This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for UKTN Sports. For more information about The Opinion Section of UKTNplease see the FAQ.
The Las Vegas Aces won the WNBA Championship on Sunday after beating the Connecticut Sun 78-71, making them the first team from the desert city to win a professional sports title.
The Aces have held their ground with conviction and intent from the start of the season. This franchise has dedicated players and an adoring fan base, plus a coach who was named the 2022 WNBA Coach of the Year.
This was from Becky Hammon freshman coaching in the WNBA. Before joining the franchise in Las Vegas, Hammon was an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs alongside NBA icon Tim Duncan. Both legends were under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich, arguably one of the greatest men the game has ever coached.
“The talent on the field was elite, and it was clear that” [the players] worked incredibly hard, complemented each other well and all bought into the system by freshman head coach, Becky Hammon,” says Lindsay Gibbswell-known sportswriter and author of the power games newsletter.
“In her debut year in the WNBA as head coach, Hammon, who became the highest-paid coach in the off-season, really put all the basics together and made sure they clicked.”
Hammon a phenomenon
Hammon is a phenomenon in itself. After playing basketball at Colorado State University, she didn’t go rafting, but played in the WNBA with the New York Liberty for 16 years. She retired and ended her career with the San Antonio Stars in 2014.
The Stars moved to Las Vegas to become the Aces in 2018. Hammon was the Stars all-time leader in assists per game with a points average of 15.6, and was the WNBA leader in free throw percentage with 89.7 percent.
VIEW | Las Vegas Aces capture WNBA title:
She is a player and a coach that I have long admired. And she made me think deeply about the ways men can help build sports for everyone. I fell in love with men’s basketball because of the San Antonio Spurs. I was always a hockey and football fan, but my ex-husband loved basketball.
I watched a few games with him, but it wasn’t until I saw Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker play together so fluidly that I was mesmerized. As I learned more about Popovich (known everywhere as “Pop”), I started to appreciate the game, his coaching and that team even more. The type of team culture at the Spurs was different and more aligned with what I wanted sport to be.
In 2015, my mentor and friend Dave Zirin went to San Antonio and attended a private meeting hosted by the Spurs and Dr. John Carlos. In those days, it wasn’t often that a sportswriter and an Olympian who faced the evils of systemic racism in sports would hang out with NBA stars and talk about the famous protest of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics — or social discussed issues so candidly. But those are the kinds of conversations Popovich wanted to have with his players, his team and his staff. This way you build a better sports culture.
LISTEN: John Carlos reflects on his historic Black Power salute:
Q19:07John Carlos reflects on his historic Black Power salute
Hammon deserves history
It should come as no surprise that a year earlier, Pop hired Hammon as the second female assistant coach in the league and the first to hold a full-time job. On December 30, 2021, Hammon became the first woman to be the head coach of an NBA team after Pop suffered a technical foul and was ejected. Hammon took over on the couch. Pop downplayed the incident by focusing on her skills and not her gender. He said very forcefully and very succinctly, “I didn’t hire Becky to make history. She deserved it.’
That support from a leader like Pop, a five-time championship-winning coach, changed the way people saw a woman on the bench. That matters. It is very important to have one of the best players (Duncan) by her side and an NBA Coach of the Year winner who gives her the chance. But no NBA team called her to take up the mantle and we watched and saw Hammon being passed for other coaching jobs.
In early 2022, Las Vegas brought her to the head coach of the Aces. She was ready. And she did exactly what we knew she would do in a league with the best coaches and players in the world. Her precision and focus are unyielding. While Hammon was about to take her first title as head coach, Pop came to show how much he believes in her and always has. The pride in his face and the joy in hers are amazing.
Besides Pop, another great example is Aces owner Mark Davis, who chose to attend Game 4 of the WNBA playoffs in Connecticut while his other team, the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, had their season opener at home. Davis was credited with rating a women’s sports team as highly as a professional men’s team. Yes, his decision meant he could receive the championship trophy. But a man who chooses to support women’s sports and fully invest in their success is a sight we need to see.
I believe that women are powerful, strong and fantastic. I know that what they achieve is due to guts, sacrifice and a community of other women. It is also my own experience. As one of the few racialized women in the sports media in this country, I know how men can support the careers of female colleagues.
I’m lucky enough to have a few mentors and “working spouses” who have been nothing but encouraging. They trust my work and value my opinion. I’m not nearly as talented as a writer as Hammon is as a basketball player or coach, but having friends in my career who support me in a doll-like way has boosted my confidence and drive to get better.
Mark Davis, owner of the Las Vegas Aces, shows what can happen when an owner views women’s sports as a business investment rather than a charity expense. He has seriously invested in this organization. #WNBAFinals
I consider myself lucky to have people who cheer me up when I was feeling flat or frustrated. Hammon being passed over by NBA franchises many times must have been daunting.
But if we’re going to recognize the importance of women’s sport, men must start treating their colleagues with the respect they deserve. And that includes giving them the opportunities we know they deserve.