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Spurs' Becky Hammon first woman to direct NBA team

The assistant coach took over the team’s huddles during timeouts and walked the sideline following Gregg Popovich’s ejection

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Becky Hammon took over coaching duties after Gregg Popovich was ejected during the second quarter.

SAN ANTONIO — Becky Hammon etched another entry into the history books Wednesday by becoming the first woman to lead an NBA team, after taking over for coach Gregg Popovich late in the second quarter of the San Antonio Spurs 121-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously, it’s a big deal, a substantial moment,” Hammon said. “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 14 years. I have a lot of time invested, and they have a lot of time invested in me in building me and getting me better.”

Hammon filled in for Popovich when official Derek Richardson ejected the veteran coach with 3:56 left in the second quarter, after he received a pair of technical fouls for arguing a no-call with officials on a play that involved DeMar DeRozan driving to the basket for an attempted layup.

Becky Hammon shares her thoughts after making NBA history.

With assistant coach Will Hardy attempting to restrain him, Popovich walked toward the court yelling at Richardson just before he was whistled for the technical fouls and subsequent ejection.

Hammon immediately took over, walking the sideline, drawing up plays and calling the Spurs’ timeouts. San Antonio’s players saw Hammon’s resumption of Popovich’s duties simply as business as usual.

“Becky has definitely been instrumental for us every time we step out there on the court, even in timeouts with Pop as the head coach,” Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan said.  She’s quick on her feet, understanding defensive coverages, where we should be offensively, what we should run, different mismatches. Her words on the side are always instrumental. Seeing her at the forefront, [it] definitely would have been cool if we would have pulled that [game] out for her.”

Nominated for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021, Hammon is the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history. A three-time All-American at Colorado State, Hammon played for the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars of the WNBA in addition to competing overseas before retiring in 2014 and joining Popovich’s staff that August.

As a player with the Stars, Hammon suffered a torn left ACL in July of 2013. During her rehabilitation from that injury, Hammon spent extensive time attending Spurs practices and coaches’ meetings, where she quickly caught the eye of Popovich, who spoke glowingly about the assistant coach prior to Thursday’s loss to the Lakers.

“Well, obviously, I think very much of her abilities having hired her,” Popovich said. “That all began when I saw her play. She was a leader. Everybody on the team reacted to her. She was very confident, very competitive, and she led the whole show. When I got to know her and she was in our coaches’ meetings before she was hired, while she was hurt that first season, I found out about her knack for the game; her innate understanding of what wins, what loses, what has to be there to make a program. So, she’s got all the tools necessary to be a heck of a coach in our league.”

Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray agreed.

“I’m a player, she’s a coach. I think she has the knowledge,” said Murray, who finished Thursday’s game with a career-high 29 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. “I think she knows the game really well. But it’s up to her if she really, really wants it. If she wants it, I believe she could do it.

“She’s passionate about the game, she’s passionate about winning. She knows everything about it. So, if she does [become a head coach permanently] or if she doesn’t, I’m gonna love her the same and appreciate her the same. The future is bright for her. I hope she sticks to it and doesn’t give up. One day it may happen, or it may not happen. Who knows? But she’s definitely on the right road, and I think everyone here appreciates her.”

“Becky Hammon is an enormously talented coach and it was outstanding to see her reach such a truly significant milestone,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “She continues to be an inspiration to so many people, especially countless young women and girls. Kudos to Becky on this well-deserved achievement and to Pop and the Spurs organization for leading the way.”

Popovich was ejected last season during a Nov. 16 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers and missed a contest in Charlotte last March to attend to personal business. In both of those instances, former Spurs Hall of Fame power forward Tim Duncan took over at the helm for Popovich. Duncan opted against returning to the Spurs’ coaching staff this season, leaving Hammon as San Antonio’s top assistant.

“Any player or anybody who knows the history of women’s basketball, what she meant to the sport, having her around, you don’t think twice about it,” DeRozan said. “She fits right in. It feels like one of us, honestly. It’s great to have that. Whenever she speaks, we listen. We’re all ears. Since I’ve been here, it’s been great just having her.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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