If Becky Hammon Isn’t Qualified to Be an NBA Head Coach, Who Is?

As the first woman to ever interview for a head coaching job, Hammon is suddenly facing some pretty arbitrary restrictions from critics. Let’s discuss them.

In the midst of the NBA Playoffs — the culmination of a gruelling regular season and the display of the pinnacle of athletic ability in the sport of basketball — the Milwaukee Bucks managed to re-enter the conversation, despite being already bounced from contention by the Boston Stevenses. Why you may ask? Well:

The NBA community has long (read: 2–3 years, tops) regarded Becky Hammon as a unicorn in her own right — a woman breaking through the barriers of what felt like a long-established and gated boys’ club. Through her position with the Spurs, Hammon earned herself an inside look at what it takes to lead an NBA franchise and began to change the narrative from ‘a woman can’t coach in the NBA’ to ‘it’s just a matter of time’. Apparently though, that time is not now.

Since Woj’s tweet, there’s been a growing chorus of criticisms and jokes ranging from mildly inappropriate to downright offensive, including the greatest hits such as “how can grown men possibly react to a woman in the locker room.” I don’t know that it’s a requirement for a coach to shower with the team however, but that’s neither here nor there. Even with her recent accomplishments — such as leading the Spurs Summer League team to success — there was a certain demographic of NBA fans in the “not so fast” corner when it came to even considering Hammon as a head coach.

I want to believe that the Bucks believe Becky Hammon would be a good coach, but the jaded side of me, the one that has seen 2016 outwards, has a tingling feeling that this feels like PR move. I don’t know. I’m not here to speculate on that. What I am here to do is to address criticisms from a certain pocket of the internet about Becky Hammon’s qualifications to be a NBA head coach. Some writers for major publications were quick to point out that Hammon did not, in fact, play in the NBA so that makes her entirely not fit for the position. Which begs the question. What does make one fit for a position as the NBA head coach?

Played in the NBA?

Oh how I long for the playing days of NBA Scoring Champion and two-time MVP Erik Spoelstra… Wait, that doesn’t sound right. Possibly because Erik Spoelstra never actually suited up for a NBA team. In fact, many of the coaches at the helm of NBA teams today have not.

If you visit the distinguished Brad Stevens’ biography on Wikipedia, you can read that his crowning playing achievement is that he “averaged more than 8 points for 3 seasons” in college. The NBA’s best head coach of all time, Gregg Popovich, himself never suited up for an NBA team. Yet, all three are successfully coaching at the game’s highest level, have the respect of observers around the league as elite at their job, and two of them have multiple NBA Championships to show for it.

It seems like playing in the NBA isn’t exactly a requirement for a NBA head coaching position.

Be Able to Hold a Clipboard?

A clipboard is an essential tool in a head coach’s arsenal. It allows them to draw up plays, limited only by their imagination (and the general constraints of the rule of the game). It is a map-like, proportionate representation of a NBA court that is symmetrical in a sense that there are two baskets, two three point lines, two paint areas and one centre court. It’s the most basic of utilities at the disposal of a NBA coach, helping them articulate play design. It would seem that anyone who is successful at the NBA level should have at least some basic experience with handling this particular piece of equipment. Or at least be able to tell which side us up and which side is down (hint: they’re entirely interchangeable since the court is symmetrical).

And yet:

Be Spatially Aware of Your Surroundings and Players?

Look, as a coach you have to manage many moving pieces. You have to design plays on both offense and defense that account for at least ten individuals being on the court at the same time. You have to manage your players’ minutes, fouls and performance. You’re as involved in their game as anyone could ever be outside of possessing their body. You have to be constantly aware of your players’ skills, limitations and positioning on court.

Or you could just be oblivious to all that.

Be Able to Design Elaborate Defensive and Offensive Sets?

A lot goes into playing the game of basketball. At its core, it absolutely is an competition between incredibly talented athletes, but exceptional coaching that knows how to utilize your own (and your opponent’s) personnel can often give you the edge. Think back to the end of Game 3 between Boston and Philly when Brad Stevens specifically drew up a play designed to take the 76ers best rim protector so far out of the paint he may as well have ended up in New England.

That’s how NBA coaches scheme. They synthesize a complex collection of information from previous experiences to player tendencies and various situations (such as time left, the score, etc) to come up with the best possible gameplan. And then they have to change it about 15 times per game to adjust as your opponent adjusts (or 0 times per game if you’re Dwane Casey). It requires a special kind of tactical mind to succeed at this.

Or you could:

Be A Man?

So far seems to be the only reasonable leg of defense the anti-Hammon contingent have left to stand on. And if I had to guess, that’s about to change, because what everyone seems to be forgetting about Hammon is…

Be Qualified Through Having Professional Experience as An Athlete, Serving Under one of the Most Revolutionary Minds in the History of Coaching and/or Basketball and Demonstrating a Level of Success when Given The Opportunity Such as Winning the Summer League

Teams put a lot of consideration into hiring their next head coach. Even the franchise that allowed Jason Kidd to outstay his welcome by about 40 games and then replaced him with someone who would just run the same system, puts adequate resources to research, scout and interview the appropriate candidates.

The Milwaukee Bucks looked at Becky Hammon’s resume, they looked at her time with Pop, her time as a WNBA Athlete (16 year veteran), her performance when she led the Spurs Summer League Team to a Summer League victory and her reputation among players and coaches (including Pop and LeBron) and decided that she had the right qualifications to warrant an interview despite never having played in the NBA (ironically, the top candidate Steve Clifford hasn’t played in the NBA either). For us to look at this issue in any other way would be doing ourselves, the league and most importantly Hammon herself a disservice.

As the NBA struggles to raise the WNBA’s profile through a variety of valiant, albeit misguided efforts (please don’t move the WNBA games to the winter and stop marketing it as “just for women”) and is coming off its biggest scandal since Donald Sterling got turfed, there is an organic opportunity to make a monumental statement about gender equality and access to opportunity. She may not get the job, but Becky Hammon is being considered, should be considered, and will have the opportunity to prove that she is the best candidate for the job, regardless of whatever arbitrary qualifications you may have for her in your head. And that, in and of itself, already feels like a win.

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