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Becky Hammon and the Spurs: A perfect fit

More Offseason Analysis: Coaching changes, news | Spurs hire Becky Hammon

When Becky Hammon was asked Tuesday what her role will be on the San Antonio Spurs' coaching staff, her answer was as quick and sharp as her basketball mind.

"I'll be doing the same things that all the other assistants will be doing," she said.

And with that, a bit of basketball history was made.

Hammon, a seven-time All-Star in the WNBA, was hired Tuesday as an assistant coach with the Spurs -- a forward-thinking move befitting an organization that always seems to be one step ahead of everyone else. Hammon, 37, will begin her duties upon the completion of her 16th WNBA season, the last eight of which have been spent with the San Antonio Silver Stars.

She becomes the first full-time female coach on an NBA bench, following basketball trail blazers such as Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, who coached the Dallas Mavericks' D-League team in 2009, and Lisa Boyer, a volunteer assistant on John Lucas' Cleveland Cavaliers' staff in 2001-02.

"Obviously this is a big deal, but the bigger deal is, I feel like there's been greater pioneers to even get to this point," Hammon said. "CEOs, COOs of companies, major trailblazers, people that went before me basketball-wise to allow me to have a 16-year playing career. ... There have been so many other women who have been doing really great things."

The announcement came a week after the National Basketball Players Association elected Michele Roberts as executive director, making her the first woman to lead a male pro sports league's union in the United States.

Roberts will have to deal with ambivalent players, meddling agents and a talented bargaining adversary in NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Hammon faces perhaps an even bigger challenge: Gregg Popovich's sarcasm.

It should surprise no one that the Spurs, the most innovative organization in the NBA, stepped forward with such a barrier-breaking hire.

Becky Hammon, a 16-year WNBA vet, will be coaching for the NBA's most innovative organization. (USATSI)
Becky Hammon, a 16-year WNBA vet, will be coaching for the NBA's most innovative organization. (USATSI)

"Coach Pop has made it very clear to me that I'm being hired because of my basketball IQ and because I'm qualified," Hammon said. "It just so happens that I'm a woman.

"I'll be helping with scouting reports, player development, dialoguing with film sessions, scheming and stuff like that," she said. "So I'll be right in the mix."

Popovich, GM R.C. Buford, the rest of the staff and players have been familiar with Hammon for years. When Hammon tore her ACL in 2013, it opened the door for what she described as a coaching internship that set the stage for Tuesday's announcement.

"When I blew out my knee, it happened to be one of the biggest blessings in disguise because it allowed me to stay here and start forming relationships with the staff, players and organization," Hammon said.

During her rehab, Hammon asked Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes to "check with R.C. and Coach Pop and see if they wouldn't mind me popping my head in there. That got the ball rolling. They said, 'Come on over. Come to our meetings and film sessions.' I just got an unbelievable behind-the-scenes look at how they do things here."

How they do things there is, simply put, better than how they do them anywhere else in the NBA. The Spurs are coming off their fifth championship of the Popovich-Tim Duncan era, and there honestly isn't a better place in American sports for a trailblazer like Hammon to learn her trade.

"People ask me all the time, 'Will there ever be a woman player in the NBA?'" Hammon said. "To be honest, no. There's differences. The guys are too big and too strong; that's just the way it is. But when it comes to things of the mind -- game-planning, coaching -- there's no reason why women can't be in the mix or shouldn't be in the mix."

Now, she is. From the sound of it, Hammon fit right in during her internship in 2013, an experience that helped her learn even more than she already knew about the organization's secret to success.

"I would come with my coffee and come to coaches' meetings," she said. "Mostly, I would just listen. But every now and then, Pop would ask me a question and I'd give my input on what I was seeing. I'm just so grateful that they value my experiences as a basketball player; throw out the gender part of it."

When retirement became a reality for Hammon after recovering from the ACL injury, she considered two career paths -- coaching or broadcasting. Given her track record -- she has been voted one of the top 15 WNBA players in history -- the choice is hardly surprising.

"I have done some TV work, and it was an avenue I was kind of exploring," she said. "I always knew it was either going to be TV or coaching. The more I got into the TV thing, one of the analysts I worked with he said, 'Man, when you do TV, you never have to leave the gym a loser.' And my thought process was, 'Yeah, but you never get to leave a winner, either.' I love the competitive part of it."

Plus, when you do TV work, you inevitably get Popoviched. Better to be on the same team.

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