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Meet the women working for the NBA’s Western Conference teams

From Becky Hammon, parked beside Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, to Sue Bird, speaking up in Denver, former and current WNBA players will aim to help some of the NBA’s Western Conference teams fulfill their ambitions — as will some less-heralded women hoopers, such as the Clippers’ Natalie Nakase.

New Orleans Pelicans All Access Practice
Teresa Weatherspoon left the New York Liberty to head back to her home state of Louisiana. As a player development coach, she’ll look to help the young New Orleans Pelicans fly.
Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Unsure of what team to support in an NBA season that features so many new faces in so many new places? Possibly, the familiar face of a women’s basketball figure can help you find your team.

Here’s an overview of the women working on the basketball side of NBA’s western conference organizations.

Becky Hammon (San Antonio Spurs)

Becky Hammon remains the face of women in the NBA.

In 2014, the former New York Liberty and San Antonio Silver Stars point guard became the first full-time female assistant coach in the NBA. She now begins her sixth season on the San Antonio Spurs bench, and her second season on the front row, stationed beside Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Another San Antonio legend now will flank her other side.

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The imprimatur of Popovich and Tim Duncan, as well as the likes of former Spurs Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol, has allowed Hammon to accumulate the legitimacy that is (unfortunately) believed necessary because of her gender. Pop profusely has praised Hammon, insisting:

When you’ve been around it, you know who can coach and who can’t coach. Becky is one of those people. She’s a Steve Kerr. She’s a Doc Rivers. She’s those kind of people. They have a feel for the game that they want to continue to participate in.

However, when will this rhetorical support turn into a real opportunity? With Popovich turning 71 in January, his time on the San Antonio sideline seems to be winding down. Will Hammon then become the first woman head coach in the NBA?

On her status as the NBA’s most prominent woman coach and the prospect of becoming the NBA’s first woman head coach, Hammon told The New Yorker:

My motives shouldn’t be to change people’s minds. My job is to be the best that I can be, and if that changes your mind then great, but I can’t be consumed with how you feel about me.

Natalie Nakase (LA Clippers)

Natalie Nakase, not Becky Hammon, was the first woman to be hired as an NBA coach.

Now a full-time assistant with the LA Clippers, she first was promoted from assistant video coordinator to a temporary assistant coach. In 2014, she became the first woman coach in the NBA’s Summer League. Having served as an assistant coach with the Clippers’ G-League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers, she was promoted to the Clippers’ player development staff last summer.

Nakase’s basketball journey also highlights the often unrecognized diversity of women’s basketball. A third-generation Japanese American, she is a product of Southern California’s rich culture of Japanese American girls’ basketball, developing the skills and confidence necessary to walk on at UCLA, where she became an all-conference honorable mention by her senior year.

As alluded to above, Nakase often is a footnote in the popular narrative of women in the NBA, as Hammon, the former WNBA All-Star, sits at the center. The differing cultural statuses of Hammon and Nakase remind that the story of women in the NBA is a story that is not only being written by women who have starred in the WNBA.

It also is the story of women who, lacking the privileges that come with a professional basketball resume, must daily demonstrate the perseverance possessed by women who have carved out a place in other male-dominated industries, proving that intelligence and work ethnic know no gender.

Nakase also is not shy about her ultimate ambitions, telling the Orange County Register:

I do want to be a head coach. That’s definitely the final goal. But I don’t want to just be a head coach. That’s a great accomplishment, but I want to win championships. The way Doc (Rivers) talks about winning championships and how that bonds that group, that family, I want to feel that. So that’s the end goal. Multiple championships.

Sue Bird (Denver Nuggets)

Of course, it also is exciting to see WNBA legends enter the league.

Recently, the Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird shared her leadership journey with UNINTERRUPTED, emphasizing how she cultivated the confidence needed to contribute to the Denver Nuggets’ front office.

Let’s hope NBA franchises will continue to recognize their roles in encouraging Bird, as well as the other women, to fulfill their “great potential.”

Lindsey Harding (Sacramento Kings)

Compared to the other former WNBA players now working in the NBA, Lindsey Harding has been rather unheralded.

Before the 2018-19 NBA season, Harding, who had a nine-year WNBA career after a stellar collegiate career at Duke, became the first black woman to become a full-time scout in the NBA, serving the Philadelphia 76ers in this capacity. This summer, the Sacramento Kings hired her as an assistant coach.

The combination of her gender and racial identities may explain the relative lack of acclaim surrounding Harding and her place in the NBA.

Last spring, The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears asked Harding: “While these doors in the NBA have been opening for women, why do you think there haven’t been many black women given this opportunity?”

Harding replied:

I don’t know. For one, I think now people are realizing this could be a path. Because if you don’t know, you then may not pursue it. So a lot of people have actually called me and reached out: ‘Can you tell me about this?’ ‘What do you think?’ And I have players now that are black women who have called me about [the NBA Basketball Operations Associate Program] expressing interest and know that it is there.

Harding’s path to her NBA position points to the importance of the NBA Basketball Operations Associate Program, which encourages NBA organizations to look beyond the “(white) boys club” to find promising basketball minds, including often doubly-excluded women of color like Harding.

Of her NBA Basketball Operations Associate Program experience, Harding told NBA.com:

You were given the chance to rotate through different departments within [NBA] basketball operations, from officiating to data analytics to CBA / salary cap, just everything to get an understanding. It also helps with the transition from playing, what direction do I really want to go.

However, these credentials cannot overcome all ingrained gendered biases. When speaking to Spears and The Undefeated, Harding intimated that she still must contend with some sexist attitudes:

No one has been unwelcoming. But there have been situations where you can talk to certain people that may want to downplay your accomplishments because it might not have been in the NBA — not to mention that these people might not have played either in the NBA. It’s a very competitive industry to be in, whether on the court or off. I ran into things like that.

Something as simple as me saying to certain people, ‘Oh, you know, I’d love to be in the office or possibly run a team someday, go in that direction.’ ‘Oh, a WNBA team. That’s great. I love the WNBA.’ But I want people to think differently. I don’t say bigger or smaller. I say, ‘Think differently.’ … You understand the game, you can learn just like everyone else. You have value. You have experience. Why not?

Swin Cash and Teresa Weatherspoon (New Orleans Pelicans)

In New Orleans, Swin Cash and Teresa Weatherspoon also will demonstrate that women of color belong in NBA organizations.

Approximately one month ago, the New Orleans Pelicans announced that newly-inducted Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Weatherspoon would be joining vice president of basketball operations and player development Cash as a member of their basketball staff. Weatherspoon heads back to her home state to serve as a two-way player development coach, working with both young NBA players and G-Leaguers.

Due to the haul of draft picks the Pelicans acquired by trading Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, it is likely that Weatherspoon will be quite busy in the coming years, using her dogged mentality to help turn intriguing prospects intro integral players.

In addition to taking care of all the responsibilities required of a high-level NBA executive, Cash also is taking advantage of her representational power, unapologetically highlighting her status as a working mom and woman of color who is making her way in the NBA world.

Jenny Boucek (Dallas Mavericks)

Jenny Boucek deserves credit for making sure that NBA franchises accommodate the needs of working moms.

Last summer, the Dallas Mavericks hired Boucek. Twelve days later, she gave birth to her daughter, Rylie, who she conceived through in vitro fertilization.

In order to allow Boucek to balance her duties as a single mom with her dream of coaching in the NBA, the Mavs and head coach Rick Carlisle developed a unique, non-traveling coaching position for Boucek: assistant to the basketball staff and special projects. Last season, Boucek’s impact was demonstrable. According to the Dallas Morning News, Boucek may deserve some credit for former Maverick DeAndre Jordan’s significantly improved free-throw shooting.

Previously, Boucek served as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. After a collegiate career at Virginia and brief playing career in the WNBA, Boucek accumulated an extensive WNBA coaching career, highlighted by head coaching stints with the Sacramento Monarchs and Seattle Storm.

On women in the NBA, Boucek told The Athletic:

There is a whole pool of candidates out there, especially because we have a generation now of women who have come up through the WNBA and have been raised in professional sports around the NBA, coached by NBA coaches, learned NBA language and have been around NBA players. We’re now the first generation that’s really grown up that’s raised and bred to do this.

Niele Ivey (Memphis Grizzlies)

Niele Ivey also joins the roster of working moms in the NBA.

In 2001, Ivey led Notre Dame to their first National Championship. After a five-year WNBA career, she returned to her alma mater as a coach. She served under Muffet McGraw for 12 seasons, helping the Fighting Irish capture another National Championship during her tenure.

Ivey now takes her player development expertise to Memphis.

By hiring Ivey as an assistant coach, the Memphis Grizzlies and new head coach Taylor Jenkins answered the call of Ivey’s former boss, who insisted that institutions should empower women. McGraw, of course, offered effusions for Ivey’s opportunity:

It really speaks to Niele’s expertise that, out of all the coaches in the country, she was chosen for this position. The NBA is setting an excellent precedent of hiring and promoting women. This is going to be a great learning experience for Niele and hopefully one day she can take all that she’s learned and bring it back to our program.

As McGraw asserts, it would be encouraging to see Ivey, or another woman in the NBA, return to the women’s game. Such a decision would work to show that the women’s game is not secondary. It would emphasize that professional prestige can be achieved by coaching women as much as it can be achieved by coaching men.

But, for now, it will be exciting to see Ivey will bring a (likely needed) sense of fashion to the Memphis sideline, as noted by the gals on the Around the Rim podcast.

A final shoutout to all the other women working on the business side of Western Conference organizations, such as the Dallas Mavericks’ Cynthia Marshall, the Utah Jazz’s Linda Luchetti and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Amanda Green, as well as those serving in administrative support roles!