Becky Hammon recently made news when she was hired as the first female assistant coach for an NBA team. In the fall of 2014, she will be making history as she begins coaching the San Antonio Spurs. In doing so, Hammon is a model for women in business.
Hammon is no stranger to breaking through glass ceilings. She has had a long and distinguished career as a female athlete, and her new job is only her latest achievement as a star female athlete in a sport often associated primarily with men.
Hammon’s basketball career began when she was in high school in the early 1990s. She played basketball through her high school years and was named South Dakota Miss Basketball when she was a junior. The following year, Hammon was voted both Player of the Year and best female athlete (the latter was an informal vote for a title in the school yearbook.) As a result, she already had distinguished herself as a basketball player before she went to college.
Hammon began attending Colorado State University the following year, where she distinguished herself even further. While playing for Colorado State, she not only gained a reputation for being able to score a lot of points per game, but broke many records. She scored so many points that she surpassed University of Utah’s Keith Van Horn to become the all-time leading scorer in the WAC – the first of many male-dominated records she broke during her career. She also got her team into the Sweet Sixteen, broke records for field goals and assists, and eventually was inducted into the Colorado State Hall of Fame.
Despite her skills, Hammon didn’t always have an easy time on the court. She was undrafted during her rookie season after graduation, but she didn’t give up her dream of being an all-star basketball player. She was given to the New York Liberty as a free agent, but not signed to the team, and some of the established players there bullied her. She was elbowed, pushed, shoved, and once was even pushed to the floor so hard she bruised her entire face. Hammon kept playing ball, ignoring the way she was treated, and her determination eventually won her team over. She even became friends with Vickie Johnson, one of the established players who had beaten her up when she first arrived.
It wasn’t until 2004 that Hammon got a starting position, but she had earned it through perseverance and her hard work scoring points for the team. In the years in between, she was often benched until the last second, when she was put in to instantly score points for a team that was about to lose the game.
Also in 2004, a knee injury from years earlier flared up, causing Hammon to be unable to play for most of the season. She still didn’t give up. After her knee healed enough that she could play again, she won several more awards.
Going Beyond Necessities
Most people don’t know that Becky Hammon is a naturalized Russian citizen. In March 2008, about a year after she had been traded to the San Antonio Silvers from the New York Liberty, Hammon became a dual citizen so that she could play basketball in Russia. She had always wanted to compete in the Olympics and had never made the US shortlist. Soon after gaining Russian citizenship, she was invited to play on the Russian team. Some Americans hated her for her decision to do so, which she agonized over. Hammon emphasized that “It’s not about getting back at the US. It’s never been about that. Nobody would love to play for their country more than me. [USA Basketball] had an idea of what they wanted, and it wasn’t me. You go where you’re wanted.”
It was a gamble that paid off – Hammon played in the Olympics twice and helped Russia win a bronze medal the first time she played.
According to Rich Campbell at SportsCareers.com, the Spurs’ “hiring of Becky Hammon may be a watershed moment.” Citing the book Moneyball, he notes that when a team or a business recognizes talents that others overlook, they gain a competitive advantage. Hammon’s success demonstrates that too many women are “undervalued assets,” just waiting to be discovered.
Hammon has been determined to make it in basketball player all her life. Whether she was paying her dues at New York Liberty as an unsigned player, going to Russia in pursuit of her dream of playing in the Olympics, or healing from a knee injury, she never gave up. That’s why she’s won so many awards and how it led her to the breakthrough moment where she became the first female assistant coach to an NBA team.
Written by Ashford University staff