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Clippings: Becky Hammon made history as the first acting female NBA head coach

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What a way to end 2020.

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a long and difficult year for many people, but sports has managed to give us moments of hope and inspiration throughout, and Wednesday night was no different.

During the second quarter of San Antonio’s game against the Lakers, head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected for arguing a no-call (a true maestro, he kept his mask on the whole time he was barking at the referees). With Popovich out of the game, the acting head coach became Becky Hammon. It is believed to be the first time that a female has been the presiding head coach during an NBA game.

Hammon is in her seventh season as a Spurs assistant. Up until last year, there was always a higher-ranking coach on the bench who would assume head coaching duties in the event of a Popovich dismissal. Last season, the team didn’t have a lead assistant, but the one time Popovich was thrown out, Tim Duncan became the acting head coach because he had scouted that particular opponent.

This time, however, Hammon got the nod. Popovich pointed at her, said, “you got ‘em”, and history was made. Despite the fact that Popovich treated it as any other game, Hammon recognized the weight of the moment (c/o ESPN):

“Obviously, it’s a big deal,” Hammon said after the game. “It’s a substantial moment. I’ve been a part of this organization, I got traded here in 2007, so I’ve been in San Antonio and part of the Spurs and sports organization with the Stars and everything for 13 years. So I have a lot of time invested and they have a lot of time invested in me in building me and getting me better.”

It’s hard to overstate how monumental it felt to watch a woman roam the sidelines for an NBA game. There are eight female assistants in the league this year, but the gap between assistant and head coach still feels almost insurmountable. Even the number of women in the assistant ranks has gone down from 11 last year. A reminder that Natalie Nakase, who was on the Clippers NBA staff from 2018-2020, is working with the Agua Caliente Clippers this year.

As someone who spends a great deal of my time consuming and thinking about the NBA, it was overwhelming to see a woman in that position and yet simultaneously completely ordinary. Hammon has been at this job since 2014. She had a spectacular playing career and has worked her way to this position, not unlike several current NBA coaches. People with her resume are in this role all the time. That she’s a woman shouldn’t matter, even though it does, but hopefully we’re getting to a closer to a point when her presence on the sideline is normalized, when she or another woman can be the acting head coach because it’s her job, not because someone else was ejected.

Congrats to Hammon for being the first, and thank you to Popovich and the Spurs for breaking the mold by hiring her and then putting her in position to something historic. It’s a game I’m never going to forget and something beautiful to cherish from this year.

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