Lindsey Harding | Learning a New Game

On April 10th, 76ers General Manager Elton Brand announced the promotion of former no. 1 WNBA draft pick Lindsey Harding from her role as a scout to player development coach. The Duke standout, however, is no stranger to breaking new ground. Below is a profile on Harding we originally published on December 14th detailing her journey to becoming just the second WNBA player ever to be hired by an NBA organization as a full-time scout. As you'll read, she's the type of person who seems to succeed at whatever it is she puts her mind to.

Not too long ago, Lindsey Harding seemed destined for Hollywood.

At least that’s what Gail Goestenkors thought.

“I fully expected to see her on the big screen,” said the former Duke University women’s basketball head coach, whom Harding played for during a standout career as a point guard for the Blue Devils.

In an individual meeting one time, Harding surprised Goestenkors by telling her that acting was her favorite class at the renowned ACC school. 

“She was getting ready to do what I believe was a monologue,” Goestenkors remembered, “and she said, ‘Do you want me to do it for you?’

“I said, ‘Yes!,’ and I mean she jumped right into character. I was about in tears, because it was so amazing and realistic. That’s when I said, ‘Oh my gosh, you have a gift.’”

Goestenkors wasn’t alone in feeling that Harding had a legit shot at becoming an actress. So too, Goestenkors said, did the acting coaches Harding continued to train with while she was in the WNBA.

Listen to Lindsey Harding's Appearance on The BroadCast

Whether Tinseltown is ever in the cards for the former National College Player of the Year and no. 1 draft pick remains to be seen. The anecdote, however, speaks to a broader, pertinent, and important theme of her life.

It’s a quality, by all accounts, that hasn’t changed, especially as it applies to Harding’s new line of work, a scout for the 76ers.

The game she’s learning might be different, but the approach - responsible for so many of her successes - has stayed the same.

Transitioning Into New Territory

In the modern NBA, four games in four nights is an unthinkable proposition. Truly.

Given the increasing (and justified) prioritization of player rest, the mere notion of inflicting such a demanding stretch on a player or team would be stopped dead before it could even qualify for nonstarter status.

These days, Lindsey Harding could be at a game on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Perhaps a Friday, too.

“It depends on the schedule, and who we’re trying to see,” said Harding, now four months into scouting for the Sixers.

Harding, by no means, is a stranger to the grind.

After completing a decorated career at Duke that earned her the no. 1 selection in the 2007 WNBA draft, Harding embarked on a pro career that was long and strong. It lasted 11 seasons, and featured stints with the Minnesota Lynx, Washington Mystics, Atlanta Dream, Los Angeles Sparks, New York Liberty, and Phoenix Mercury.

In the off-season, Harding typically packed up and went overseas, like many of her fellow WNBA peers. Opportunities in Europe took her to Lithuania, Russia, and Turkey, the country where her journey as a player officially ended 19 months ago.  

“I came back [to the United States] in May of 2017, and was done,” Harding said. “I took four months, and just vacationed. I was on any beach I could.”

But for someone who, for two decades, had poured so much sweat and cerebral equity into basketball, her feelings for the game didn’t just recede into the ocean.

So, Harding decided to go to that year’s NBA Summer League.

One of the most impactul encounters she had in Las Vegas was with Bethany Donaphin, then the Associate Vice President of NBA Basketball Operations, and now the Head of WNBA League Operations.

Donaphin tipped Harding off about a newly-created initiative for former NBA players called the Basketball Operations Associate Program.

By the fall, Harding was in New York.

“You were given the chance to rotate through different departments within [NBA] basketball operations, from officiating to data analytics to CBA / salary cap, just everything to get an understanding,” said Harding. “It also helps with the transition from playing, what direction do I really want to go.”

More than anything, Harding’s year in the Basketball Operations Associate Program gave her a sense of what she didn’t want to do, and that was be in an office around the clock.

“I really wanted to work with a team. I missed that competitiveness, I missed ‘my’ team. So, from there, I talked to different teams and organizations about getting my foot in the door.”

A door opened earlier this year in Camden, New Jersey, and here Harding is now, the first real chapter of her post-playing career well underway.

Putting a Premium on Relationships

Everytime Harding drops by the 76ers Training Complex, which, in-season, is a rare occurrence, due to all the traveling she does, she gets a bunch of hugs.

Fine by her.

By necessity, Harding’s new role requires her to throw her arms around a bunch of different people, in a metaphorical embrace.

That’s because intelligence gathering is at the heart of her gig as a scout, “a big piece of the pie,” as Vince Rozman put it.

“It’s a huge component, especially from the NBA perspective,” said Rozman, Senior Director of Scouting for the Sixers. “Everybody knows what players are good and what they do. Understanding how they might fit, how they might react to our team and our coaching staff, it’s huge.”

Coaches, players, other scouts, executives, agents - all represent potential sources of intel capable of helping paint a more complete profile of a player.

Scouts like Harding are responsible for procuring this type of information.

And what’s the most direct, effective, and reliable way to unearth nuggets, big or small, that could eventually influence key personnel decisions?

Relationships, which Harding is all about.

It can be a tricky dance, as straightforward as Harding makes it sound. 

Imagine this scenario:

You’re Lindsey Harding, an already recognizable figure in basketball circles, given your accomplishments on the court.

Now, you’re a scout, and odds are, just about everyone of your counterparts probably knows who you work for, and what you’ve come to the arena for that day.

Valuable intellectual property.

Harding’s personality has helped her cut through any potential awkwardness. “Genuine” was a word Rozman used to describe her.

“She’s easy to talk to, very outgoing, confident, and approachable. All of those qualities, once you walk into a gym and need to talk to a coach or other people scouting the game, it’s helpful, it goes a long way.”

Sounds a lot like the point guard Gail Goestenkors coached at Duke.

“She’s outgoing, for one, and she’s never met a stranger, for two,” Goestenkors said of Harding. “When you’ve got a great communicator who’s outgoing, but also very caring, sensitive, and curious, I think people are naturally drawn to that, and feel comfortable. And when people feel comfortable, they tend to open up more, and share more. I think that’s vital.”

Nailing the ice breaker, Harding has learned, is critical to starting good dialogue. She often picks the brains of some of the Sixers’ more experienced scouts for tips on how to get the conversation rolling.

“You don’t ever want to be someone who comes in and is like, ‘Hi, I’m Lindsey, soooooo…,” Harding joked. “That’s kind of rude, because people have done it to me. I don’t know if they think, ‘Oh she’s a newbie, she’s going to tell us everything we want.’”

Harding, as gracious and affable as she is, doesn’t. She’s catching on quick.

“Everyone’s been very, very helpful.”

Offering a Wealth Perspective

To only highlight Harding’s interpersonal skills would be to do a disservice to the well-rounded package she brings to the 76ers.

It would also be shortsighted to simply play up another narrative that’s associated with her.

“I don’t want it to be ‘The Sixers mostly hired you for that,’” said Harding, the second WNBA player and first African-American WNBA player to land a full-time scouting position with an NBA franchise.

She even addressed the matters of gender and race with the Sixers during her job interview. The response heartened her.

“They were like, ‘Yeah, we see that, but you’ve had experiences and have done things that most of our people haven’t. We want you to bring that, and we feel it’s going to be different, unique, and that it’s going to help us.’

In Harding, here’s what the Sixers saw:

“The combination of her skill as a player, and the personality and the desire to coach and learn and integrate herself into the NBA, that package was overwhelming,” said Brett Brown.

Determination, and an insatiable desire to succeed have long been parts of Harding’s DNA.

Before basketball, she was a track-and-field star. Subsequently, Harding picked up hoops relatively late.

While being recruited for college, she was ranked predominantly on state level lists in Texas, mostly flying under the national radar.

But by the time Harding departed Duke for the WNBA, she was the sixth player in ACC history to reach 1,000 points; 500 rebounds; 500 assists; and 250 steals. Putting how good she was into further context, her no. 10 jersey hangs in the rafters of famed Cameron Indoor Stadium, and this past fall, she was inducted into the Duke Sports Hall of Fame.

“She just continued to work and improve,” said former coach Gail Goestenkors. “When it was all said and done, she was the top player in the country, and the no. 1 draft pick. That’s how far she came. She was very good, don’t get me wrong. But she wasn’t considered one of the elite. But by the time she finished, she was the elite.”

In addition to Harding’s work ethic, the Sixers were intrigued by the vantage point she could bring to the scouting staff as a former pro who had not only played extensively in the United States, but also, particularly, in Europe.

“She’s played in the WNBA, overseas, and she was obviously a high-level prospect,” Vince Rozman, the Sixers’ Senior Scouting Director, said. “She’s experienced all of these types of progressions that players we’re looking at have gone through. She’s really seen it all.”

Harding, who played for Belarus at the 2016 Olympics, admits she wouldn’t see the sport the way she does now had she not competed internationally. There were differences everywhere - in styles of play, coaching, and cultures.

“There are a lot of things I did learn from [international basketball], different talent, different players,” she said. “Some players you’d look at and say they’re not a great athlete, they’re not this and that, but how do they keep ending with 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds]? There’s something about this player that makes them good, and I really liked focusing on that too.”

In 13 seasons with the Sixers, Rozman has come to believe that diversity of perspective is an imperative dynamic to have within a scouting department. Harding, given the depth of her experiences, figured to enrich the room.

“Most of the year isn’t coming to answers, it’s coming to identify questions, and argue through them,” said Rozman. “As many different backgrounds and viewpoints as you have, it’s great.”

“It is sophisticated,” Brett Brown said about the art of scouting. “It’s intel gathering, it’s the nuances of seeing something that others might not see. It’s studied stuff, it’s homework stuff, it’s gut feel stuff.

End Game

The way the world works, now that Harding has gotten started scouting for the Sixers, it’s only natural for us to wonder what her end game is, right? Where does someone with as intriguing a backstory as hers want to ultimately end up?

At the moment, Harding, who's scouting a little bit of everything for the Sixers, is just happy to have found a rhythm to her still relatively fresh routine, while continuing to meet new people, and expand her network of contacts.

“I’m much more comfortable now,” Harding said. “Everyone, not just my organization, but other scouts, has been very helpful.”

For as long as Gail Goestenkors has known Harding, which is pretty much all of Harding’s adult life, she’s admired her former player’s perpetual interest in “everything going on in life, and seeing life as a great adventure.”

“She said, ‘I’m glad I’m doing this right now, because I’m behind the scenes, and I get to see how things work and how difficult it is and the decisions that need to be made. So this is so good for her.’

Harding was always a fast study anyways, Goestenkors said.

“She learns quickly, adapts, adjusts, and then excels.”

As Harding continues to learn more and more about the ways of the NBA, she’s already discovered that when it comes to professional trajectory on the basketball operations side of things, oftentimes “there’s no exact path.”

“You don’t go to ninth grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, then 12th grade,” said Harding. “Some people go straight to 12th grade.

“For me, and how I’m taking this, it’s one step at a time. I look at this as the opportunity of being a scout, a great opportunity to learn what everyone does, how they do it, and see what opportunities I have next.”

The partnership with the Sixers so far  has been productive, and promising.

“I just feel that at this stage of her life, and the timing we have in organization, I think it’s a great fit on both sides,” said Brett Brown. “We’re thrilled to have her. Male or female, she’s great at what she does.”