Popovich: Spurs didn’t hire Hammon ‘to make history,’ she earned it

Becky Hammon became the first woman in NBA history to serve as acting head coach in a game. (San Antonio Spurs/Twitter)

When a year unlike any other ended with a first, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t surprised — and it wasn’t because of all of 2020’s shocking events preceding it.

The moment itself happened in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game between the Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers. Popovich, bothered by what he believed to be a non-call on a DeMar DeRozan layup attempt, voiced his displeasures to official Tony Brown and was subsequently ejected.

With him out of the game, Becky Hammon took over head coaching duties, becoming the first woman to fill the role in-game in NBA history.

“To me, it’s not a big surprise,” Popovich said on Friday, when asked about Hammon assuming control of the bench. “To a lot of other people it meant a lot — I can understand that. She’s somebody who’s very skilled and could very easily fulfill the duties of a head coach in the NBA. That goes without saying.

“There are women in every other endeavour in the world, whether it’s government, science, technology, aviation — it doesn’t matter what it is. Women do the same jobs as well and better than men. That’s a fact. There’s no reason why somebody like Becky and other women can’t be coaches in the NBA.”

Hammon, a three-time All-American at Colorado State who played in the WNBA before joining the Spurs coaching staff in 2014, had been tasked with scouting the Lakers prior to Wednesday’s game, Popovich noted. Her life spent around basketball would make her qualified to call the shots in any game. But when the Spurs needed a bench leader who knew the Lakers, Hammon was not just the most qualified, but the logical choice, too.

Her in-game promotion garnered the national attention that firsts often do, with even vice president-elect Kamala Harris joining the congratulatory chorus.

“Congrats, Becky Hammon,” Harris tweeted. “You may be the first, but I know you certainly won’t be the last.”

Harris’ comments, a nod to her rousing victory speech after becoming the first woman named vice-president-elect in United States history, captured the essence of the moment succinctly. Hammon made history. She won’t stop there — and neither will other women.

But for the Spurs, Hammon’s role with the team has never been about making a statement.

“We didn’t hire Becky to make history. She earned it. She is qualified. She’s wonderful at what she does,” Popovich said. “I wanted her on my staff because of the work that she does. And she happens to be a woman, which basically should be irrelevant but it’s not in our world, as we’ve seen as it’s been so difficult for women to obtain certain positions. It was business as usual for us.”

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