Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon reportedly interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching vacancy. She didn’t get the job this week — former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer reportedly did — but she did advance the dialogue about women coaching in the NBA.
Maybe that’s good enough — for now. It’s a next step, at least, said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve.
“It’s clearly progress,” Reeve said Thursday after Lynx practice. “Becky’s name is being mentioned in a bunch of circles, and they’re not women’s basketball circles. They’re men’s basketball circles. She’s highly thought of.”
Reeve, by the way, also belongs in the discussion when it comes to coaches qualified to get a head coach job in the NBA. But more on that in a moment.
Hammon, a former WNBA star, was hired by Gregg Popovich as a Spurs assistant in 2014 — becoming the first woman to be a full-time NBA assistant coach. Four years later, she had a foot in the door as a head coach candidate.
“That’s the biggest thing. You have an opportunity to make an impression that maybe they didn’t know what you were about. If you’re not in the room, you can’t get the job,” Reeve said. “I don’t know at what point we look at recycling coaches who haven’t been successful, and do we get tired of that? And maybe (a team) wants to try something different.”
As I considered the Hammon situation, another notion struck me. Outside of the sexist arguments to make about why a woman shouldn’t be an NBA head coach — arguments destroyed by the Spurs’ Pau Gasol in a very good recent The Players Tribune piece — is there a layer of sexism in saying Hammon needs to aspire to coach a men’s team instead of a women’s team?
“I think five years ago if you would have asked me that, I might have said yes,” she said. “But at some point we hope we get to the point that coaching men and coaching women is equal. We’re not there yet. Is it sexist? I don’t necessarily think that. I think it’s about how long the NBA has been around. Women’s professional sports are still pretty young.”
So does Reeve — with four WNBA titles in the last seven seasons with the Lynx and a reputation for being strong with both strategy and chemistry — ever think about coaching in the NBA?
Reeve made it clear that she loves her current job and her team. But yes, she does think about it. And she should.
“I would be lying to say no because the opportunity seems a little closer than it was five years ago,” Reeve, 51, said. “I love the NBA, and I watch a ton of it. I feel close to it. I do get pretty locked in on what I’m doing. But every once in while when the topic comes up or I get asked about it, if the opportunity presented itself I would absolutely consider that.”
She said Hammon’s role in the NBA is part of the reason it feels more possible than it did in the past. Dialogue creates discussion. Opportunities lead to change.
“In every other industry there are women leading men. If the military can do it … ” Reeve said. “But it’s the sports world, it’s a culture. And that needs to change. The sexist mindset is one that’s antiquated.”
Maybe we aren’t far off from seeing the first woman introduced as an NBA head coach. Once the wall comes down, there are bound to be more.
Maybe Reeve will be one of them.