As Gregg Popovich scuttled off the court following his second-quarter ejection, he pointed at his assistant Becky Hammon.
“You got it,” he said. And with that simple utterance, Hammon, 43, became the first woman to coach an NBA team in a regular-season game.
“See?” she quipped to reporters, with whom the San Antonio Spurs coach is famously gruff. “He doesn’t treat us any differently than he does you guys.”
Hammon made history on Wednesday night, something she acknowledged as “a substantial moment” that she called “overwhelming” in the larger picture of women filing into the coaching ranks of the NBA. And yet, in a mostly empty arena, it felt like an unremarkable event – now in her seventh season as a Spurs assistant, Hammon has become blended into her team and the league itself.
Hammon has coached summer league teams before, and at this point, it seemed natural that she would take over the moment Popovich left the floor. Lakers coach Frank Vogel mentioned he was surprised to learn she hadn’t jumped in before.
The Lakers’ LeBron James said it was natural to hear Hammon barking out sets from the sideline. The Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan said there was no drop-off when she took over the clipboard.
“She’s one of us. When she speaks, we are all ears. It’s great having her,” he said.
Hammon had a strong record as a player before she came into the NBA, competing for 15 years in the WNBA and overseas. She is eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame, though she has not yet been named a finalist.
Popovich said her qualities as a coach stood out to him when he saw her in the WNBA — and the qualities that he and Vogel both said could one day make her the NBA’s first female head coach.
“She was a leader, everybody on the team reacted to her, she was very confident, very competitive and she led the whole show,” Popovich said. “And when I got to know her and she was in our coaches’ meetings before she was hired, while she was hurt after the season, we found out about her knack for the game, her innate understanding of what wins, what loses, what has to be there to make a program. So she’s got all of the tools necessary to be a heck of a coach in our league.”
“It’s a big deal. It’s a substantial moment.” – @BeckyHammon pic.twitter.com/e8UM1Jl0jk
— WNBA (@WNBA) December 31, 2020
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