Coach Becky Hammon always knows what to say in the Las Vegas Aces’ huddles. But recently she’s been at a loss for words when it comes to her upcoming speech for her induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame on Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“I’ve basically had writer’s block,” Hammon said, chuckling. “I do a lot of speeches in the offseason. I write long speeches even though I don’t want to hear myself talk that long. This is only going to be a five- or six-minute speech, but it’s been really hard to articulate what the game has meant to me.”
There are many connections Hammon has to other members of the 2023 class. She was an assistant from 2014 to 2022 to Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs, where she coached Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, and coached against Dirk Nowitzski and Dwyane Wade. All five men will go into the Hall of Fame with her.
So will longtime women’s college coach Gary Blair, who finished his career in 2022 with the Texas A&M Aggies, whom he led to the 2011 NCAA title. During her Colorado State Rams playing career from 1995 to 1999, Hammon didn’t face Blair, then coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. One of Hammon’s presenters at the Hall of Fame, her former New York Liberty teammate Teresa Weatherspoon, is also presenting Blair.
Even the induction of the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team has a loose link to Hammon, because she went a different route when she realized she wasn’t going to get a spot on the United States team during her career. Instead, she played in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics for Russia, having obtained dual citizenship during her time competing overseas in that country.
Because her playing career lasted so long — she spent 16 years in the WNBA, split between New York and San Antonio — and took her all over the world, and since she has coached in the NBA and WNBA, there is virtually no corner of basketball to which Hammon doesn’t have some connection.
Which means a lot to someone who grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, and at 5-foot-6 always considered herself the underdog. Now, she is being enshrined with the greatest in the sport’s history.
“I’m sure I’ll probably be emotional,” Hammon said. “Just really grateful.”
? @BeckyHammon is the definition of a GOAT@CSUWBasketball‘s all-time leader in points (2,740), steals (315) and three-pointers (365), three-time WAC POW (97-99), and the program’s first consensus All-American. And that was just the beginning…#NCAAWBB pic.twitter.com/IFZq5xnmts
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) May 5, 2023
Hammon is also the only 2023 Hall of Fame inductee who currently is in the midst of a season. Last year was her first as a head coach and back in the WNBA, as she led Las Vegas to the league championship. There was symmetry to that, as the WNBA franchise that Hammon had played for in San Antonio had relocated to Las Vegas in 2018.
Hammon’s coaching has been at center stage since she retired from the WNBA following the 2014 season and joined Popovich’s NBA staff. Before that, she was a gritty point guard who became a three-time All-American at Colorado State and then found her place in the WNBA despite not getting drafted in 1999, the year the majority of the selections were veteran pros from the defunct ABL.
Hammon became a six-time WNBA All-Star and a first-team all-WNBA player in 2007 and 2009. While the first part of her career was with the Liberty, her best seasons came after she was traded to San Antonio about three weeks after her 30th birthday in spring 2007.
Some may have assumed Hammon had hit her peak already, but then-San Antonio coach/general manager Dan Hughes thought just the opposite, saying at the time: “When you get a chance to add Becky. Hammon to your team, you leap at the opportunity.”
During her first six seasons with San Antonio, Hammon averaged 16.9 points and 5.2 assists, leading the franchise to the WNBA Finals in 2008. Injury took away most of her penultimate season in 2013, but she finished her playing career in 2014 with a playoff appearance.
“She talks all the time about being small, but she has the heart of a giant,” said Aces guard Chelsea Gray, the 2022 WNBA Finals MVP. “This is only her second year [in Las Vegas], but she’s made me a better player. From the moment she stepped into the building, I can confidently say that she’s the best coach I’ve ever had.
“Just her presence, her ability to bring out the best of a group and to band together, but to have fun with this as well.”
Hammon also has always pointed out the good fortune of being traded to San Antonio because she connected with Popovich and the Spurs there, too, and launched her coaching career with that franchise.
As the season rolls on, the Aces are trying to become the third WNBA franchise to win back-to-back titles. The Houston Comets did it the first four years of the league, 1997-2000, and the Los Angeles Sparks did it in 2001-02. Hammon played against both those franchises, in fact, her other presenter Saturday along with Weatherspoon is former Houston Comets star Sheryl Swoopes.
“Just to see how much she’s changed the game, from being a player and now a coach, it’s huge,” said Aces forward A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP. “We’re excited to hear her speech, we’re excited to cheer her on. It’s right in the middle between two games, so she’s going to be all over the place. She’s given so much to this game.”