Becky Hammon said she has always followed her heart and not worried about what other people think of her career decisions.
There were concerns when she chose to play at Colorado State instead of a bigger school. There was backlash about her playing for Russia in the Olympics and now she has heard rumblings about leaving the NBA and coach the WNBA's Las Vegas Aces.
“My heart was saying it was time to go. This is where I am supposed to be right now,” she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “There were a lot of sleepless nights getting to this conclusion."
She spent eight years as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs becoming the first fulltime female coach in NBA history. She learned from one of the NBA's best in Gregg Popovich and now feels it is time to for a different path, so she pivoted to the WNBA, where she played for many years.
“Las Vegas sees me as a head coach now,” she said. “The WNBA has called every year with job openings. ... I’ve always said thank you I’m very flattered, but stayed on this path. This was first time where I was like I’ll listen.”
She’s proud of her still—being-written legacy as a trailblazer, having interviewed for several NBA head coaching jobs. But for now, her dream of becoming the first woman to lead an NBA team is on hold.
“Women are getting hired in all sorts of positions now. Not just the NBA, but across professional sports leagues,” Hammon said. “For anyone to say the needle hasn’t moved is wrong. The process (interviewing) in Portland moved the needle. It was a great process for me.”
Hammon has heard the outside noise that taking the WNBA job is a step down and she takes umbrage with any who believes it.
“I think it’s an ignorant statement. To think I’ve outgrown the WNBA in a coaching capacity is ridiculous," she said. “I’d rather be a coach in the WNBA and have my own organization and be running a team."
There are still a half dozen women assistant coaches in the NBA. Hammon’s resume has earned her plenty of respect:
“It’s a great opportunity to have a head coaching job at that level.” Popovich said. “To prove herself. She’s already proven herself to me, but that doesn’t matter in the long run. She’s interviewed for a few jobs in the NBA, and she’s more than qualified and would have done a great job.”
Las Vegas Aces owner Mark Davis is such a believer in Hammon's abilities he signed her to a five-year contract worth a record $5 million.
“Turned out Becky became my Joe Namath, I made her the first million dollar employee in the WNBA,” Davis said. “The American Football League took off after the Jets signed Joe Namath. That sparked everyone’s imagination. If young girls can see that Becky can get some type of deal like that, she’s like any one of them, they can be that too.”
Hammon made an impression on Davis before she became a candidate for the Aces job. She attended an alumni function over the summer as part of a program Davis started to bring back and honor former players of the franchise.
“When I met her and spent 30 minutes with her at dinner I realized she was someone special, someone I wanted to be attached to,” he said.
Hammon is on her way to Las Vegas, but not there just yet.
She will be pulling double-duty for the next few months until the Spurs' season is over. One of the first things that Hammon will have to do is hire her own coaching staff. She’s begun calling Aces’ players to get to know them.
“Right now I’m reaching out to all the players on the roster,” she said. “Establish a relationship with them and talk a little bit about roles what we’re doing offensively and defensively.”
The Aces finished with the second-best record in the WNBA last season at 24-8 before falling to the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals. The franchise, looking for its first WNBA title, has a solid core led by former MVP A’ja Wilson.
Hammon was coy about what her on-court philosophy will be, only saying that the team which was last in 3-pointers attempted will definitely shoot more this season. The 44-year-old former WNBA player says she just wants to coach for now and not worry about being the team's general manager.
“Down the road we’ll talk. I just want to coach. That’s it. Get out there, get with the players,” Hammon said. “Get in the foxhole with each other.”
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports