Sacramento, CA – Becky Hammon made headlines last year when she became the first woman hired as a NBA assistant coach. This summer she became the first ever woman to coach the NBA Summer League in Vegas. Hammond also led the San Antonio Spurs to win the Summer League Championship. This season another phenomenal woman joins the elite league.
Former WNBA player and coach Nancy Lieberman was hired this summer to help out during summer league with Sacramento Kings. Head coach George Karl was so impressed, he decided to bring her back for the season. Lieberman becomes the second woman hired as an assistant coach since Hammon was hired in 2014.
“I thought about this 12 or 13 years ago,” said Karl. “I remember in Milwaukee I had list of ladies that I was thinking about interviewing and hiring. I just never got down that road. I’m glad it’s opening up a window, I think its going to gradually grow. There’s definitely a lot of positives to it.”
Thursday night both ladies had the opportunity to catch up when both their teams faced each other in a preseason game. The Kings took advantage of a Spurs team who were without their starters and head coach Gregg Popovich. They beat San Antonio 95-92 with both women on opposing benches.
Hammon enters her second season as an assistant coach and does not want to talk about opening the door for Lieberman. Both women who were elite players in the WNBA are humbled to be apart of the NBA as coaches but their path to success is more than just being a woman on the bench.
“Let me correct you real quick,” Hammon said. “Nancy and the older players opened doors for me a long time ago to get the WNBA established, so I’m really riding what other women did for me to be here. If there was no WNBA which she [Lieberman] fought so hard to get for my generation, I wouldn’t here today.”
The the success for both Hammon and Lieberman began with the WNBA, a women’s counterpart to the NBA. The journey wasn’t easy but as a whole the league and players earned their respect. The opportunity to crossover may not be for everyone but it’s a opportunity for the elite to embark on path that others may follow.
“We were never in a contest. If Jackie Robinson makes it to major league baseball and if there was no Larry Doby, we have failed,” Lieberman said. “We have won because Becky did open a door and I’m proud of her, not only as my sister and my friend but as a professional. But the real sense of accomplishment in winning is that less than a year later there’s somebody else in the league.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was quoted by saying “Whether it’s Becky or another woman, especially when we see the number of young women playing our sport, we see the number of women in the WNBA and we see, increasingly, the number of women who work in the NBA. I think, just like we’ve seen enormous change in our society, just in the last decade, that’s another ceiling, another barrier that will be broken.”
The road to the NBA has not been easy for most but these two women have an exceptional resume. Hammon had an impressive playing career before sustaining an injury. In her time off she began attending Spurs practices. The following year she became an assistant coach. Her knowledge of basketball well exceeds many current head coaches.
Lieberman blazed the trail while being one of the first women playing in the Women’s Pro Basketball League long before the WNBA was established. After retiring as a player Lieberman was hired as a coach and General Manager for the Detroit Shock. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996, and now she’s brings her talent over to the NBA as an assistant coach.
“We didn’t get hired because we’re women, we got hired because we’re qualified,” said Lieberman.
“It’s just basketball. “It’s what we’ve been doing our whole lives,” Hammon said. “We worked tirelessly to become great basketball players. And to be rewarded on the men’s side just shows how far society has come.”
The most important aspect of the job is the players. This league is much younger than the days when both Hammon and Lieberman played basketball. Especially for Lieberman who played professionally with men during her playing days. The goal is to make the players better at every angle and for these two ladies the challenge is welcomed.
“I don’t know if its that big of a deal, said Spurs forward David West. “Everyone knows she’s a good player and has a lot of basketball knowledge. Based on that is why she’s here and not because she’s a lady.
“The pressure is to be a good coach and give back to the guys as much as we can,” said Hammon. “The amazing thing for us is that we get to do what we love. And now make a living at it, at the highest level and that’s really cool.”
“Change is hard and our job is to make it normal. They gave us access and accessibility to make it normal,” Lieberman said.