If you know Becky Hammon, one thing has always been clear: She would become a coach after she finished playing.
We all figured it would be for the Colorado State women's basketball program, her alma mater, the school she put on the map in the late 1990s with her sweet outside shot and clever ballhandling. In fact, there were even rumblings around Fort Collins back in the day that the CSU athletic department had made some sort of handshake, wink-wink deal with the dynamic local star: The moment you retire from playing, we'll have an open spot in the athletic department -- guaranteed.
The reason we all knew Hammon would become a coach is actually quite simple. She could see a play once and know all its options and offshoots, categorize them from most to least effective. And she could do this for every position on the court, instantly -- as if the X's and O's had been coded into her DNA. Most of the time, the team's coach approached Hammon for her insight -- rarely was it the other way around.
And then two weeks ago, after almost 16 seasons in the WNBA, the San Antonio Stars guard revealed her intention to retire at the end of this season. She didn't wait long to make her next move.
On Tuesday afternoon, all question marks about Hammon's post-playing days were answered, as the San Antonio Spurs announced they had hired her as an assistant coach. With that simple news release -- headline: Spurs Name Becky Hammon Assistant Coach -- a very high, very thick glass wall cracked.
A woman is coaching in the NBA.
The 37-year-old native of South Dakota becomes the first full-time female coach in the NBA -- and the first full-time female coach in any of the four major professional sports.
The NBA is a risk-averse place. In some ways, nobody was hiring a female coach because nobody had ever hired a female coach. Recently, the Los Angeles Clippers named Natalie Nakase an assistant coach for their summer league team, but that was a 10-day stint on the bench, not a full-time gig during the regular season. Realistically, the league had no model in place for hiring a female coach; a team needed to be the first, to prove it could work. And it makes sense that San Antonio, the reigning NBA champs, a franchise that has always marched very effectively to the beat of its own drum, has stepped forward and done just that.
The Spurs, as they're known to do, will create the model. "I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Having observed her working with our team this past season, I'm confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs."
Popovich is right. He understands that NBA players want only one thing from a coach: someone who knows the game, and who can help them improve their own. And Popovich is spot-on about something else, too: Hammon's basketball IQ is off the charts.