Aces introduce new coach Becky Hammon at press conference

Photo Credit: Jeff Bottari/NBAE/Getty Images

The WNBA franchise that started out as the Utah Starzz has been the Las Vegas Aces since the late 2010s and have known one head coach throughout its history in Bill Laimbeer.

When the Aces tip off in 2022, a figure familiar to the franchise will assume the head coaching duties as Becky Hammon takes over in Laimbeer’s stead.

Hammon was introduced by team president Nikki Fargas at a virtual press conference with Hammon in Toronto prior to the San Antonio Spurs’ game at Scotiabank Arena vs. the Raptors.

I’ve been communicating with Bill Laimbeer, he’s been completely supportive the entire time that we knew that we were going to go after Becky … we weren’t really trying to move Bill out our anything like that, but Becky was the best person that we felt could lead our organization.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Prior to Hammon assuming the helm at Las Vegas, it was reported that the two teams in pursuit of her were the Aces and the New York Liberty – the other team that Hammon played for throughout her career.

But the Liberty’s pursuit of Hammon may not have been as dogged as that of the Aces given New York was looking at other suitors – including Los Angeles Sparks assistant Latricia Trammell and former Phoenix Mercury coach Sandy Brondello, who has reportedly landed the Lib job and who Hammon referred to as a “great hire” by the seafoam, black and copper.

For Fargas, she and owner Mark Davis had one job – hire Becky Hammon.

When Bill and I were sitting … we were discussing who we would want to lead the Aces … He had his shortlist and I just said, ‘Becky Hammon.’ That’s all I had to say, that’s it because Becky checks all the boxes.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Fargas apparently checked all of the boxes too, Hammon says, when she and the Aces’ recently hired team president chatted.

We’ve had multiple conversations now. One of my best friends actually works for the Aces and I was like, ‘I just really, really like her. Like, I feel like I’ve known this woman forever.’

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

To get her here, I said, ‘Whoa. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Thank you Santa Claus.’ Because that was one of the biggest presents that the Aces organization could have underneath our umbrella, underneath our family tree.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

It was not only about what the Aces finding Hammon under its tree circa the Holidays, but what she brings to Las Vegas. The Aces have had plenty of success on the court since moving to Las Vegas since the drafting of former league MVP A’ja Wilson as well as bringing All-Stars like Liz Cambage, Angel McCoughtry and Chelsea Gray into the fold in Sin City.

Las Vegas has been in the WNBA semifinals for three consecutive seasons and the Finals in 2020 in the bubble. Fargas says Hammon continues a championship culture that has been apparent throughout the Laimbeer years.

I got a chance to know Becky as the person. Obviously we know what she’s done on the basketball court as a player and we’ve seen what she’s capable of doing even in the role that she’s at now and excelling there. But I think when you’re building a team, you want people who are like-minded, like-spirited because you want your culture to be that of a championship culture and Becky brings that to our franchise.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Becky the person influences Becky the coach – and Becky the coach influences Becky the person. Ever since she retired as a player and decided to go to the coaching ranks, she has absorbed plenty of knowledge, particularly from Gregg Popovich, hailed as one of the greatest to ever call plays and blow a whistle.

Hammon says that a consistent attitude of always wanting to learn more is important to success at coaching – even when one has won as she has.

I’ve just sat on so many meetings, so many practices, so many preps for playoff games or regular season games or whoever it is the next night that we’re playing and I think, especially my first few years, I really tried to, obviously be a sponge and I think in order to continue to improve, you have to be a sponge throughout your whole career … even sitting in the head coaching seat.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces head coach

Another thing that she has learned is that it does not matter if she is coaching in the WNBA, NBA or Summer League – the game remains the same.

If anything I’ve learned, it’s that basketball is basketball. The court is 94 feet, the hoop is 10 feet high, there (are) 10 players on the court and it really doesn’t matter who’s out there. I want to coach the highest level basketball players and I saw a lot of high-level basketball players not only on the Aces but throughout the whole WNBA.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces head coach

Will the Aces winning ways continue in 2022? Wilson, Cambage and McCoughtry are all free agents with the 2020 MVP coming off her rookie contract. Hammon is optimistic that a title is within Las Vegas’ grasp.

I think that a championship is well within reach.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

And getting to that championship, Hammon says, means bringing players along that have a winner’s mindset.

I can tell you the type of player that I really want is a competitive one … I would love to have talent and super-competitive but I want really competitive players that want to be there and want to work hard and buy in right from the start.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new coach

With her busy schedule as the assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, she may not have always had the time to typically stay up to date with the latest in the WNBA. She did, however, catch a glimpse of the Aces in the bubble when they participated in that 2020 WNBA Finals with the Seattle Storm.

I really started watching them actually pretty closely in the bubble when they made it to the Finals against Seattle. One of my good buddies, Vickie Johnson, was, obviously an … assistant coach for the Aces and … she was calling me and we were bouncing ideas back and forth on different things that they could’ve done. And likewise one of my buddies was friends with Sue Bird and obviously giving her, transversely, what she thought they should do.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

Johnson, of course, will be entering her second season as head coach of the Dallas Wings. It appears what the Aces will be doing under Hammon is shooting more 3-pointers. She says she wants to bring “excellent basketball minds” as part of her coaching staff – one that she will be rounding out while finishing the NBA season with the Spurs.

Coach Pop has been pouring into me a lot of knowledge – a lot of, not only basketball knowledge, history knowledge, all sorts of kind of knowledge. So, I feel like I’m bubbling over with stuff, like, I want to give back that I have to say. Things that I want to teach, things that I want to convey, things that I want to convey.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new head coach

The Aces will be the beneficiary of all that newfound knowledge Hammon will impart onto her roster. Las Vegas will be getting what plenty of NBA teams could have had.

While her time as an assistant with San Antonio, her name was linked to many a head coaching opening in the NBA – including those of the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks and the Portland Trail Blazers. All teams hired men – Rick Carlisle with the Pacers, Tom Thibodeau with the Knicks and Chauncey Billups at the Trail Blazers.

While many hailed Hammon as the one most likely to break that NBA coaching glass ceiling, especially as someone who won a Summer League championship as Spurs coach, she reflected on being a candidate for so many NBA jobs.

In some ways, I feel like I was very close. This was not really about the NBA or the WNBA. This was about me personally being ready to have a team and wanting to have a team and wanting to sit in that chair and then being presented with an opportunity to do so. NBA jobs are hard to get. In some ways I feel like the NBA maybe as close, In other ways, I feel like they’re a long ways off from hiring.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

I’ve been hit so many times that you just continue to get back up. You don’t know any other way, it’s just a habit. You just keep getting back up.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

Hammon may have received increased attention because of her NBA pursuits, but she is not the only woman in the coaching ranks, of course. With Noelle Quinn at the Storm, Marianne Stanley at the Indiana Fever, Tanisha Wright at the Atlanta Dream, Johnson with the Wings and, of course, Cheryl Reeve at the Minnesota Lynx, those are five head coaching jobs in the WNBA held by women – two by Black women. Add Brondello to the Liberty and that makes six. Add Hammon with the Aces and it makes seven.

The Mercury are possibly going to bestow its head coaching opening on either Trammell or former Fever and Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman. That would make eight of the 12 head coaching positions in the WNBA being held by women – three by Black women.

There’s so many great women coaches that should be leading their own teams and given those opportunities. I mean, we have never had these press conferences when it came to a man leading a woman’s team. We just haven’t. We always have them and there’s all these conversations about either women leading a men’s team, which really hasn’t happened yet.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

When the WNBA’s coaching carousel was first set in motion, one did not think of the Aces as a team that would be making a coaching change. And one did not necessarily have Hammon as on the radar for a coaching job in the WNBA given her status as a finalist for several NBA jobs until the report about how she was being wooed by both the Aces and Liberty.

Fargas remarked that she and Laimbeer had a meeting after the season where they began thinking about if they could land Hammon. As we get ever so closer to the 2022 season, that has become a reality.

I’ve also learned to never say never, or that I’m not going to do something because, generally, that’s what I end up doing.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new head coach

She particularly name dropped Reeve and Brondello.

These are quality coaches, period. Take off any other label. They are great coaches, period. And, quite frankly, I’ve been watching the WNBA for a long time and stealing all their plays for a while (chuckles).

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

Hammon has a point about women coaches deserving opportunities. After all, male assistant coaches get promoted to NBA jobs with regularity – and some that were head coaches get hired as assistants with other teams. It appeared that despite her resume as a player and coach, and being groomed by one of the greatest coaches in basketball history in Gregg Popovich that her being a woman was the primary thumbs down as a finalist for those NBA jobs.

And she staunchly believes that attitude within NBA front offices needs to change.

What I’d really like is to get to the point where people are hired based on what they bring – their mind, what’s in between their ears.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

And an important step in getting to that point is defining what makes a leader. Leaders have typically been hegemonically defined as men, but women, like Hammon, Reeve and Brondello are standing up for themselves, getting off the sidelines and getting in the game. And as has been proven time and time again, sports and society at large has proven to be better with more women leaders.

I think once we can start, kind of, peeling back the layers of society and what is viewed as – this is a leader, this is what a basketball player looks like … all these labels and that we start hiring people based on what they bring to the table, based for their basketball knowledge.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

It can be very easy to think that after being passed over for NBA head coaching job after NBA head coaching job that getting a shot to be a head coach in the WNBA is a step below the men’s league. After all, look at Derek Fisher who did not exactly receive rave reviews as Knicks head coach but later got hired to the Sparks by ex-GM Penny Toler following the franchise parting ways with Brian Agler.

Except one problem – Fisher is not exactly getting rave reviews from Sparks fans about his handling of the team – and particularly how Candace Parker left and later delivered a championship with her hometown Chicago Sky.

The Fisher example ought to set off lightbulbs in people’s heads that coaching in the WNBA is not a step down from coaching in the NBA. That is an antiquated belief that is obviously rooted in sexism – and perpetuated by know-it-all hoops pundits who obviously have never watched a single WNBA game to observe how intense the competition is.

This is a step forward. Being the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces is a step forward and a step in the right direction for myself, for women’s basketball and I think I cannot emphasize the importance of this opportunity that I have.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

How does Hammon start changing the narrative? Within her own household and with her own children, she says.

It’s important for little girls to see that, but it’s also important for little boys to see that. Because if we’re going to talk about changing minds, you have to change it generationally. Which means my two little boys need to know what it looks like to be a leader. And to them, their mom’s a leader.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

It’s important that we start to see leaders as leaders.

–Becky Hammon, new Las Vegas Aces head coach

In the basketball realm, leaders are not only recognized as leaders, but they are also paid as such. Reportedly, Hammon’s deal with the Aces is for five seasons and will be the richest contract ever offered to a WNBA head coach in its 26-season history.

This is not just a hire just to say that we got Becky. This is a commitment for a long-time commitment to Becky and her family as well.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Hammon’s deal just raised the price women’s hoops coaches at the professional level will ask for just as the same is true for college coaches after Dawn Staley signed her deal that will keep her at South Carolina for seven years and $22 million.

They have great basketball minds and they are 100% invested in what they do and they are the best at what they do. And they should be paid as such and they should be rewarded with these positions as such.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new head coach

Fargas echoed the sentiments of the Aces’ newly hired coach.

Coaches need to be paid and they need to be at that level where we feel is very, very worthy of Becky’s contract.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Let’s recognize talent and let’s definitely pay talent and have the same equitable contracts that allow our genders to uplift each other. Because I think it’s important for us to show that when you invest that look what it can do for the league as an entirety, not just the Aces organization.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

An Aces organization that, of course, previously was the San Antonio (Silver) Stars – the team Hammon played for in the latter half of her career. It was MGM Resorts who bought the team from Spurs Sports & Entertainment, then it was Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis purchasing the Aces from MGM.

Regardless of where they may be, the irony cannot be overstated when mentioning how Hammon herself found her way back to an organization that has meant so much to her over the years – even if said franchise has a new brand, a new city and a new state.

There (were) a lot of sleepless nights for me. When you talk about leaving your community, I’ve been with the Spurs and their organization now for 16 years. The fact that the Stars then, obviously, went to Las Vegas and I am where I am is certainly … symmetrical or poetic in its own ways.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new head coach

But when a deep-pocketed owner such as Davis talks turkey and commitment, it is very hard for anyone to say no.

Two things that people always said, ‘You’ve only been in San Antonio and you’ve never been a head coach.’ I can tell you right now Mark Davis met me, Nikki and said, ‘That’s a head coach right now.’

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new head coach

Davis is not someone random who simply bought the Aces to buy the Aces. He was a fixture at Aces games at Michelob Ultra Arena prior to purchasing the team from MGM. Since then, Davis has declared his commitment to the Aces with his plans to build a training facility for the team in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson.

That’s why Mark has made a huge commitment in not only in us hiring Becky, but also his commitment in building a home for the Las Vegas Aces where they can train, where they can work out, where they can recover. Our basketball ops will have their side of the building, business ops (will have their side). It’s going to really feel like a family and I think that’s a level of commitment when you’re building facilities.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

The training grounds, per Fargas, is not the only Aces facility Davis has on the brains.

There’s been talks of a future arena also for the Aces.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

They are absolutely committed to investing in women, investing into the WNBA, investing into their community. They’re not taking any shortcuts.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new head coach

From the money that Hammon will be getting from the Aces to its on-court success since moving from San Antonio to the bold long-term plans Davis has for the franchise, it is clear that the Aces are on the up and up as one of the model WNBA franchises.

When people think WNBA, they probably think of teams that won multiple championships such as the Houston Comets or Minnesota Lynx. Or – even the Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks or Seattle Storm. They also think of flagship franchises such as the Liberty – still in search of its first ring. Fargas envisions that with the investment made into the Aces that it is the next in line of great WNBA franchises.

We want people to look at (the) Las Vegas Aces franchise and say, ‘Look, ownership is investing. Ownership is recognizing that there are great leaders out there that need to have those opportunities.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

There’s just an uptick of excitement in the Las Vegas community just by Becky Hammon being here because she is one of our own, she is part of our family and I think that’s an area where we know that’s another stepping stone for where we want to be. We want to be one of those places where Las Vegas becomes the North Star.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

The idea of Hammon allowing the Aces to become that North Star has to tickle many Starzz/Silver Stars/Aces aficionados pink.

After all, Hammon was named one of the WNBA’s 25 Greatest Players of All Time last season and had her jersey retired to the rafters of Michelob Ultra Arena last season – a symbol of how Davis has emphasized honoring the Aces’ history going back to when they were an Original Eight team in Utah as well as the San Antonio years.

Hammon says it was that history – and her getting an opportunity to carve out her own legacy in a, still, relatively young WNBA that enabled her to pursue a career in the coaching ranks.

Without the WNBA … we’re not having these conversations. Without the WNBA, I’m not an assistant coach for the Spurs.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces new coach

Without her talent, camaraderie with teammates and passion she has maintained for the game, Hammon may not have ascended to the rarefied air she currently occupies as a WNBA all-time great. That has translated into how she is as a coach – and it has given Fargas a bit of déjà vu.

Becky has this intensity about her that absolutely gives me chills because, to a certain degree Becky, you remind me a little bit of Coach (Pat) Summitt. There’s a little bit of that in you where you can just fire somebody up, but also they know that you’re going to put your arm around them, that you’re going to be there for them, that you’re there for them as the person and not just a uniform.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Fargas would know – she played under coach Summitt from 1990-94 as a Tennessee Lady Vol. Plenty of metaphors can be made to sports, but if the Aces were a single player, Fargas would probably say it would represent someone who goes the extra mile – one thing that defined Hammon throughout her career.

As a former player, when you run, you say, ‘Hey touch the line.’ We go over the line. We don’t just barely touch it, we go over the line.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

She’s on the refs more than I was.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Fargas says that one will know Hammon is nearby not only from the presence she brings to any space -whether it is a basketball court or an office, but simply from the aura that she possesses. She says that can certainly rub off as well.

There’s an energy about Becky that is just contagious.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

You can feel her presence. The energy, the presence – it’s there. It represents winning. It represents doing things the right way. It represents respect. It represents treating people like you want to be treated. It represents accountability but also shouldering the weight of what comes with that when you do step two inches, three inches over.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

That aura she had as a player was a winning aura – and the one she currently possesses as a coach has been as a winner as well. Of course, wins and losses are the most important stat in basketball or any sport, but there are other ways the Aces have defined winning as well.

One could point to when the Aces hosted the 2019 All-Star Game in only its second season in Sin City. Last season’s All-Star festivities at Michelob Ultra Arena were held amidst the backdrop of the pandemic as well as amidst the backdrop of the Olympics and featured some of the WNBA’s best as well as those from Team USA.

Ask Fargas and she will say the on-court victories have not been the only times the Aces have appeared in the win column.

You can define winning and to me, I always looked and focused on winning the day and what does that look like. Because once you win and focus on the immediate, then I think the final part of it is going to take care of itself.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Winning also is about people. We’ve surrounded ourselves with some great people in my front office.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

Winning also is for us to sell out the arena.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president

At times, we forget that even the game’s greats go through periods where they are not always feeling so great between the ears. The increase in mental health awareness towards athletes is shifting the conversation in the correct direction.

Hammon mentioned that sometimes she had her own barriers that were a byproduct of the self-doubt she has faced throughout her life. She says to the Becky Hammons of the future to not allow oneself to be stymied by one’s own negative thoughts.

Everybody talks about being the barrier breaker and hitting the glass ceiling and breaking the glass ceiling … I could tell you … the greatest barriers I’ve overcome are the ones that I’ve had in my own mind. And, so what I would tell this next generation is don’t limit yourself. You’re the person that can and you’re the person that should. If you’re able to act, you should act.

–Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces head coach

If the Aces go into the 2022 season with its Big Four intact, this could be the season Las Vegas breaks through its barrier and delivers its first-ever championship for the City of Sin.

The addition of Hammon back to the organization, given her significance within said organization and within the WNBA could lead to a rise of interest in the Aces throughout Nevada. This could especially be true given Las Vegas is expected to enter the 2022 season once again as contenders – given that the Aces keep its core intact.

I know that we’re going to have an uptick, because Becky is part of our organization, in so many areas, whether it’s the engagement from social or whether it’s ticket sales or whether it’s gaining partners. I think we’re going to have an uptick because we’re investing in a Becky Hammon who brings a wealth of knowledge.

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces head coach

Fargas believes that Davis, Jennifer Azzi and the Aces organization have taken on a mentality of a rising tide lifting all ships. If Las Vegas as an organization can make the investment in a coach that it has made in Hammon and if Davis can commit to initiatives such as a training center and a possible arena that it could make other WNBA teams step up their investments as well.

With the league having completed a quarter-century of basketball seasons, what is next in its future?

The first 25 years of the league is what it is. But how do we move the needle? How do we move the next 25 years to be even better for the younger generations to come?

–Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces team president