Becky Hammon moved the needle, but the National Basketball Association assistant coach is now focused on taking the next steps in her career that could help her make history again at the same time.
Weeks after Hammon was nominated as a finalist for a job as head coach with the Portland Trail Blazers, which would have made her the first female head coach in the NBA, Hammon spoke to CNBC on Saturday to express her thoughts.
Hammon said she is not bitter about not getting the job and that she has gained more insight into the hiring process. Hammon added that she will be ready for the opportunity once the right team is ready.
“I’m not mad,” Hammon said. “This is the company, and it’s a very competitive business. But at the end of the day, throw everything out the window – if you want to hire me, you’ll find a reason to hire me. And if you don’t does’ If you don’t want to hire me, you’ll find that reason too. And that’s exactly that.’
Hammon, 44, remains an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs. She explained why she is ready for one of the 30 head coach jobs in the NBA and pointed to her professional growth under coach Gregg Popovich as the reason.
When she had coaching conversations with the Blazers, Hammon didn’t pretend to be the favorite for the job.
Chauncey Billups was the Blazers’ first pick – that much was clear in NBA circles. The former NBA guard is in a relationship with team principal Neil Olshey. Hence, Jody Allen, the sister of the late Blazers owner and co-founder of Microsoft Paul Allen, agreed with Olshey’s choice. The Blazers defended Billups’ hiring during his coaching introduction while also publicly praising Hammon.
“We absolutely admire Becky”, Olshey said on June 29. “She did a great job. It’s obviously not easy to get to the ownership level of an interview process.”
Olshey said Hammon has come this far as “a confirmation of how far she’s come and how close she is to being a head coach.” Olshey then said Billups ticked all the boxes, including “gravitas leadership skills.”
Discussing the process, Hammon said: “I knew I was second; I knew who they wanted. And I’m okay with that because every race I’ve run in my entire life I’ve been behind and I’m I think that’s okay. And that’s the way it is – but at the same time I’m not ignorant of what I’m running into.”
Hammon said she felt the Blazers were “authentic” in their quest for coaching. But the team faced public criticism when Billups’ history of rape allegations resurfaced in 1997, with it being suggested that the team only interviewed Hammon as a form of harm reduction. Rumors also surfaced that Hammon received less than glowing comments from the Spurs during the Portland trial.
Asked if she felt the rumors affected the discussions in Portland, Hammon said she had not read the tabloids or commented further.
She added: “I take every experience and I try to grow from it, learn from it and get better next time. When people have to justify a reason why they did or didn’t hire me, it’s a bit out of my control I just try to do my best the moment I’m given.”
However, the Blazers trial is over and Hammon said she is focused on “the next step” in her career. “I know how much San Antonio has valued me, and I’m okay with that,” she added.
The spotlight remains on Hammon. The social media audience wants to see her write history as a head coach. And her every move will be in the headlines. She can’t control the attention, which both helps and hurts, but she would prefer it for the right reason – her coaching skills.
“I don’t want to make the news because I’m the first woman,” Hammon said. “Ultimately, I want to make news because I was hired for my qualifications. It was Gregg Popovich’s original intention when he hired me in 2014, which was, ‘She added something to the group.’ something for our team. I admire her spirit and the way she looks at the game.”
It is here Hammon reflected in her path.
she gave out 16 seasons in the WNBA, which started in New York with the Liberty. Hammon made six All-Star appearances during her career and retired from San Antonio in 2014.
“I was a former player trying to figure out what to do next,” Hammon said. “And though I’ve been a student of the game…” she paused before delving deeper into her credentials.
Hammon then named Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – three NBA legends “who know 20 times more than I do in this league and the [Spurs] system. So if you sit there and tell them about defensive reporting, you better make sure you know what you’re talking about, and I’m just real.”
She then pointed to winning Popovich’s trust.
The legendary head coach gives his assistant coaches scouting duties – creating game plans and strategies which he then coaches. If Popovich doesn’t like the proposal, he goes back to the movie room. So learned the new Boston Celtics coach, Ime Udoka. Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams also learned under Popovich.
“That prepares us in a way that maybe some younger coaches or people who haven’t gone through the wringer aren’t prepared,” Hammon said. “He gives so much freedom and leverage to his assistant coaches that prepares us more than what people can comprehend. He empowers and empowers you in certain situations that I don’t feel like other coaches who can do his gravitas. He’s a teacher of teachers, and he produces teachers.”
When asked what kind of coach she is today, after seven seasons under Popovich, Hammon replied: “I grew up under him. With him I learned a lot of X’s and O’s and different leadership skills. But there are things that make it very difficult. to quantify how much growth I’ve had, because there’s so much.”
There are still jobs available in Washington and New Orleans. But the point is, those aren’t the most stable NBA organizations.
The pelicans face team culture issues. And rival NBA executives suggest the Wizards’ philosophy and sports strategy is more hockey-driven than basketball under owner Ted Leonsis.
While Hammon is up for the challenge, it’s unclear if she would be a good fit for those teams.
“I have to be the right coach – not man or woman – the right coach, for the right team, in the right city, at the right time,” Hammon said.
And if she lands a top NBA coaching job, Hammon said, she welcomes everything that comes with it.
“I’m ready to be examined,” Hammon said. “Whether I’m doing it all wrong or right – it is what it is. My job is to stand up for the players and be the leader and person who believes in them the most.”
“When the world gives them a pile of s— and throws things in their ears, I’m the voice of honesty to say, ‘Hey, that’s the way it looks – that’s the way it should be, and when you’re down, I’m down to make it work,” she said. ‘I don’t know how else to say it. The truth always works.’
“I’m happy with what’s happening — the needle moves,” Hammon said. ‘Am I satisfied? No. And contentment has never brought anything great. There are different prices you have to pay to get where you want to go. And I’m at that point.’