She was not even a blip on the WNBA radar in 1999. Becky Hammon was a high school and college standout at Colorado State College, but the big leagues saw only the weaknesses. After going undrafted, the New York Liberty signed her as a free agent, to back up Teresa Weatherspoon, one of the Liberty’s big three stars.
Hammon won the city over with her total court hustle and never looked back.
Now, in 2015, Hammon was on the court at Madison Square Garden where she made magic for eight seasons. Becky was inducted into the “Ring of Honor” of the New York Liberty, the sixth to be so honored. She also is currently an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, the first woman to serve such a position full time in the big four of professional sports. She even was given the reigns to coach the team in the NBA summer league which San Antonio won.
Becky Hammon represents excellence in basketball, period. Gender is secondary to her. However, the questions will continue to be regurgitated. By leading the Liberty to three WNBA Finals in four years and now with the summer championship of the NBA, Becky may just be the bridge that allows the traffic of women with high basketball IQ’s to pass. San Antonio head coach Gregg “Pop” Popovich just removed the toll booths.
“I don’t think these women come in to coach if Pop (Popovich) did not pull the trigger on me,” Hammon shared. “I hope we get to the point in society where this is not news anymore and we hired this person because they are best for this job.”
The players of San Antonio and teammates past and present are not in doubt to what Hammon can bring to the table concerning their career advancement. Becky pointed out during the press conference before the Liberty game with Seattle on Sunday that NBA players often watch WNBA games, especially in the summertime where the women’s game is the only basketball going on.
“Game recognizes game,” Hammon responded. “If you can help them become a better player and you can coach them because players want to be coached at the next level or the one they want to be in, they will welcome you with open arms.”
This was more than women basketball players got pre-WNBA. If you wanted to play high level basketball, Europe was the endgame. Becky will tell you even her father recognized the limitations of the time when breaking it down to his basketball playing daughter who saw the NBA as her dream destination.
“My dad told me straight up you will never do that,” Hammon recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe if you are really good you will get a college scholarship.’”
The self- professed basketball junkie and gym rat has come a long way from South Dakota to the Ring of Honor. It was the personification of what desire does to the landscape of other’s reality. Becky loved wearing the New York Liberty jersey and her pride was there for all to see. She also knows the price she paid to attain the dream and the future injury that gave her time to pursue the coaching dream.
“Nothing came easy to me. I had to fight and scrap for every little bit of playing time that I got and I would not do it any other way,” Hammon shared. “I like being able to say I worked for my career and for my success, nobody handed me anything.”
The current group of Liberty players spent time with Ring of Honor members on a regular basis such as Teresa Witherspoon, Sue Wicks, and Kym Hampton, whose presence is a constant around the Garden. Most of the team are aware of the impact Becky Hammon has had on the WNBA, whether playing with or against or by word of mouth or watching video or live. They are all in agreement in one area. Becky Hammon is a legend and an inspiration to little girls who want to grow up and play in the WNBA or women in general as she travels through unique paths. Tina Charles, All-Star and Liberty leading scorer recognizes her as such.
“She’s a trailblazer,” Charles said. “Just who she is and what she has been able to do becoming the first female assistant coach in the NBA.”
Kiah Stokes, the Liberty’ young center shared some advice Hammon gave her about the league.
“You’re never going to have this team again so keep your chemistry going,” Stokes explained. “People are going to get traded and retire so make sure you give all you can for this team because this team will probably never be the way it is again.”
Epiphanny Prince has played against Hammon often so she has an up and personal persepective.
“She opened up a lot of doors for women in the NBA and overseas with the passport thing,” Prince shared. “She is an awesome person and I’m happy for her.”
In closing, Carolyn Swords spoke for many in the reverence they have for her.
”She’s an incredible role model for all of us,” Swords said. “ It’s really nice she’s a great ambassador for our game on the NBA side and spreading awareness of the game and work ethic and who works tirelessly it’s a nice thing to see.”
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