Earlier this summer, I had a chance to speak with Nancy Lieberman — former Olympian, and the first female coach in the NBA D-League — about the possibility of a female coaching in the NBA. A few weeks later, it was announced that Becky Hammon had been hired as an assistant coach by the San Antonio Spurs.
I wrote about my conversation with Lieberman and Hammon’s hiring in a feature over at Triangle Offense.
You can read the entire piece here. An excerpt is below.
(And if anyone cares: this piece, or a variation of it, was originally supposed to appear at Sports on Earth. But on the day when I was set to submit a first draft, the site went through some changes. I was fortunate to still find a home for this piece.)
The reasons for why there have been so few opportunities for females in men’s basketball are plenty and have been explored at the college level and across all sports. None of the old explanations—females simply don’t pursue these jobs because they know historically only males get hired, stereotypes that men won’t listen to women, there are no talented female coaches—hold up under scrutiny. But they’re easy fallacies to reiterate and use as reasons why there have been no female breakthroughs in the past.
First and foremost, potential coaching hires from Hammon to Lieberman have always faced the stigma that they wouldn’t be able to penetrate the cultural difference in men’s sports. For female coaches, their opportunity hinges on conjuring up a perfect scenario: they have to have a knowledge of the game, wait for an organization willing to break ground, and find a head coach willing to act as a mentor and to help defend against any pushback on the hire.