The Knicks Need to Hire the Best Woman for the Job
Like most sports-obsessed men, on the day that my wife and I went for our prenatal appointment to inform us of the sex of our baby, I walked in with a clear rooting interest.
And sure enough, when the envelope was unsealed and my preferred choice was read, I let out a fist pump that would have made prime Tiger Woods proud. There was no use hiding it; I got what I wanted.
We were having a girl.
To this day, I'm not a hundred percent sure why I so desperately wanted this to be the case. Part of it certainly had to do with my fear of trying to raise a boy in these times we live in. Part of it probably had to do with that fact that I was far closer to my mom than either my dad or stepdad, despite the fact that both played a large role in raising me. And part of it definitely had to do with my wanting to play some small part in further equalizing the sexes in society by raising (knocks on wood) a strong, successful young woman.
But more than all of that, I think I wanted to have a girl because all the people I admired most in the world were women.
Who could blame me? Being born a man is like starting life on second base; if you're a white one, you're already halfway between third and home. I know this from experience, but also from simple observation. Less than a quarter of Congressional seats are filled by women. They direct just 15 percent of Hollywood's major studio releases. Only five percent are CEO's of Fortune 500 companies.
And as of right now, zero percent of the 123 head coaching jobs in the four major professional North American sports are occupied by women. This is despite the fact that the women who have made inroads into coaching, just like many other fields, are, by definition, extraordinary.
"Extraordinary" and "Knicks" are two words rarely found in the same sentence. Being the first NBA team to hire a female head coach wouldn't necessarily change that, mostly because there are so many other factors at play in determining whether a team is successful besides the aptitude of the person holding the clipboard. For proof of that, look no further than Mike D'Antoni, Larry Brown and Lenny Wilkins, three of the most decorated coaches in NBA history who have all failed to bring the Knicks back to prominence.
But if the goal is to hire the best person for the job, how could the Knicks not be climbing over themselves for Becky Hammon, someone who may or may not be getting an interview with them in the near future?
If accolades are your thing, Hammon is a six-time WNBA All-Star who ranks fifth on the league's career assist leaderboard and 12th on it's scoring one. Compare that with the totality of current NBA head coaches who have one total All-Star appearance (Doc Rivers in 1988) between them.
She's also been tutored for over half a decade by one of the three or four greatest NBA coaches ever. When given a chance to lead a team on her own, in the 2015 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, all she did was win the whole damn thing.
It's sad that this needs to be uttered at all, and should go without saying: if she were a man, she'd be at the top of everyone's coaching list, and it's not particularly close.
Might she struggle as a first time head coach? Of course. Many do. But one look at leader in the clubhouse for this job and you're reminded that early success is by no means impossible. Tom Thibodeau came out of the gate by winning 75 percent of games he coached over his first two years in Chicago. There are countless more examples of first-timers hitting the ground running.
But of course, no other rookie head coach has had the spotlight on them that would glare in the face of Becky Hammon daily, especially in the media market that is New York City.
Would it be too much for her to handle? Any woman who has ever risen to a position of power traditionally occupied by men (i.e., every position of power ever) has had to answer the same question. While not every one has succeeded, there's not a single reputable source which would suggest that those who haven't have failed because they were a woman.
If you think the nature of sports makes this different, what with lots of testosterone flowing and rowdy locker rooms and all that jazz, I'd encourage you to read the Player's Tribune piece Pau Gasol penned in which he argued, completely unprompted, that Becky Hammon not only deserves to be an NBA head coach, but would thrive as one. Part of it reads:
Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.
That was over two years ago. Hammon still hasn't gotten a shot.
Gasol was also coached by Thibs, and had some nice things to say about him as well around the time he wrote about Hammon, but was nowhere near as effusive in his praise. Gasol, not coincidentally, is European, and doesn't bring with him many of the outdated notions that still pervade American thinking about traditional gender roles. Perhaps he's onto something.
Some would argue that tasking the first female NBA head coach with rescuing the Knicks would be setting that person up for failure and potentially set the movement for female coaches back even further. I'd argue the opposite. If Becky Hammon came to New York and failed, the response wouldn't be "Of course she failed, she's a woman;" it would be "Of course she failed, it's the Knicks." There would be more chances to come.
At some point, some team will break one the final glass ceilings we have left in the world. They will be praised for doing so, and then immediately afterwards, the sports world will turn its microscope toward the woman who took the job and begin to look for cracks in the armor. It will likely make the job far more difficult than it has any right to be.
But like every groundbreaking woman who came before, that person will be ready for it, having had more than enough practice working twice as hard as the men around her to get that opportunity in the first place.
Leon Rose should make Becky Hammon the next head coach of the New York Knicks, not because it's the right thing to do or for positive PR, but because he should want the best person for the job.
If they do, I can promise that I will let out another fist pump. And if she's half as good as I think she will be, it will probably be the first of many she's responsible for.