In what would be a watershed moment for the National Basketball Association, the Milwaukee Bucks plan to interview Becky Hammon for its head-coaching job, according to a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Hammon, a six-time WNBA All-Star, became the first female assistant coach in the NBA when San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich hired her for his coaching staff in 2014. Last year, the Bucks interviewed Hammon for their general manager position. Now, ESPN reports that she is among approximately 10 candidates the Bucks plan to interview for head coach.
Getting an interview for a job doesn’t typically count as breaking through a glass ceiling. However, when the glass ceiling has been as shatter-proof as the one for coaching in men’s sports, every crack deserves a celebration.
Popovich was first drawn to Hammon when he saw the way she commanded the court as a point guard for the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars.
“I’d watch the game, and the only thing I could see—it’s an exaggeration, I mean, but—was Becky’s aura, her leadership, her effect on teammates, her effect on the crowd, the way she handled herself,” Popovich told Louisa Thomas of The New Yorker earlier this year. “She was, like, the ultimate leader. Energy, juice, vitality. At the same time, she was doing intelligent things on the court, making decisions that mattered.”
Hiring Hammon has certainly worked out well for Popovich and the Spurs. In 2015, Hammon served as the head coach of the Spurs’ summer league team. Under her leadership, the team won that year’s Las Vegas Summer League championship.
And while Hammon will always be known as the first female full-time assistant coach in the NBA, she’s no longer the only one. In 2015, the Sacramento Kings hired Nancy Lieberman as an assistant coach. Lieberman left after one season — according to the Sacramento Bee, she took a “self-imposed sabbatical” to be with her ailing mother — but she is currently a head coach in the Big3 basketball league, which features retired NBA players. In 2017, the Kings added former WNBA head coach Jenny Boucek to their staff as an assistant.
There have been some cracks in the glass ceiling in other men’s professional sports leagues, too. In 2015, Jen Welter became the first female coach in the NFL when she held a coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals, but she was not granted a full-time position
In 2016, the Buffalo Bills hired Karthryn Smith as their special teams quality control coach, making her the first full-time female coach in the 96-year history of the league. Last year, the Jets hired Colette Smith as a defensive backs intern during training camp, and Katie Sowers became the second full-time female assistant coach in the NFL when she was hired by the San Francisco 49ers as an offensive assistant, with a focus on wide receivers.
In 2015, Justine Siegel became the first woman coach working for an MLB team when the Oakland Athletics hired her to work with minor league players during an Instructional League camp.
These are all significant steps, but they’re also few and far between. It’s still the exception, not the rule, when an owner of a major men’s pro sports league considers a female for a position on its coaching staff.
No matter what happens with the Bucks’ head coaching vacancy, it matters that Hammon has been granted an interview. Other women will watch her ascension and set goals for themselves they’ve never considered setting, while other men in pro sports will see that the qualities that make a great coach are not gender-specific. That’s how progress happens.
“It was a beautiful day when Becky got hired, but it would have been a tragic thing if a year or two or three later, she was the only female in the NBA,” Lieberman told ThinkProgress in 2015, after her first week on the job with the Kings. “When whoever is behind us gets that next call, that just shows you that we’re all winning, that we’re having inclusion in the workplace.”