SAN ANTONIO – Despite having no fans at the AT&T Center on Wednesday night, everyone in the sports world sensed the historic moment San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was about to make that would become the talk of the town the next morning.
Hammon became the first woman to act as head coach during an NBA regular-season game after Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from the game after picking up two quick technical fouls towards the end of the first half of the Spurs’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Popovich was tossed from the game with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter after becoming irate at official Tony Brown for two non-calls on San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan and Drew Eubanks. Popovich stormed the court and screamed at Brown before getting ejected, he pointed to Hammon, giving her the sign to take over.
“Obviously it’s a big deal, a substantial moment,” Hammon said after the game. “I’ve been a part of this organization. I got traded here in 2007, so I’ve been in San Antonio and part of the Spurs and sports organization with the Stars and everything for 13 years. So I have a lot of time invested, and they have a lot of time invested in me in building me and getting me better.”
Hammon joined the Spurs coaching staff back in 2014 and has served as one of Popovich’s top assistants since. Last November, Popovich was ejected and Hammon and the rest of the Spurs staff filled in for him. After the game, Popovich said Tim Duncan was the acting head coach to finish out the game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets,” Lakers forward LeBron James said. “She’s very passionate about the game. So congrats to her and congrats to the league.”
The 43-year-old was seen walking the sidelines, drawing up plays, and taking over the team’s huddles during timeouts. Prior to joining the Spurs staff, Hammon was a WNBA player for the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars, where she led the San Antonio squad to their lone WNBA Finals appearance in 2008.
A proud moment not only for Becky, but the whole organization tonight,” Spurs guard Patty Mills said. “She has the ability to step up and coach in the NBA.”
While the Spurs did not win the game, the moment is one for the record books. Hammon has been long viewed as a favorite to break the glass ceiling and become the first woman to be a head coach in the NBA. Wednesday’s short stint running the Spurs only furthered that assumption.
Hammon first made history with her hire in 2014, becoming the first female full-time assistant and became Popovich’s top assistant in 2018. Since then, she has interviewed for the head coaching job with the Indiana Pacers. Prior to the game, Popovich spoke highly of his assistant, saying he believes she has what it takes to take the big job one day.
“Obviously, I think very much of her abilities having hired her. That all began when I saw her play,” Popovich said. “She was a leader, everybody on the team reacted to her, she was very confident, very competitive and she led the whole show. And when I got to know her and she was in our coaches meetings before she was hired, while she was hurt after the season, we found out about her knack for the game, her innate understanding of what wins, what loses, what has to be there to make a program. So she’s got all of the tools necessary to be a heck of a coach in our league.”