When former Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer decided to step away from his post to clear the way for Mark Davis to hire Becky Hammon in his stead, it was a return for Hammon to the very WNBA where she is celebrated as one of its all-time greats.
Hammon inherited a roster that was already tabbed as one of the premier teams in the WNBA and has displayed this season exactly what she had learned as an assistant under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs.
She already won a championship with a Spurs summer league team and has brought that coaching know how with her to the WNBA – and to an Aces franchise that she once played under during its days as the San Antonio (Silver) Stars.
Over the offseason, she was courted by both the Aces and the New York Liberty – the same Liberty that Hammon also once played for from 1999-2006.
Hammon won Coach of the Year honors following a season where Las Vegas finished as the top overall seed in the entire WNBA. And with a core that includes A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and a Chelsea Gray that has looked like a cheat code these playoffs, she has coached the Aces to its second Finals since relocating to Sin City in the 2018 season.
Oh yeah – there is the matter of all the money Davis paid Hammon as well. Oh yeah – there is also the matter of Hammon making history as the first person to reach the WNBA Finals as both a player and a head coach
Hammon is an extention of Popovich’s coaching tree – and with what she appears to be building with the Aces, it may not be long before she has one of her own.
While Hammon’s first-year success as Las Vegas’ head coach has to be watershed for her – it also has to be watershed because of how many NBA head coaching jobs she was constantly passed up for despite her achievements.
Hammon was once a finalist for the Portland Trail Blazers head coaching job – they went with Chauncey Billups instead. She was also a candidate for the men’s basketball job at Colorado State – her collegiate alma mater.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks were other teams that reportedly had Hammon on their respective radars only for all three of those coaching jobs to be bestowed upon men as well. The conventional wisdom around professional basketball circles was one of Hammon likely having to wait her turn until Coach Pop retires in order for her to finally ascend to the NBA’s head coaching ranks.
It became crystal clear that the NBA was simply using Hammon’s name for positive public relations to appear as if teams were being forward thinking to the idea of hiring a woman as head coach. The Pacers, Knicks, Bucks and Trail Blazers never had any intention of hiring Hammon and three out of those four franchises outsmarted themselves since Milwaukee is the only team to win a NBA Finals in that span (helps to have Giannis Antetokoumnpo).
Hammon was not going to wait around for the Spurs brass to simply promote her to head coach simply because she had Coach Pop’s blessing. She went back to the WNBA – the very same WNBA that named Hammon one of its 25 Greatest Players in 2021.
The results have spoken for themselves. Plum and Young – two former first overall draft picks – are living up to their true potential with Hammon at the helm. As we have seen this postseason, Gray is thriving and in the prime of her career. And Wilson has been firmly in the MVP conversation alongside Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm).
Not to mention – Hammon was also one of the All-Star Game head coaches this year. Four from the Aces were all named to be part of this year’s midseason All-Star festivities in Chicago in Wilson, Young, Plum and Dearica Hamby.
Of course, the Aces still have work to do. As one of this year’s WNBA Finals participants, Hammon and her team still have three more victories to obtain. Las Vegas also does not know as of this writing if its opponent in this year’s Finals will be either the Chicago Sky or the Connecticut Sun. The Sky and Sun are currently all knotted up at two games apiece with a series-deciding Game 5 lurking on Thursday at Wintrust Arena.
But as the sports realm as a whole is seemingly attempting to diminish the importance of coaching, the WNBA has shown lately that coaching still matters. Hammon outcoached Storm coach Noelle Quinn and that is why the Aces will have at least two more home contests prior to the season concluding.
But Hammon is doing more than simply outcoaching her opposing benches. She is outcoaching – and outsmarting – the entire NBA.