“I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and go to work,” said Becky Hammon, head coach of the 2022 WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces, in her keynote conversation with Hannah Storm at last week’s espnW Women + Sports Summit. “The hard stuff—being cut, not being picked on a team, being traded or tearing your knees up—builds resilience.”

Hammon deftly took the helm of the Las Vegas Aces, being named WNBA Coach of the Year in her first season. After a 16-year WNBA career—eight years with the New York Liberty and eight years with the San Antonio Stars—Hammon spent eight years as an assistant coach with the NBA San Antonio Spurs. In recent years, she interviewed for NBA head coaching positions, but was not hired.

“I don’t need someone’s stamp of approval to tell me that I’m a good coach,” said Hammon, who is so greatly enjoying coaching in the WNBA that she isn’t sure that her long-term career goal is still to be a head coach in the NBA. “In the NBA, if you’re hiring a coach, your season did not go well. Who’s ever hiring you is also in the hot seat. [Do they want to] put their ass on the line for something that’s never been done? I think it can be done, but I’m not the one hiring. 

“You can either lead or you can’t; it’s genderless,” she continued. “If my name was Brian and I had a 16-year NBA career, we wouldn’t be having these conversations right now. … In some ways I feel like it’s around the corner, in other ways I don’t.”

Having spent several years playing professionally in Russia as well as playing with the Russian national team at two Olympics—winning bronze in 2008—Storm asked for her thoughts on the Brittney Griner situation. “She’s been turned into a political pawn and it’s really unfortunate,” Hammon said. “We’ve got to get her back as soon as possible.”

Authenticity, commitment and competitiveness are priorities for Hammon. She wants to build relationships and trust, which she sees as essential to effective coaching. “I want to walk into work every day and be myself, and I want [the players] to be able to walk into work every day and authentically be themselves,” said Hammon. “At the end of the day basketball brings us together, but our humanity is really what brings people together and you form relationships.” 

During the WNBA off-season, Hammon will be joining ESPN as NBA studio analyst. She debuts in December.

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