For the first time in NBA history, a woman was in charge on Wednesday.
San Antonio Spurs head assistant Becky Hammon became the first woman to serve in a head coaching role after head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Spurs would eventually lose, 121-107.
Popovich received the boot in the second quarter when officials hit him with two straight technical fouls as he berated them for not calling a foul on a DeMar DeRozan drive.
Spurs assistant Becky Hammon filled in for an ejected Gregg Popovich.
She's believed to be the first woman to act as head coach during an NBA regular-season game. pic.twitter.com/VyQqVNaPhc
— ESPN (@espn) December 31, 2020
Soon, Hammon was patrolling the sideline and directing players.
— Joe Garcia (@twoshotspodcast) December 31, 2020
“It was business as usual. They’re used to hearing my voice in practice,” Hammon told reporters after the game. “The guys are great. The guys are a non-issue, their attitudes and approach is always great with me.
“I did not walk into the arena thinking I would be coaching tonight, but that’s the way things go and you roll with it.”
Hammon has long been the obvious pick to become the first woman to join the ranks of NBA head coaches, and Wednesday’s battlefield promotion is yet another step toward a potential full-time job. She has already started interviewing for such positions, having been one of the candidates for the Indiana Pacers job last offseason.
The former WNBA All-Star joined the Spurs coaching staff in 2014, becoming the league’s first female full-time assistant, and became Popovich’s top assistant in 2018. She has previously worked as the head coach of the Spurs’ Summer League team and in exhibition games in the NBA bubble.
Spurs players and LeBron James praise Becky Hammon
It was clear after the game that the Spurs’ players were fully supportive of Hammon taking the reins on Wednesday.
Here’s Spurs star DeMar DeRozan, via ESPN:
"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."
Point guard Dejounte Murray, also from ESPN:
"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."
Veteran guard Patty Mills:
Patty Mills on Becky Hammon's historic night: “A proud moment not only for Becky, but the whole organization tonight. She has the ability to step up and coach in the NBA.”
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) December 31, 2020
There was also at least one player on the other side who liked what he saw on the Spurs sideline:
LeBron James, on Becky Hammon's big moment: "It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets. She’s very passionate about the game. So congrats to her and congrats to the league."
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) December 31, 2020
Hammon won’t get official loss
Even though Hammon was the Spurs’ head coach for the majority of the game, it appears she won’t carry an 0-1 record as a head coach going forward.
Per Marc Stein of The New York Times, NBA bookkeeping rules will give the loss to Popovich. With a 1279-615 record entering Wednesday, he probably won’t mind.
Becky Hammon takes over as Spurs head coach for the first time in a regular-season game after Gregg Popovich becomes the first NBA coach this season to be ejected.
San Antonio falls at home to the Lakers but the loss, per longstanding NBA bookkeeping rules, goes on Pop’s record
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) December 31, 2020
Becky Hammon nearly did this last season
As neat as Hammon’s accomplishment was, the odd thing is that it could have easily happened last season.
Hammon was the head assistant when Popovich was ejected in Nov. 2019 and would have ostensibly been the acting head coach. However, the Spurs instead decided to implement a coach-by-committee system in which Hammon, Tim Duncan and Will Hardy all shared leadership duties. It was confusing.
After the game, Popovich told reporters that Duncan, not Hammon, was the official head coach, saying “I’m not here to make history.”
With Duncan out of the Spurs staff this year, the Spurs chose to not repeat the setup.
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