Pau Gasol tears down stereotypes, says Becky Hammon ‘can coach NBA basketball’

Becky Hammon. Credit: Stephen Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports.

Becky Hammon is a pioneer. No, she didn’t go to DU, she’s a proud Colorado State University alumnus, and she’s continuing to make a new generation of women and men proud to be.

Hammon — a top-15 WNBA player of all-time and the greatest basketball player in the history of Colorado State, male or female — has fought and successfully broken through as the first woman assistant coach in NBA history. Soon, she will be the first woman head coach in NBA history. Just how soon remains to be seen, but it seems that day is coming closer.

Hammon, who played at Colorado State here in Fort Collins from 1995-1999, went onto have an illustrious professional career. And once that 15-year playing career came to an end, she was asked to become the first, full-time, salaried woman assistant coach in NBA history by Gregg Popovich, arguably the best coach in the game for the last two decades.

Today, Pau Gasol wrote in The Players’ Tribune about Hammon, using his European background as well as the rest of his experience to explain why, “Becky Hammon can coach.”

“I’m not saying she can coach pretty well,” Gasol wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “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.”

The piece, which is wonderfully written by the world-class, 19-year NBA veteran in Gasol, gives his unique perspective on it all as he breaks down the absurd stereotypes and “concerns” about women coaching in the NBA.

Like, the locker room, for instance. Which, he explains, the players have their own area and the coaches, a separate area, to change. No big deal. Gasol also says it’s ridiculous to believe that Popovich hired Hammon as a “P.R. move” because, let’s face it, Popovich loves winning more than maybe anything else in this world.

“Would you really expect Coach Pop to develop his staff any differently than he develops his players? Of course not,” Gasol explained. “Pop’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.”

And, finally, Gasol argues that the NBA has made some solid strides in coming closer to equality, but that the league shouldn’t just set the standard for sports leagues, it should set the standard for any industry, period.

This is where “sticking to sports” can also include a quick look into our society on the whole, like it or not.

Gasol starts his entire piece out about his parents, in Europe, with his father as a nurse and his mother, a doctor. As he explains, there wasn’t an internal power struggle, that’s just simply how it was. His mom was able to make it into a better, more rigorous program, and eventually become a more prominent member in the field than his dad. And that was OK.

In our patriarchally-based society, here, that dynamic seems foreign. Remember Ben Stiller’s character in “Meet the Parents” and how he’s emasculated by his girlfriend’s father — played by Robert De Niro — for working in a traditionally female-oriented field as a nurse?

They may not have everything figured out — no one does — but Europe sometimes seems like our more classy, more cultured, older brother. Universal healthcare, free college, and yes, women in Presidential-like leadership roles. In those areas, especially in gender inequality, we lag far behind.

Back to sports; in our male-dominated sporting landscape, we recently celebrated another CSU grad in Jenny Cavnar for being only the second-ever woman to call an MLB game from a play-by-play position.

And, while calling the game, Cavnar told us she was even thinking of Becky Hammon as an inspiration, breaking down barriers.

“I thought about Becky a lot and the amazing things she accomplishes daily by being a pioneer in NBA coaching and a great role model and Ram,” Cavnar told Mile High Sports about Hammon.

The NBA should be commended for its striving towards equality, jumping ahead of the other leagues who are just now trying to catch up. The NBA proudly involved the first female referees, the first women in league offices, the first women in front offices, and, of course, Becky Hammon.

This year, at Colorado State, as Larry Eustachy’s “culture of fear” was re-investigated and he eventually resigned, many Rams fans called for Hammon to be the next head coach of the men’s basketball team. Unfortunately for those who love the green and gold, she’s about to become the first woman NBA head coach.

If not for the Milwaukee Bucks — where she will interview soon — then for some other team ready to bring on the pioneer.

The NBA has made strides, and as Gasol begged for, it must continue to do even more in terms of gender equality. And, what does that say for the other professional leagues? The MLB is close to having their first female GM, which is something, at least. The NHL has a woman assistant GM, again, a start.

But what about the NFL, the most popular sport in America? The machismo-dominated boys club seems more male than ever, although, they’ve made strides as well. And, there’s one full-time, assistant coach in the NFL who’s a woman, too, in Kathryn Smith for the Buffalo Bills.

Small steps are good, but giant leaps are great.

As the Culture Trip explains here, women are coaching men more prevalently the last few years. Which is great; equality is what we should strive for, no matter sex, gender, race or creed.

But, it’s still just a drop in the bucket — 2.5-3 percent of NCAA men’s teams are coached by women, and 0 percent of American professional teams — and until more women are put in those head coaching (or head GM roles etc.), perceptions will be slow to change.

That’s where Hammon comes in. She will be the first female NBA head coach. And then, there will be another, and another until, one day, it won’t even be a story anymore.

For now, in 2018, it’s a big story. As far as we think we’ve come as a society, we haven’t come that far at all, at least when it comes to gender equality. That’s where sports can come in, as a reflection of society, and help lead the way for more women in leadership roles in male-dominated professions.

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