The WNBA announced Tuesday morning that the Las Vegas Aces would be stripped of their 2025 first-round draft pick, and that head coach Becky Hammon would be suspended for two games at the start of the 2023 season. The punishment comes after an investigation by the league determined that the defending-champion Aces violated league rules regarding "impermissible player benefits" and workplace policies.
The investigation into the Aces was originallyin February following a report that detailed the Aces were offering under-the-table payments to current players and free agents they were trying to sign. WNBA player Dearica Hamby shared on social media back in January that she was "traumatized" by the "unprofessional and unethical way" that she was treated following her announcement of her pregnancy and subsequent trade to the Los Angeles Sparks. Hamby added the Aces falsely accused her of signing an extension while knowingly pregnant.
During a preseason media call with reporters on Wednesday that was scheduled prior to the league's decision, Hammon denied any wrongdoing.
"I don't recall my relationship with Hamby being anything but on the up-and-up, and I'm just -- obviously along with the organization -- disappointed with the findings," Hammon said. "It's never [good] to have your name be associated with something like that, which is not who you are as a person. That's not how I operate. I did talk to my team; they were great. I have to say they've been very professional throughout this whole process."
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Aces said they were "deeply disappointed" by the league's decision and pushed back on the investigation's findings.
"We are committed to supporting all our players to the fullest extent allowed by the WNBA. Our actions have always been consistent with our responsibility to hold ourselves to the highest professional standards, and the facts we presented were consistent with these standards. The well-being of our players and their families has and will always be at the forefront of who we are.
"The WNBA's determinations about Becky Hammon are inconsistent with what we know and love about her. Becky is a caring human being who forges close personal relationships with her players. We stand behind Coach Hammon as she continues to lead the Las Vegas Aces."
Here is part of the league's statement on its investigation:
"The team violation involved promises of impermissible benefits in connection with negotiations for an extension of then Aces player Dearica Hamby's player contract. The Respect in the Workplace violation was related to comments made by Hammon to Hamby in connection with Hamby's recent pregnancy."
The investigation included interviews with 33 people and a review of texts, emails and documents. During the investigation, concerns about the Aces' conduct during the most recent free agency were raised, though the league couldn't substantiate any of the claims about under-the-table payments.
"It is critical that we uphold the values of integrity and fairness, which create a level playing field for our teams," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in the league's statement. "The Aces failed to adhere to league rules and regulations and have been disciplined accordingly. We are also disheartened by the violation of our Respect in the Workplace policies and remain committed to ensuring that enhanced training is conducted and standards are followed across all WNBA teams."
The Aces open the 2023 season on Saturday against the Storm. Hammon will be eligible to return to the bench on May 27 against the Sparks.