Two years ago, Becky Hammon, a gritty WNBA point guard with a flair for nailing decisive three-pointers, was chatting with San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker about life after basketball when he made a bold prediction. "I told her, You could be the first female coach in the NBA," Parker remembers. "[Spurs head coach Gregg] Popovich would hire you."
Call Parker a fortune-teller, because he was right. In a historic move last summer, the Spurs hired Hammon, making her the first full-time female assistant coach in the four major North American pro sports. Now, Hammon, who was known as Big Shot Becky as a player, is helping Popovich call the shots. She sat down with SI KIDS to talk about her first year coaching the defending NBA champions.
Making a Connection
Hammon played 16 seasons in the WNBA with the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars, and in 2011 she was named one of the league's top 15 players of all time. Credited with having a sharp eye and a cerebral approach to the game, the seven-time All-Star shadowed the Spurs' coaching staff during the team's 2014 championship run before she was hired. Hammon's experience with playmaking, strategy, and the unwelcome bumps and bruises during her career allow her to connect with superstar veterans Tim Duncan and Manu Ginóbili. Duncan is in his 18th season, while Ginóbili (near right) is in his 13th. "I still have a player's switch in me. I always want that switch, because I always want to be able to relate to players and find common ground with them," Hammon says. "Sometimes I joke with Manu and Tim, 'Getting old sucks!' I can relate. I played for a long time, and they have very long careers. The aches and pains that come along with the season — I've been through that. I've lived that life."
Back-to-Back Triple-Overtime Losses
In December, San Antonio became the third team in NBA history to play in two consecutive triple-overtime games (against the Memphis Grizzlies, left, and Portland Trail Blazers). Both games resulted in losses for the Spurs. "In the NBA, it's not over until its over," Hammon says. "Unfortunately, the outcome wasn't what we wanted both times. Sometimes you learn way more in losses than you do in wins. A team that's been tested, tried, and put through the fire is going to be there in the end. This team has that mentality. When we get knocked down, we get back up again."
Creating and Presenting Scouting Reports
As one of the Spurs assistant coaches responsible for writing and delivering scouting reports to the team, Hammon looks for foes' trends and patterns around which San Antonio can build its plan of attack. She watches five to seven opposing teams' games and creates a plan explaining what the Spurs need to do offensively and defensively to win the game. The first time she walked the Spurs through a scouting report was "nerve-wracking," she says. Hammon is quick to point out that some Spurs vets already know how to approach the opposition. "You get up there in front these guys, and Tim Duncan is looking at you. He's been here for [so long], and you think I'm telling him something he doesn't already know?" Hammon says with a laugh. That doesn't stop her from doing her job, though. Hammon, who works mostly with Parker (below) and the Spurs' guards, calls out alerts and reminders during games. "There could be something in a pick-and-roll situation, maybe in the coverages, and I'll say, 'This is what they are giving up,'" Hammon says. "Or I'll tell them to just be alert because it could be different the next time. These guys have been playing a long time, but in general, reminders are good."
Being a Role Model
"I hope we are changing the culture and mind-set of the next generation about women in sports," Hammon says. "Dads and moms come up to me and say how proud they are of me. It's a conversation starter with their kids. It's so important to talk about women in sports because we fight so many stigmas. I've had people tell me I was in their son or daughter's textbook. That's crazy for me. Or that I was a 'current event' when the news of me joining the Spurs coaching staff first broke. For so long I was Matt Hammon's little sister. Now he's Becky Hammon's brother. That's a shift. I think we'll see more of a shift in the NBA. There are many women out there with great basketball minds. [My hiring] was just one step."
Championship Ring Ceremony
"Opening night at the AT&T Center was memorable," Hammon says. "I saw the guys get their rings." Hammon also saw firsthand the hard work that led to those rings last season when Popovich invited her to coaching meetings, practices, film sessions, and games, including the championship clincher. When she watched (from left) Duncan, Ginóbili, Parker, and the Spurs get their rings last October as an official member of the coaching staff, it was a great way to tip off the season in San Antonio. "That was a proud moment. It was really neat to watch," Hammon recalls. "It was magical."
Photos: Shane Bevel/NBAE/Getty Images (Stars), Greg Nelson for Sports Illustrated (portrait), Lukas Schulze/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP (Hammon and Ginobli), D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images (game action, rings), John W. McDonough for Sports Illustrated (coaching), Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images (with kids)