Becky Hammon would not be where she is today without the WNBA.
Hammon was inducted into the New York Liberty's Ring of Honor on Sunday, August 2nd at halftime of the game between the Liberty and Seattle Storm in Madison Square Garden. In her acceptance speech, she talked about what got her to where she is today, crediting the WNBA and the Liberty as part of her roots.
Hammon's roots also include South Dakota, where she was raised, and Colorado State, where she played her college basketball.
"My dream was to play in the NBA," Hammon said. "My dad told me straight up right from the beginning, ‘you will never do that.'"
However, with the creation of the WNBA in 1997, there was finally a place where women like Hammon could achieve their dreams of playing professional basketball. The WNBA became the goal for Hammon and gave her a way in which to continue her basketball career.
Hammon played for the New York Liberty from 1999-2006 and for the San Antonio Stars from 2007-2014. She averaged 13.0 points per game in 450 career games in the WNBA. She was named to the WNBA All-Star team six times and averaged a career-high 19.5 points per game for San Antonio in the 2009 season.
"Without the WNBA and even stepping foot in the Garden in '99, we would not be sitting here," Hammon said.
She credits the WNBA for giving her a platform, much like the NBA gives men a platform to continue playing basketball and beyond. Many NBA and college basketball coaches have playing experience in the NBA, which gives them an advantage in the coaching hiring process.
The WNBA gave Hammon professional playing experience that made her even more attractive to potential coaching employers. When the San Antonio Spurs hired her in August of 2014, Hammon became the first female assistant coach in NBA history.
Prior to the WNBA, professional basketball in America was strictly a man's world. Now, women do not just have their own professional basketball league, but now women have a voice and presence in men's professional sports thanks to the hiring of Hammon and now Nancy Lieberman.
"I think you're going to start seeing more and more women kind of breaking into the man's world," Hammon said.
Now, gender equality in sports is no quick fix. There's no doubt sexism still exists in the sports world, especially in terms of the WNBA's popularity and reputation in comparison to the NBA.
However, in a study entitled "'You Go Girl!' Twitter and Conversations about Sport Culture and Gender, researchers Sanderson and Gramlich (in press), found that fans on Twitter were mostly supportive of Hammon's hiring, with the minority of tweets expressing resistance or sexist comments.
It seems the sports world is becoming more comfortable with the presence of women, specifically women working in men's leagues. However, even though the WNBA and Hammon are both examples of increasing gender equality, they both stress that the rise of females in sport does not need to be at the expense of males.
"We're not asking the male to get up and leave his seat. We're just saying scoot over a little bit. Make a little room at the table for the ladies," Hammon said.