Gasol: Becky Hammon, Igor Kokoškov 'Reflect the Larger World'

by Cody Cunningham

The Suns made history last week by hiring the first European born-and-raised head coach. Igor Kokoškov broke many barriers on his way to Phoenix and this was just another door opened throughout his journey.

Pau Gasol wrote a piece on ThePlayersTribune.com about Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. Just like how she was the first female assistant in the NBA, Kokoškov was the first European assistant back in 2003.

Although Gasol described the situations between the two coaches as different, he wrote that it’s a beautiful thing that the NBA is beginning to reflect the larger world.

“By all measures, this was a very cool piece of news for the league,” Gasol wrote about the Suns head coaching hire. “But on a personal level…man, I have to tell you: this was a special moment for me.”

It hit home for Gasol who was drafted third overall out of Spain in 2003. His high draft position and the fact that he was from overseas resulted in backlash of the selection at the time.

 “It’s been 17 years now since I was drafted,” Gasol wrote. “Yet I can still remember the comments from some of the people at the time. It was, Oh, no … you can’t take a Euro at No. 3. That’s craziness. Maybe later in the first round, yes. This kid has talent after all. But top five??? Top five … there you’re looking for a franchise player. Someone with a killer instinct, and leadership capabilities. And these Euro guys — they’re soft, man. No, you can’t take this kid at No. 3.”

Fast-forward 17 seasons and that European-born player is now a two-time NBA Champion and a six-time NBA All-Star. It was an uphill journey for Gasol and he sees many of the same difficulties faced in the modern coaching candidates such Hammon and Kokośkov.

“At first, no teams in the league are staffing up with foreign assistants,” Gasol said. “But then some innovative teams start to do it…and they have success. And then you see the other teams start to follow. And now, Igor has the Suns’ job as their head guy.”

Igor Kokoskov Clippers

Gasol credits the NBA for continuously moving forward and becoming more diverse, but to not stop there.

“So what I would say to my NBA family right now, I think, is, Hey — let’s all keep up the great work. Let’s be proud,” Gasol wrote. “But let’s also not be satisfied.”

With Kokośkov becoming the first European hire and Hammon receiving head coaching interest, Gasol sees that the league is moving in the right direction.

“A more complacent league, it might take a look at these accomplishments — and be comfortable saying, O.K., we did it, we’re finished. But the NBA is not a complacent league,” Gasol wrote. “It’s a great league.”

As Kokośkov continues to break barriers, lead his legacy and influence the NBA, the league itself with continue to accept diversity just as it did when he was hired on in 2003.

“To me, a great league would take a look at this, and say, We’ve come a long way, and we’ve shown a lot of growth … but there’s still a lot more growing left for us to do. A great league would say, Yes, this is progress — but it isn’t the finish line.”