Becky Hammon inducted into the New York Liberty Ring of Honor

In the aftermath of an historic NBA Summer League championship with the San Antonio Spurs, Becky Hammon’s career went full circle. As her WNBA roots can be traced back to the New York Liberty, where her playing career began, the club welcomed her on August 3 as they hosted Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm.

Honored by the Liberty during an emotional halftime ceremony (which saw the Liberty hold a 36-35 lead against the Storm), Hammon graciously acknowledged the fans and the organization, recognizing the role that the Liberty played in the beginning of her professional basketball odyssey. Among the gifts that were presented to Hammon, she was the recipient of flowers, a commemorative ring and a painting that was actually created during the ceremony.

During her rookie campaign, Hammon would compete in the 1999 WNBA Finals against the Houston Comets. Before her career with the Liberty reached its end in 2006, two more Finals appearances followed. Second overall in franchise history in both games played and three-pointers, she currently sits third in franchise scoring.

In 2007, Hammon would join the San Antonio Silver Starz of the WNBA’s Western Conference, also appearing with the Russian roster at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. After her WNBA career came to an end due to injury in 2014, she extended her career with a historic appointment as a member of Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff. Serving with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Hammon became the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history.

Defeating the Storm by a 78-62 mark, led by Tina Charles’ 29 points, the 10,682 fans in attendance witnessed history more than once. In addition to Hammon’s honor, Storm superstar Sue Bird made her presence felt. After the Liberty went on a 13-0 run to begin the third period, Bird nailed a three pointer at the 4:47 mark. The three pointer made Bird the first woman in WNBA history to score 5,000 career points and dish out 2,000 career assist. Coincidentally, Bird’s former teammate, Swin Cash (who both played together) with the University of Connecticut and the Storm, was on the floor for the Liberty when the historic basket was made.

Women’s basketball legends part of coaching roles with NBA Summer League

While Becky Hammon made history as the first female head coach in NBA Summer League competition, she was not the only women’s basketball star involved in coaching. Joining Hammon was two-time Summer Games competitor Nancy Lieberman, along with Lindsey Harding.

Of note, Lieberman once served on the coaching stint of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. Known affectionately as Lady Magic, the Old Dominion legend also played in one game with the Shock, competing at 50 years young. The WNBA is a common trait among all three, as each has played on its hardcourt.

Serving on the Sacramento Kings’ coaching staff in Summer League play, it may be the springboard for greater opportunities to come for Lieberman. During the 2014-15 NBA regular season, Kings head coach George Karl had faced questions concerning the possibility of Lieberman joining his staff.

Karl had indicated interest in Lieberman as a candidate, should his coaching staff change in the summer. Declaring her a quality basketball person, such a potential hire would join Hammon as only the second woman to serve in a full-time capacity as an NBA female assistant coach. During the summer of 2014, Hammon was hired by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

In addition to experience with the Shock, Lieberman possesses a background in coaching men’s basketball. She became the first woman to coach a men’s pro team when she took the helm of the NBA Development League’s Texas Legends (affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks) in 2009. Currently, she works as a TV analyst for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. As a side note, she also played alongside men in the former United States Basketball League and was a member of the Washington Generals, who toured with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Working as a guest assistant with the Toronto Raptors at Summer League was Lindsey Harding. No stranger to the Raptors, she was in observance at the Toronto Raptors’ training camp in 2014.Held in very high regard, Harding earned praise from Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey.

Declaring that she has the potential to be a head coach in the NBA one day, Casey was very impressed with Harding’s knowledge and ability to communicate with players. It was also a skill that shone through in Summer League play as Hammon helped the Spurs gel into a championship unit.

Considering that Summer League play (and to a degree Development League play) is meant to cultivate talent and allow undrafted free agents and draft picks to showcase their talents, it is only fitting to allow coaches the same opportunity. In opening the doors of opportunity for accomplished and qualified WNBA talent such as Hammon, Harding and Lieberman, the NBA has once again set a standard, acknowledging the growing role and impact of women in sport.

Becky Hammon builds on basketball legacy with NBA Summer League championship

From the outset, Becky Hammon had made history before the opening tip-off of the NBA’s Summer League Championship Game. Having made history as the first female assistant coach in NBA history (she served under Gregg Popovich’s staff with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014-15), she would build on such a legacy by serving as the first female head coach in Summer League play.

Leading the San Antonio Spurs prospects and draft picks into Summer League play, Hammon’s tutelage resulted in a 93-90 victory against the Phoenix Suns in the championship game. A key factor in the victory for San Antonio was the fact that Phoenix committed 18 turnovers. The loss compounds frustrations that Phoenix has already endured at the hands of San Antonio, as they acquired prized free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

Although Hammon becomes the first female head coach to win a Summer League title, an encouraging sign was that two other WNBA stars were coaches as well. Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman-Cline was part of the Sacramento Kings coaching staff, while the Toronto Raptors also opened their doors to Lindsay Harding on its coaching staff.

During the 17-day long Summer League season, the fact that the players respected Hammon, in addition to being attentive and responding positively to her feedback and guidance, was testament to the growing role of women in coaching. Although San Antonio lost their opening game against the New York Knicks, the club bounced back to win five consecutive games.

Reputed as a “player’s coach”, she was quick to acknowledge the hard work of her team during the acceptance of the championship trophy. During the locker room ceremonies, she was the recipient of a Gatorade bath, obligatory among all championship coaches throughout sport.

As Hammon noted how the team truly began to come together over the last three to four games of Summer League play, she is equally deserving of the credit. Taking into account that Summer League play features a blend of draft picks, D-League prospects and undrafted free agents with no familiarity, the lack of chemistry is a significant challenge for any coach to overcome.

One player who is poised to benefit from Hammon’s guidance is Jonathon Simmons, whose 23 points topped all scorers. Named MVP of the Summer League’s championship game, he was signed to a one-year guaranteed contract by San Antonio. As a side note, he spent the 2014-15 season with their D-League Affiliate.

Becky Hammons makes history as first full-time female assistant coach in NBA

Proving why they are one of the model organizations in all of professional sport, the San Antonio Spurs made a bold and long overdue statement by hiring the first full-time salaried female assistant coach in men’s pro sports. Longtime WNBA veteran Becky Hammons, who is retiring at the end of the 2014 season, shall hang up her jersey in order to serve on Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff.

FILE - In this April 30, 2014, file photo, San Antonio Stars' Becky Hammon walks off the court following Game 5 of the opening-round NBA basketball playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks in San Antonio. Stars guard and 16-year WNBA veteran, Becky Hammon, will retire at the conclusion of the 2014 WNBA season, the team announced Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

FILE – In this April 30, 2014, file photo, San Antonio Stars’ Becky Hammon walks off the court following Game 5 of the opening-round NBA basketball playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks in San Antonio. Stars guard and 16-year WNBA veteran, Becky Hammon, will retire at the conclusion of the 2014 WNBA season, the team announced Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Former Cleveland Rockers head coach Lisa Boyer once served with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers on a part-time basis during the 2001-02 campaign. Of note, her salary was covered by the Rockers organization and she did not travel with the Cavaliers on road games.

The involvement of Hammons with the Spurs came in 2013 as Hammons was recovering from a torn knee ligament. Her injury resulted in playing only one game for the Silver Starz during their 2013 campaign. Having spoken to her head coach Dan Hughes, she asked if he could communicate with Popovich about consenting to her observing coaching techniques with the Spurs. It would result in an opportunity to attend coaches meetings, attend drills and Spurs practices.

Having known Spurs players such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Danny Green, the players felt very comfortable having her attend various practices. Known as an individual with a cerebral approach to the game, coaching has long been a desired second career for Hammons.

As a side note, Popovich actually compared Hammons to former NBA players that would find second careers as head coaches, such as Avery Johnson and Steve Kerr (both played or coached with Popovich). Taking into account that Johnson, Kerr and Hammons are all point guards, they approach the game with an analytical approach, which is essential as the point guard is in effect the playmaker.

Hammons is not the only new face on Popovich’s coaching staff. Recently, he hired international coach Ettore Messina as an assistant. As a head coach, Messina won four Euroleague titles and was inducted into the Italian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. Both of these newly hired assistants may signify a new trend in NBA basketball, where female stars and European-trained basketball personnel earn further opportunities in coaching.