If Becky Hammon is disappointed when we get on a Zoom call on Wednesday afternoon, she doesn’t show it. Earlier that morning, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced the hiring of a new head coach—and despite being widely considered a top contender for the role, instead of announcing the first female head coach in the National Basketball Association, the organization named the zillionth man. Still, Hammon, who has been a top assistant coach for the Spurs since finishing her WNBA career with the San Antonio Stars in 2014, sits comfortably in a purple checked blazer with her collar popped, as swaggering a personality as any you’d find in the NBA.
OKC’s loss is San Antonio’s gain, though, and the city has embraced Hammon, both in her multiple All-Star seasons with the Stars and as she’s shattered any number of glass ceilings with the Spurs—as the first woman to win a Summer League title (which she did in 2015), the first woman to be part of an All-Star Game coaching staff (the following year), and the first woman to interview for an NBA head coaching job (in 2017, with the Milwaukee Bucks). To commemorate San Antonio’s bond with the 43-year-old star, there’s now also a mural of Hammon in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, painted by Houston artist Sebastien Boileau and featured in a new short film from documentary platform 60 Second Docs. Texas Monthly caught up with Hammon to talk about the mural, her connection to San Antonio, and why she doesn’t just go around bashing hockey.
Texas Monthly: You’ve been in San Antonio for thirteen years. What’s your relationship like with the city?
Becky Hammon: I love the city. I you know, since I got traded here in 2007 from New York, I bought a house. I’ve taken a residency. It just felt like home immediately. Texas feels like a nice mix of where I came from, in the sense that I grew up in South Dakota, but then I lived in New York for about eight or nine years. Texas is like a nice middle ground to those two extremes. And then I love San Antonio and I love what it represents. It’s multicultural. The people are warm, they’re hardworking, and it kind of fits in with my personality. It’s a nice mix for me.
TM: San Antonio seems like it has a special relationship to the Spurs. Is that reflected in your relationship to the city as well? Do people stop you when you’re getting breakfast tacos?
BH: They are hard-core here about their Spurs. And yeah, people come up often. They’re always very polite and appreciative. I think they appreciate my body of work not only as as a coach for the Spurs, but when I was a player. I’ve kind of grown up in front of them in a sense. Even though I was thirty-one or thirty-two when I showed up, they’ve really embraced me and I think have a fondness for our relationship that we’ve been able to build over the last—has it really been thirteen years? It’s been fun and it’s been one heck of a journey. I couldn’t even have written this script myself, I’ve got to tell you.
TM: This mural feels very San Antonio. It’s got kind of like a prayer candle vibe going on. What was your first thought when you saw it?
BH: Well, I hadn’t seen it [until the documentary]. I didn’t know what kind of theme they had been working on. I had about an hourlong conversation with 60 Second Docs, and they were just asking me questions. I was just telling my story. Then they came up with the theme and the picture, and so when I drove up, it was a little emotional, a little overwhelming. It’s just so big. It was on a huge wall, and and I think for me, seeing the little girl just brought back years of memories, years of success, failure, ups and downs. Seeing the little girl really got to me.
TM: When something like this documentary is out there, does that give you more space where you can focus on coaching and less on being the subject of a story?
BH: Well, my job is to just be the best that I can and let other people write the story. But I do think my journey of these ultimate great successes, but also some devastating losses—whether you’re talking about doors being shut, whether you’re talking about injuries, whether you’re talking about not being picked on a team that doubted me or kind of pushed me to the side. That’s the journey that makes me me. And I hope when people see my journey, it encourages them. It inspires them that they can do it, too. Because I was the kid who was not picked. I am that kid. I wasn’t drafted. I wasn’t highly recruited. I was left off the Olympic team when I felt that I was good enough to be on it. There were doors that were shut, injuries that had happened. And I wouldn’t change any of it. I honestly would not change any of it because those moments are really what prepared me to do what I’m doing now. They’re preparing me still for what’s to come, because I do believe the best is yet to come. My story is still unwritten. I’m working it out, and I don’t know how it ends. The book doesn’t have a final chapter yet.
TM: Are there ups and downs that come with being a trailblazer? Is that just exciting or is it exhausting?
BH: It’s both. When you’re a professional player, people come and they see that game and they appreciate your skill and they love watching you perform. But those people have not seen the hours and hours and hours and hours behind the scene, the back end of that hard work, the back end of those disappointments, the baggage. You get to see the shiny finished model. And it’s the same thing with this journey. There are so many things that are great and inspiring and, you know, even miraculous on some levels. But there’s a back end to that, too—to being the first. You’re taking a lot of nicks and scrapes that people don’t see. And I’m not talking physical, I’m talking emotionally and mentally. There’s the praise that this is the most amazing thing. And then there’s the pushback. A lot of people don’t want me here sitting in this chair. There are other people that want to be sitting in this chair that I’m sitting in. So I can’t really be concerned with either one. I’ve got to be concerned with doing a great job, being who I am and getting better so that, yes, I am the first, but I definitely will not be the last.
TM: You came out of the WNBA, which is a league that’s grown in stature in recent years. Looking at it today, does it still feel like the league you played in?
BH: No, it’s a different league. It’s obviously a league that has been built with a great foundation. And I think I’m one of those foundational pieces, coming into the league in ’99. It’s a young league, only since 1997. You’ve got to understand that back then, we did not have the internet like we do. We did not have fifty channels of ESPN. We did not have social media. We did not have access to people’s hearts and minds the way we do now. We did not have that platform.
I think the fact that the WNBA is getting more recognition and these women are getting more of the praise and admiration that are very well deserved speaks to the foundational work that the players did before this. Even before ’97, you can go back to women who paved the way. I’m looking at Rebecca Lobo. I’m looking at Lisa Leslie. I’m looking at Sheryl Swoopes. Dawn Staley. Just giants in the women’s basketball world. And so you have that foundation. But even then, they had a foundation before them—the Annie Meyerses of the world, the Nancy Liebermans of the world. There are so many women that have built this foundation, and I am just humbled and truly honored to be a part of one of the bricks laid for these young women now to be able to excel. I think the pay disparity is still way too much.
These women are the best in the world at what they do. It is the best league in the world, and they should be paid like other professional athletes are paid. I think one of the hurdles that the WNBA had to deal with early on was a lot of broadcasters and sports personalities, radio personalities—men who were not fans of the WNBA—they thought they could go out and just kick some girls’ butts because they were a man and they played in high school. It’s like, ‘Well, congratulations, you’re one of millions of men.’ But the blatant disrespect for these women’s work, we’ve kind of gotten beyond that. And for me, I’ll just take the sport of hockey. I’m not a huge hockey fan, but I don’t feel the need to go on every social media platform and every show and say how hockey is lame. I don’t feel the need to hate on that league. I’m just not a hockey person and that’s fine. But so men went out of their way to discredit women early on, and they did the WNBA a great disservice. But it also shows the resiliency of these women: We don’t care what you think. We’re still going to play. We’re still going to compete. And yes, if you would like to come out here, we’re more than glad to kick your butt on the basketball court as well, while you just sit back behind your mic and do all the chitchatting. But that’s another whole story.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.