LAS VEGAS — Greg. Scott. Adam. James. Nate. John. Mike. Jordi. Dwayne. Aaron. Matt. Steve. Brian. Miles. Taylor. Eric. Darvin. Pablo. Fred. Jud. Dave. Pat. Connor. Willie. Jim. Jesse. Jon. Johnnie. Robert.
The NBA has been getting praised for elevating women into its coaching ranks in recent years, but some major hurdles persist.
There are only eight women on coaching staffs among the league’s 30 teams. And the pipeline seems to be jammed, at least if the list of NBA Summer League coaches provides any indication. Although there are women on coaching staffs in Las Vegas, only San Antonio assistant Becky Hammon is leading a one this summer.
“I mean, there’s a problem,” Hammon said. “We’ve got to get qualified women — there’s plenty of qualified women out there — but they’ve got to have the opportunities.”
‘Regardless of gender’
Hammon, by all accounts, is ready to become the first woman to become an NBA head coach.
Her current and former players rave about her toughness, intelligence and ability to communicate. The last couple of years, however, she hasn’t been able to land a history-making promotion despite about half of the league making coaching changes.
Guys like Ryan Saunders and Igor Kokoskov have gotten first-time chances.
Guys like Luke Walton and Frank Vogel have gotten fresh starts.
But where are the owners and general managers brave enough to step up and give Hammon a shot?
And why are Jenny Boucek, Lindsay Gottlieb, Lindsey Harding, Kara Lawson, Natalie Nakase, Karen Stack Umlauf and Kristi Tolliver the only other women with full-time jobs on NBA coaching staffs?
For Hammon, the answer isn’t simple.
“It’s not a matter of just hiring,” she said.
“You can’t hire women just to fill a quota. You’ve gotta make sure they fit with your team, because if you get somebody who doesn’t fit, it becomes more about the gender, instead of maybe it was just the wrong person.
“You’ve got to get the right person, regardless of gender, in with your squad.”
That’s music to the ears of diversity advocates who say that real inclusion comes when candidates from all backgrounds get opportunities based on merit and ability. But it takes a supportive framework that recognizes the unique challenges women and other minority groups face.
The women hired, so far, have had impeccable resumes. But that points to the stress and difficulty that comes with breaking a barrier. There’s a fear that being average isn’t enough. There’s an unrelenting anxiety that minority candidates have to be perfect.
Hammon has to shut that out every day just to do her job.
‘The door has been cracked’
Julie Rousseau, former head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks who holds a PhD in philosophy from Arizona State, applauds the NBA for making progress, but notes that more could be done.
“The door has been cracked, and a few are getting in. But in the same breath, getting in to what degree?” she said.
Rousseau, who has attended summer league games and coaching workshops, noted that several recent assistant coaching hires have been women, including Gottlieb and Lawson.
“When the commissioner says he wants to see 50 percent more coaches be women, I think organizations have heard that rallying cry and are attempting to make that a reality,” Rousseau said.
Commissioner Adam Silver said in May about hiring women as coaches that “going forward it should be roughly 50-50 … there’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”
There’s no easy answer for how to make that happen, but Silver is on to something.
Scott Brooks, director of research with Arizona State’s Global Sport Institute, talks about “transformation” as an ideal. It can involve overwhelming a problem with numbers.
If Hammon is the only summer league head coach, then it’s all but impossible for her performance to be fairly evaluated. If she were one of many, it would be much easier. It would improve the odds of other women getting opportunities, as well.
“Without ‘transformation’ and the spirit of it, then you don’t have anything else,” Brooks said. “These things like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ they’re benchmarks. They’re buzzwords. But without a change in spirit, it’s really not sustainable.”
It takes a lot to bring that about. It takes institutional support. It takes public pressure. It takes relentlessness on the part of coaches like Hammon and her allies.
“There’s not going to be one moment or one event that changes these problems,” Scott said. “Instead we have to be diligent, and we have to keep these things on the table.
“That’s kind of the difficulty. People would like these things to go away. We want to resolve them. … It’s got to be a multifaceted approach. It’s got to include coaches at all levels … the openness really has to be pushed in some creative ways.”
The good news is that it shouldn’t take much creativity to improve on a 29-1 male to female NBA Summer League head coach ratio.
Here’s hoping we see the improvement next off-season.
There’s plenty Moore where this came from. Subscribe for videos, columns, opinions and analysis from The Arizona Republic’s award-winning sports team.