Becky Hammon took a big chance recently. After spending eight years as an assistant coach with the Spurs, she decided to get to the next level, accepting a head coaching position with the Las Vegas Aces.
To say that the risk paid off for her would be an understatement, as she was named Coach of the Year and has led her team to the WNBA Finals.
In hindsight, it seems like Hammon’s success was almost predestined, but the move came with plenty of scrutiny at the time. Hammon had interviewed with several NBA teams but even she at times felt like they never seriously considered her, and with Gregg Popovich still coaching, her path to the big chair was blocked. Other WNBA teams had reportedly reached out, but she refused them until she got an offer that allegedly made her the best-paid coach in the league and gave her front office input. Her reported salary didn’t sit well with some WNBA stars. While she had clearly shown her worth before, a lot of eyes were going to be on her as a rookie coach to see if she was worth the hype.
No one should still be doubting now.
Hammon’s first challenge with the Aces was to modernize an offense that had ranked dead last by a country mile in three-point attempts the year before her arrival. This season, they took the third most outside shots in the league while remaining efficient. With the team’s second-best rebounder and third-best scorer in 2021, Liz Cambage, gone Hammon was going to have to empower stars Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson, and did just that. Wilson won her second MVP Award this season while Plum made her first All-Star team. Hammon also promoted 2021 Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hambry to full-time starter, and the forward made the All-Star game for a second time. Up-and-comer guard Jackie Young won Most Improved player and made got her first All-Star nod, while Chelsea Gray remained a fantastic on-court leader who took care of setting up others.
The Aces were loaded with talent, but Hammon proved great at managing it, and the success of the regular season, where Las Vegas tied for the best record in the league, translated to the postseason. The Aces easily dispatched a depleted Mercury and recently took down Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, and the Seattle Storm in the conference semifinals. Now they will battle the Connecticut Sun, and they are favored. It’s possible Hammon will lead the Aces to the first title in franchise history as a rookie coach.
For some Spurs fans, Hammon’s success can feel bittersweet. She was with the franchise for a long time and looked like a fantastic potential successor to Pop, the type of hire that would signal the interest in continuity that has characterized the Spurs while also showing that they were looking for market inefficiencies by getting talent from a pool others ignored, just like they did in the past by scouting Europe. It didn’t hurt that Hammon was also simply well-liked by most. She was a legend of San Antonio basketball after her time as a player with the Stars, she coached an extremely fun Spurs Summer League team to a title, and she legitimately seems like a good, genuine person. It’s fully understandable to want someone with those credentials to stick around as much as possible, but there’s no reason to be anything but happy for Hammon and be cheering for her, even if she’s not in San Antonio anymore. She deserves it.
After dealing with some questionable hiring practices from NBA teams, watching the Aces franchise value her for her skills and in turn be rewarded for that trust is heartwarming. Hammon dealt with the scrutiny that came with being the first full-time female assistant coach with grace, and did the same with all the questions that came with her move to the W, so it’s impossible to be anything but impressed by her character. In a more self-serving view for the Spurs’ faithful, her success is a also good thing for the franchise. Anyone coming from the Popovich coaching tree doing well makes a spot on the bench in the AT&T Center more appetizing for young coaching talent. And for those who are still holding out hope that Hammon will take over for Pop when he’s gone, it would be convenient for her to check the “win a WNBA title” box as soon as possible.
Hammon was a fantastic player for the Stars and a great assistant for the Spurs. Her path has taken her elsewhere for now, and it’s good to see that she’s still thriving, especially after enduring some bad experiences. Hopefully she will find her way back to San Antonio, but for now, she should know that the city and the fans of the teams she helped make great are still rooting for her. For the next few days, we are all Aces fans, because we are all Becky Hammon fans.
Game 1 of the WNBA Finals will be played today at 2 p.m. CST and will be televised on ABC.