• Sumo

By Ken Reed

A couple days ago, the San Antonio Spurs’ Pau Gasol sat down and wrote a terrific piece about the need for progressive thinking when it comes to the topic of a female head coach in the NBA.

Gasol was inspired to write the letter for The Players’ Tribune by the negative reaction to the news that the Milwaukee Bucks were going to interview Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, making her the first female interviewed for a top coaching job in the NBA.

Gasol is dismayed that we, as a society, are still making a big deal about gender in coaching. In Gasol’s mind, Hammon is clearly qualified for the job.

“One, she was an accomplished player — with an elite point guard’s mind for the game,” writes Gasol.

“And two, she has been a successful assistant for arguably the greatest coach in the game. What more do you need? But like I said — I’m not here to make that argument. Arguing on Coach Hammon’s behalf would feel patronizing. To me, it would be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.”

Gasol passionately and effectively takes apart the arguments he’s heard against Hammon as a possible head coach.

Is Hammon capable of coaching men at the highest level of the game?

“[I]’ve been in the NBA for 17 years. I’ve won two championships … I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich,” writes Gasol.

“And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”

Gasol is angry when he hears people say the Spurs hired Hammon in her current position simply as a public relations tactic.

“What? Seriously: What? No. We’re talking about the NBA here — a business where there’s a lot of money on the line, and little patience for mediocrity. [Popovich’s] only standard for doing anything is whether it’ll help us in just one way … and it isn’t getting good p.r. It’s getting W’s. And getting those W’s The Spurs Way.”

Gasol is appalled when he hears people say if there were a female head coach in the NBA there would be some “awkwardness in the locker room.”

“Maybe you’re laughing to yourself as you read that,” writes Gasol.

“And I get it. It’s ridiculous. But I think it’s worth taking seriously, too, for a moment — just in terms of how embarrassing it is for us as a league that this is something people are actually talking about. First, as for the idea itself: I mean, of course it’s a myth. Give me a break. There’s really nothing to say about it even. The players dress in a certain area, and the coaches dress in a certain area. O.K.? And yes, I’m sure, within that coaches area, Becky has a private space. But the point is — it’s not like you’re seeing male head coaches sharing a space with players while they’re changing. It doesn’t happen.

“But I also think it goes to something deeper than that, when people will make this argument — in a way that really bothers me. It goes to this idea that … as we’re making all of these amazing strides in society, in terms of increasing our social awareness, and making efforts toward ideas like diversity and equality, and just sort of creating this more inclusive world … somehow sports should be an exception. It’s this idea, for some people, that sports should almost be this haven, where it’s O.K. to be closed-minded — like a bubble for all of our worst ignorance.”

Gasol is encouraged by the fact the NBA is the most progressive of all pro sports leagues in the United States when it comes to a variety of issues.

“I see it when we’re coming together over something as urgent as Black Lives Matter … I see it when guys like DeMar [DeRozan] and Kevin [Love] are being vocal and open about emotional wellbeing … I see it when Adam Silver, our commissioner, is marching in an LGBTQ pride parade … I see it when MVPs like Steph and LeBron keep showing the world that nobody is too famous to use their platform to stand up for what they believe in … and of course I see it when a franchise like the Bucks is willing to give an interview for their head-coaching vacancy to a candidate who — male or female — absolutely deserves it.”

Gasol is proud of where his league is today on social justice topics, but he also wants to keep pushing forward.

The Bucks interviewing Becky Hammon is a positive step in that direction.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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