December 31, 2020 

‘You got ’em’: Becky Hammon leads Spurs in historic night

Former San Antonio Star becomes first woman to serve as NBA head coach

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Becky Hammon. (Photo: NBA Media Central)

Becky Hammon would have loved to win her first game as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. But while a win might have legitimized her efforts in the eyes of some, Hammon calling the shots, so to say, was a radical enough endeavor.

After Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, he handed the reins to Hammon, making her the first woman to serve as head coach in the NBA.

“He officially pointed at me. That was it,” Hammon said. “Said, ‘You got ‘em,’ and that was it. Very Pop-like.”

Hammon, a member of the Spurs organization as an assistant coach since retiring from a lengthy and successful WNBA career in 2014 as a member of the San Antonio Stars, said Wednesday’s on-court transition was as seamless as described — the players are used to hearing her in practice, after all.

That’s why it wasn’t any surprise when the Spurs, down by nine points when Popovich was shown the door, clawed back against the defending champions to the tune of a five-point deficit late in the half.

After the game, Hammon acknowledged the gravity of the moment and reflected on her own career.

“Obviously, it’s a big deal,” she said. “It’s a substantial moment. I’ve been a part of this organization, I got traded here in 2007, so I’ve been in San Antonio and part of the Spurs and sports organization with the Stars and everything for 13 years. So I have a lot of time invested, and they have a lot of time invested in me, in building me and getting me better.”

At a recent Zoom session with high school students from the Bronx’s Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Hammon stressed the importance of having confidence for moments just like this — finding ways in when the task, whether it be coaching Tim Duncan and Manu Ginóbili or taking over a basketball team before halftime, seems daunting.

“Coming in there, being willing to listen, it doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant coach, head coach, best player on the team, you always have to be willing to learn and be open-minded to growth, critique and you take it all in and you move on,” Hammon said. “You use what you can use, and then you gotta spit out the bones.”

Hammon being ready to step up in Popovich’s place is massive. But so is the ability to maintain her foundation of learning on the job. It’s about being in charge, knowing she’s in charge, and using that to direct the bench.

“Everybody just gets on board, and it was a great team effort and [the assistant coaches were] in my ear giving me suggestions and helping with substitutions and whatnot,” Hammon said postgame. “So when Pop gets tossed, we all come together and become kind of another team.”

But as it turns out, some on the court were still starstruck by the moment.

“It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets,” said Lakers forward LeBron James. “She’s very passionate about the game, so congrats to her and congrats to the league.”

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