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Becky Hammon on NBA Head Coaching Jobs: 'They're Just Really Hard to Get'

The Spurs assistant coach talks offseason, leading a team in the future and the WNBA’s inaugural Commissioner’s Cup.

Becky Hammon is about to enter her eighth season as an assistant coach for the Spurs, a historic run that’s included several head coach interviews and an assumption by many that when an NBA team gives a woman the opportunity to lead her own squad, she will be the first.

Hammon is also one of the greatest players in WNBA history, a six-time All-Star with the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars who ranks sixth in all-time assists and fourth in made threes. On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated spoke to Hammon about the Spurs’ offseason, her journey as a coach, the women's game, the WNBA’s inaugural Commissioner’s Cup—which airs Thursday, Aug. 12 at 9 p.m. on Prime Video—and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sports Illustrated: What was your first impression of the WNBA’s Commissioner's Cup when you heard about it, as such a new, inventive contest?

Becky Hammon: I think it's a great concept, honestly. I know for the women who play overseas a lot, whether you're in Europe, or wherever you might be in the world, an interseason tournament is not abnormal. It's something that the WNBA has adopted; I think the NBA has obviously talked around the idea. I know the women have been playing in these kinds of tournaments overseas for a while. And I think it's just another added incentive, another competitive championship that you're going to see a lot of great basketball out of. Obviously, there's monetary winnings. But I think the bigger thing is just the competitiveness that I think it brings out in people. When you watch the WNBA or the NBA you're watching some of the greatest competitors that are walking the planet, so throwing a little tournament in season, I think, is going to be super interesting. And I'm looking forward to tuning in.

SI: The WNBA is 25 years old. Over the past couple of seasons especially we've started to see a spike in popularity surrounding the women's game. This is a broad question with many different answers, but why do you think more people are suddenly taking interest?

BH: One thing I think is just the visibility of it all. You know, I think the women have always put a really good product on it. There's a very pure way about the women and the women's game. And so I just think also, what has gone a long way with the visibility is support from the NBA. I think when you're talking about equity things, whatever the other side is coming along, and being an ally is always positive. And I think the fact that the NBA has taken its players, you know, LeBron James, Chris Paul, all the guys, you can go down the list. These guys are basketball junkies that love watching the WNBA. And if these guys who play at the highest level can have a true appreciation for the WNBA and its players and the brand of basketball that it is, I don't see why, you know, the average Joe down at the YMCA can't appreciate it for what it is.


SI: I know you've said that you do not want to make news if you become a head coach in the NBA just because you'd be the first woman to do so. But knowing that mantle would still be momentous and historic, has the process of trying to become a head coach in the NBA been more difficult than you thought it would be before you were hired by San Antonio?

BH: I think you can throw the female, male thing out the door. There's 30 jobs. They are incredibly hard to get. And when I say 30 jobs, not all 30 are available, right? So there's like maybe four or five that are available. And the amount of pressure and scrutiny that comes with each of those jobs, they're just really hard to get. ... So for me, you know that process, I think I get better every time I go through it and walk through that door. But at the end of the day, an organization is gonna hire me because I'm the best coach for the job. And all the stuff that comes after that will come. There's no stopping that tidal wave. And I think, for me, it's always a fine line of not overlooking or underestimating or downplaying the moment. But my primary focus has to be to become the best coach that I can be, and be there for my players, for whatever organization is the right fit for me?

SI: Building off that, what do you learn about yourself in every head coach interview you've done, and have you walked away from any feeling extremely confident that you'd get the job?

BH: They're all a little bit different. Each team conducts their interview process a little differently, even how they get to their initial list of who they want to bring in and talk to, it's different across the board. And, to me, I'm never going to be the coach that says, 'O.K., what do they want to hear?' I'm not going in there and telling them what they want to hear. I'm going to go in there and tell them about me, what I believe about their team, what I believe about myself, what I believe about the projection of their team, what I feel like they can be. Those are the things I'm going to speak to. And so you gotta hire me for me. I don't want to go in there and be like, 'Oh, they wanted to hear this. And I'm gonna say this,' but it's not authentic. And so for me going through the interview process, not only am I digging into my own leadership style and coaching style, and getting to know myself a little bit better on each round. But I'm also trying to sell my vision, you know, of what it could be. So there's a lot of moving parts in all of it. Like I said, each process, I feel like I get a little bit better. But they're hard! I mean, for anybody. And then like I said, you can add the element of, you know, a little bit of the unknown part. Or 'it's never been done' part, or however you want to phrase it. It adds another layer to fight through. But for me, I can't be consumed with that; I just gotta be consumed with doing my best. That's it. If I can do that and get better, I'm happy with that.

SI: I would assume you 'selling your vision' is very particular to which organization you are interviewing with. But broadly speaking, how do you think you would express your vision as to what a basketball team should look like and how they should operate?

BH: Well, I think it's particular to each team. What I would want to do with [one team] is completely different from what I would want to do with Portland, and their personnel. So I think expectation, vision, reality. How you get all those three to blend together and move forward in the right direction, I think is, you know, that's the artistry of the whole job. So I don't think there's one-size-fits-all 'you've got to do it this way.' I'm very open-minded. Obviously, I know how it's done in San Antonio, but I'm very open to bringing other people on board from other organizations and learning from them. How do they do it? What areas can we improve on? What areas do I like? Or I don't like? All that stuff comes into play. And I think every time you've gotta sit down and dive into that stuff is beneficial.

SI: What do you think about the offseason San Antonio has had so far?

BH: I think first of all you have to have a big picture in mind, right? So we have immediate needs of what we feel like we need to put out on the basketball court to help us be successful, but I think you have big-picture needs and we had a lot of great players that won't be coming back. A lot of veterans that won't be coming back. But I also think in the same breath, it's a great opportunity for growth for our young guys. They're going to have opportunities to have the ball at the end of the game. And so we're kind of gonna see what we have! Right now it's a little bit of the unknown. I mean, DeMar [DeRozan] was our guy for the last few years, and he was great in big moments. So we'll see what guy emerges. I think in a lot of ways, it's a little bit of a blank slate. And that's really exciting, because I think you're going to find new and exciting things to discover about our team and about our individual players.

SI: I wrote this profile of Dejounte Murray earlier this year. And as you said, with DeMar gone, with Patty Mills gone, Dejounte is kind of like a 24-, 25-year-old veteran and the last line of connection to so many of the great Hall of Famers who won titles with the Spurs. As the team transitions into a little bit more of a rebuild, how do you foster that same culture with so many young players entering the organization? And does it all change your own focus or behavior as a coach?

BH: When you talk about foundations and structures, [Dejounte] is kind of that link, but the structure and the foundation comes from Pop first. The culture. He cultivates that, he brings in guys that fit that culture, and then it's about time investment. It's about corporate knowledge. And now you're talking about guys, whether it's Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, even Lonnie Walker. Jakob [Poeltl] has been here for a few years. These guys have some of that corporate knowledge, right? And can kind of be teachers on the floor, because I think one thing that … Pop was always a great teacher, but he also had teachers on the floor. Manu [Ginóbili] was a teacher. Tim [Duncan] was a teacher. You know, Tony [Parker]. So they had the corporate knowledge, but they were also instructing people. There was coaching and talking going on all the time and a lot of it wasn't from Pop. It was those guys kind of taking the reins. And now I think, like I said, with this blank slate, we want to see who steps up and takes those reins, who's going to be that leader and that extension of the coach and somebody who is a connector. I think that's one thing that Tim, Manu and Tony did exceptionally well. Off the court, it translated onto the court. They were connectors. They were relationship people, they were invested in their teammates. And so now who's going to be the man? And I think that's going to be exciting for us to discover.

SI: You just mentioned Pop and his influence. Who's the one coach, if there is one you've either played for or coached with or just admired from afar, who's been particularly influential on you as a coach?

BH: I've had a lot of great coaching, first of all. So I'm super grateful for that. Greg Williams was a great teacher that I had at Colorado State my first two years, Richie Adubato, who came from the NBA over to the WNBA my first few years. He taught me some invaluable stuff, not only on the court but just how to be a pro and how the pro model looks. Because it was quite new for the women at that point. And you had some NBA carryover, guys that came from the NBA and kind of knew how it looked. And now I think it's completely genderless. The leadership in the WNBA doesn't matter. Men, women, whatever, they know the pro model. But Richie was somebody who taught me a lot. Dan Hughes. On a professional level, I would say I've always admired Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens, you know, a long list of coaches who I've watched and then taken notes on, for sure.

SI: Dawn Staley announced she was stepping down as head coach of the United States Women's Olympic team after they won gold a few days ago. Would succeeding her as the team's coach be something you'd have interest in if an opportunity presented itself?

BH: Oh, man, I have no idea. [Laughs.] You can go and do some research on me and USA Basketball. I don't know if that's in the cards or not.

SI: I know the history. I just thought I'd throw it out there.

BH: I think Dawn has done a tremendous job. Carol Callan has done a tremendous job. [Jerry] Colangelo. I mean, the women and the men have been supremely dominant in the basketball world. The rest of the world is catching up. But when we send our best players, I really do think we'll bring back gold every time, no matter who's coaching, because the players are just that good. And you can ask any coach, you can't win without players. But probably one of the most dominant teams ever has been the women's basketball team. I mean, people think the men are dominant. The women steamroll. They are next-level dominance on the world stage. 

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