Becky Hammon's coaching journey no surprise to former colleagues
By ERIK BACHARACH
Try asking Teresa Weatherspoon something about former teammate Becky Hammon and she'll interrupt with a wide smile before you can even finish the question.
"More than a teammate," Weatherspoon says. "A sister."
Weatherspoon, who played five seasons with Hammon on the Liberty between 1999- 2003, recalled one of the toughest nights of her career. It was early in the 1999 season, Hammon's first in the WNBA after graduating from Colorado State. Weatherspoon's nephew recently had passed away, and as she was readying herself for her first game back, she felt herself bombarded by emotion.
In that moment, one Weatherspoon called "one of the most difficult of my life," Hammon, a fresh-faced rookie, was there to wrap her arms around her.
"I believe in you," Hammon told Weatherspoon. "You can do this."
It's those traits -- maturity, leadership and the drive to make not only herself better but those around her -- that allowed Hammon to surge far past expectations as a WNBA player.
An undrafted free agent out of college, she played 15 seasons in the WNBA, was a six-time All-Star -- and continued to turn heads when she was hired in 2014 by the San Antonio Spurs as the NBA's first full-time female assistant coach.
On Sunday, the Liberty will induct Hammon into its Ring of Honor during halftime of its game against the Seattle Storm.
"Just a proud moment for all of us," said Weatherspoon, now the Liberty's director of player development.
Hammon became the first female head coach in the NBA's Summer League and led the Spurs to a championship in Las Vegas on July 20.
"I knew when she had this opportunity that she was the right person to break some of the barriers because she's doing it for all the right reasons," said San Antonio Stars coach Dan Hughes, who coached Hammon for eight years. "She's doing it because she's a good basketball coach, because she wants to work at this. The way she's doing it is just transcending so positively that it's just going to enhance even more opportunities for women.
"She saw the game in such a way that you had eyes on the court. You had a voice on the court. And for eight years, she was that internal piece. Whether we were in a timeout or whether we were on the court, you had a consistency. She enabled that."
Despite being undrafted, despite being only 5-6, despite having to earn a spot on the Liberty's roster in 1999, Hammon remained motivated, and she persisted.
"She willed herself into having a successful career in the WNBA," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. "From sheer will and awareness of the game, she made herself a very fine career. Players like that are always driven and driven basketball people. So it would be a natural step for her to go into a coaching situation."
In July 2013, Hammon tore an ACL in her first game of the season. During her rehabilitation, she attended the Spurs' coaches meetings and games, where she learned from and made an impression on coach Gregg Popovich. Hammon recovered and played one more season in the WNBA, but after she retired, Popovich came calling.
"That had to let everybody know across the country that she left an amazing impression of her knowledge of the game -- nothing to do with female, male, just her knowledge of the game. That's what Pop went after," Weatherspoon said. "It's no gimmick, and this is no surprise. This is who she is."
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