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How a potential decision between the WNBA, NBA is a ‘win-win’ for coach Becky Hammon

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There is no wrong answer for Becky Hammon.

But there could soon be a tough, life-changing decision.

Hammon, the reigning WNBA champion and coach of the year with the Las Vegas Aces, is reportedly in the mix to become the next head coach of the Toronto Raptors. Sportsnet reported on Tuesday that Hammon did not formally interview with the team.

The move would make her the first woman to become the full-time head coach of a major North American men’s sports team. But it would also mean leaving the WNBA, a league whose popularity is booming and one in which she spent 16 years as a player.

Asked about NBA possibilities at a press conference last week, Hammon said “it’s a lot of chatter at this point” and that she’s “not far along in the process with any team.”

“If it happens, it happens. If somebody wants me, you can come tell me. You know where to find me,” Hammon said. “But my energies and focus are in the Las Vegas Aces 100 per cent. I mean, I’m on the phone with my agent a lot, but as I [said] I’m super, super happy here. I love working here.”

Kayla Alexander, a two-time Canadian Olympian, spent two years as Hammon’s teammate with the San Antonio Stars — the franchise later relocated to Las Vegas — in 2013 and 2014.

The Milton, Ont., native told CBC Sports she has fond memories of playing with Hammon and believes she would make a good NBA coach.

Chip on her shoulder

Hammon also spent eight years as an assistant to legendary San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

“Regardless of her decision, we’re gonna all benefit from it,” Alexander said. “Because whether she’s lending her skills and her amazing talents to the WNBA and helping to grow our league, or if she’s lending it to the NBA and breaking barriers and continue to be the inspiration, it’s a win-win for all of us.”

At this point, Hammon is used to being passed over. She was an undrafted point guard who turned into a six-time WNBA all-star. Yet in 2008, more than halfway through her career, Hammon, of Rapid City, S.D., didn’t so much as receive a tryout invitation to the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team.

She instead competed at those Beijing Olympics for the country where she played overseas as a naturalized Russian citizen, winning bronze.

Most recently, she’s been shut out of NBA head coaching jobs despite numerous interviews. And so she told Time Magazine recently that when considering whether to leave the WNBA for the NBA, her happiness is most important.

“I love being here. I love being back on the women’s side. I don’t need the stamp of approval from the NBA,” she said.

More specifically, Hammon appears infatuated with her current situation.

“I love my team. I really love my team and just like their presence, how they are as people,” she said in last week’s press conference. “They’re good human beings.”

A man and woman huddle together on the sideline of a basketball court.
Hammon, left, spent eight years alongside Popovich in San Antonio. (Nick Wagner/The Associated Press)

‘Becky Hammon can coach’

In a 2018 Players’ Tribune article, Pau Gasol, who played under Hammon with the Spurs, vouched for her to become an NBA head coach.

Gasol cited a specific tweak during a pick-and-roll drill that stayed with him as an example of Hammons’ expertise.

“Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period,” Gasol wrote.

Coincidentally, Gasol will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame this summer alongside both Hammon and Popovich.

Recently, the WNBA suspended Hammon two games for the alleged mistreatment of player Dearica Hamby during her pregnancy. Hamby said she felt “traumatized” by the “disgusting comments” made by Hammon, who strongly denied the allegations.

Still, the incident may be a strike against Hammon’s Raptors candidacy. For what it’s worth, Alexander spoke highly of her time with Hammon when the former was a rookie and the latter a veteran.

“She was a competitor on the court. She pushes you. She was a great teammate. I felt well taken care of by her when I was in San Antonio and I wish her nothing but the absolute best,” Alexander said.

WATCH | Hammon guides Aces to 1st WNBA title:

Las Vegas Aces capture first WNBA title

Las Vegas Aces defeat Connecticut Sun 78-71 in game four to claim a franchise first WNBA title Sunday.

Noelle Quinn, the Seattle Storm head coach who won the 2020 championship and a lead assistant for Canada’s women’s team, agreed there wouldn’t be one correct answer for Hammon.

“It’s amazing that Becky’s always in the mix of the coaching availability or jobs in the NBA. It just speaks to her work ethic, the fact that they understand and know that she’s more than capable. I love that for us as women, as coaches and the representation matters there,” she said.

However, Quinn also noted that it’s important for women to continue coaching in the WNBA as well. Women currently comprise 14 of 24 head coach and GM positions in the league.

“I love where we’re at in women’s basketball and I want us to continue to grow and get better and make sure we’re in the upper echelon of leagues in the world,” she said.

In the end, Alexander said, Hammon should do what’s best for her family.

“Selfishly, I want her to be able to do both. I would love for her to be able to stay in the W, continue to give back and grow the league that she helped build,” she said. “At the same time, I think she’s well deserving to be one of the first female head coaches in the NBA.

“But,” Alexander joked, “then if she were to do that, I don’t think she would have a life.”

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