Opinion: What’s worth knowing about Becky Hammon and the Las Vegas Aces

Head coach Becky Hammon of the Las Vegas Aces in a game last year.

Head coach Becky Hammon of the Las Vegas Aces in a game last year.

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For eight years, the San Antonio Spurs’ celebrated coach Gregg Popovich employed Becky Hammon as an assistant . While observers’ comments often suggested hiring a woman was “some kind of gimmick,” the coach adamantly disagreed, declaring that the great former point guard is “fiery, she’s got intelligence, and our guys just respected the heck out of her.”

Hammon has appreciated what Popovich has taught her. “Not skipping steps is the most important, especially early on in training camp.” She added, “The biggest point is to lay a great foundation of fundamentals and basics and you start with communication” — a topic I’ll discuss later on.

The two of them covered many issues, even battled, and in the end “[s]aying goodbye was obviously tough for not only myself but for Pop and the [Spurs] organization.” The departure, however, was well timed. Hammon became head coach with the Las Vegas Aces and the first to win the WNBA championship in the opening year.

To help analyze Hammon’s success, I’ll use provocative research based on 46 high-quality studies where investigators found data that met their standards for measuring key factors promoting successful interpersonal function and performance in various major industries. The factors include superior leadership style, robust members’ support, and competent team members’ communication, and as the investigators indicate, they readily apply to top-level sports organizations. Recent articles about the Las Vegas Aces’ 2022 season display Hammon’s contribution in these three areas.

What’s obvious about this coach’s leadership is that she’s constantly involved with players, always seeking to improve them. The year before joining the Aces, Hammon was in Las Vegas, finding a moment to connect with Kelsey Plum and passing on to the player a few tips about offensive strategy that improved her game. She was grateful, saying Hammon had “been where we are, which helps.”

Another leadership quality this coach displays is the realization that challenges inevitably come with the job. The Aces won 13 of their first 15 games but lost five of the next seven. Hammon said, “There should be some hiccups. We came out like a rocket and then hit some rough patches.” She considered challenges useful, prompting her to add that “[t]he adversity will be beneficial to us more than the win-loss record down the road.”

As a leader Hammon is tough and exacting but cares deeply about the players . She declared, “I adore this team. I love coaching them, hanging out with them, interacting with them. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been really fun work.”

It’s hardly surprising that such a robust leader appreciates the contribution of team members’ support. After the Aces won their championship, Hammon complimented the players, citing the core of their appeal. She exclaimed, “They care about each other. They invest in each other. It’s been an absolute honor to be their coach. I saw excellence and I wanted to be a part of it.”

A journalist concluded that “[t]he chemistry of this team stands above all else for me.” He attributed much of it to Hammon’s careful planning, which featured “the second most efficient offense in league history” while defensively they compensated for limited height by “coverages to make playing small sustainable.”

Their chemistry promotes team communication, which Hammon believes is essential for success . She emphasized that “the biggest thing that I wanted to do coming in was just to get to know them on a personal level.” She approached them one at a time — “learning the little nuances of each individual player and just investing time and sitting and talking with them, sharing with them.” It became clear that “managing talent is probably almost as hard as parenting.”

The Aces’ Hammon-led success is a significant development, fortuitously developing as widespread interest in women’s sports has grown and begins to bring financial payoff. For instance, a sports-management professor indicated that major companies like Michelob and Google are taking advantage of that expanding market , increasing WNBA revenues along with the league’s prominence.

Nowadays I sometimes find myself visualizing women’s 60s basketball. The prevailing view was that females had much less stamina than males, and so rules protected them, dividing courts into offensive and defensive halves and stopping them from joining the action until the ball reached their area. Frequently the athletes seemed to emulate chess pieces, looking alienated and appearing light years from aspiring to anything resembling the modern dynamic contest.

It’s a stimulating contrast to live in an era where coaches like Becky Hammon drive talented players to achieve performances that are accelerating the game’s quality and entertainment value.

Chris Doob is an emeritus professor of sociology at Southern Connecticut State University and the author of a variety of books involving sociology and sports.