really close. She texts me on holidays to ask about my daughter, and I ask about her kids. I appreciate her. The future is bright for her. I hope she sticks to it and doesn’t give up. One day it may happen, or it may not happen. Who knows? But she is definitely on the right road, and I think everyone here appreciates her. She is setting an example for every woman out there.”
She also received support afterward from the Lakers. Hammon was in her fifth season in the WNBA when LeBron James entered the NBA as a rookie in 2003.
“She’s been putting in the work, and any time you put in the work you get rewarded with opportunities,” James said. “Tonight was a case where she got to step in and show her work, show her talents and her love for the game, and obviously, what she did as a player, first of all, we all know that. So her mind was able to transfer to our league, and she’s been great ever since she got in.
“It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets, and she’s very passionate about the game, so congrats to her and congrats to the league.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he believes a permanent head-coaching job will be awaiting Hammon in the NBA in the future.
“I’ve talked to her a bunch in coaches conferences and whatnot, and she really knows her stuff,” Vogel said. “Obviously, she’s here for a reason. She’s equipped. She’s intelligent. The guys have a great respect for her. And I think she’s going to be a head coach in this league someday.”
Hammon, 43, was named as a returning nominee to enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the Class of 2021. Popovich was asked about Hammon’s credentials before Wednesday’s game.
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