Basketball

Becky Hammon becomes first woman to serve as NBA head coach

Hammon takes over after Gregg Popovich ejected, but San Antonio Spurs cannot ruin LeBron James' birthday as LA Lakers win 121-107

By Rory Jiwani ·

History was made in basketball on Wednesday (30 December) as Becky Hammon became the first woman to take charge of a team in the NBA.

But it was not in the manner she or anyone expected.

San Antonio Spurs and USA head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter of their game with the LA Lakers after he angrily confronted official Tony Brown.

And, according to two-time Olympian Hammon, 'Coach Pop' pointed to her as he left the court and said, "You got 'em."

She was unable to stop the Spurs going down 121-107 as LeBron James celebrated his 36th birthday in Texas with 26 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

But this game will be remembered primarily for Hammon showing that women can reach the top in male-dominated sports.

"It's a big deal. It's a substantial moment. Honestly, in the moment, I was just trying to win the game. I try not to think about the huge picture and the huge aspect of it because it can get overwhelming." - Becky Hammon

Becky Hammon: from Russian Olympian to coaching torchbearer

Hammon made her name at the New York Liberty in the WNBA but also had successful stints overseas in Italy and Spain.

In 2007, she joined the San Antonio Silver Stars and 'Big Shot Becky' - named so due to her knack of scoring at vital times - spent a couple of 'off-seasons' in Russia with CSKA Moscow.

Having never been selected for the USA, Hammon obtained Russian citizenship and represented her adopted nation at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, winning a bronze medal at the former.

A cruciate knee ligament tear in 2013 led Hammon to focus on her coaching ambitions and she regularly attended Spurs' practice to watch Popovich and his team at work.

That injury ended the six-time WNBA All Star's playing career, but in August 2014 she was hired by the Spurs as the NBA's first female assistant coach.

The following year, Hammon coached the Spurs' NBA Summer League team and led them to the Las Vegas Summer League title.

In 2016, she became the first woman to be part of an All-Star coaching staff, but this is the 43-year-old's biggest coaching achievement to date.

James said afterwards, "Obviously she’s been paying her dues over the last few years and Coach Pop has given her an opportunity, first of all with the Summer League team and being an interim head coach if anything ever happened to Pop. Tonight it was the case where she got to step in to show her worth, show her talent and show her love for the game.

"It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets. She’s very passionate about the game. Congrats to her and congrats for our league." - LeBron James on Becky Hammon coaching the Spurs