Becky Hammon was the first woman to become a full-time NBA assistant coach in 2014 when she joined the San Antonio Spurs. Since that time, Hammon has developed her craft as a coach, where she led the Spurs Summer League team to the 2015 NBA Summer League title. She has since interviewed for multiple college head coaching vacancies, including the men’s basketball position at Colorado State, where she went to college. Now, she will interview for the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching position.
With Hammon paving the way for WNBA players to join NBA teams’ coaching staffs after retiring from the court, who could be next? One name that should appear at the top of the list is Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird.
The Seattle Storm point guard is entering her 17th WNBA season and is showing no signs of slowing down as a player. Still, WNBA general managers have consistently stated that she would make a great head coach someday. In fact, Bird led the vote totals to this particular question in each of the last three years and six of the last nine.
In July 2017, Mechelle Voepel of espnW wrote a column on Bird and her personal life. Multiple people interviewed in Voepel’s column wrote about aspects of her personality and her approach to the game of basketball that can work well as a coach.
For example, UConn Women’s Basketball Head Coach Geno Auriemma told Bird during her sophomore year that as a point guard that she had to take ownership of the team’s actions to the point where mistakes her teammates made were Bird’s fault. Head coaches are responsible for what goes on within their teams, even if they aren’t directly involved and, especially, when things are not going right.
Another example in Voepel’s column is her relationship with NBA players. For example, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving struck up a friendship with Bird during the 2016 Olympic Games when both were representing the United States. In Voepel’s column, Irving stated that “[Bird] plays with a fluidity you don’t often see. She’s the consummate professional, as well as understanding the game of basketball in its totality.”
And finally, Bird herself is a forward-thinking player. In March 2016, she wrote a column in The Players’ Tribune about the lack of in-depth data in women’s basketball while the NBA and men’s college basketball have more robust resources for teams to plan ahead in terms of game strategy. Bird used Czech player Jana Vesela as an example of a player who knew how to do all the “little” things, such as screens, but few realized her full potential.
Bird credits former Storm head coach Jenny Boucek for opening her mind to analytics. Now, Bird is one of the players who embraces that tool as an essential part to growing the women’s game. She is now regularly a featured speaker at the annual Sloan Sports Conference at MIT’s Sloan School of Business.
But does Bird truly want to coach? She said “yes and no” to Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant in July 2015, which sounded noncommittal. But after being pressed about coaching, Bird acknowledged that she wouldn’t rule out coaching men if she was a coach. Since Bird is still playing at a high level right now, she may not be thinking about coaching just yet. Still, she has been an ESPN color analyst for women’s college basketball games since 2014, so Bird clearly does have an eye on her post-playing career.
If Bird does want to coach in the NBA, there is one significant disadvantage she has compared to Hammon and Tamika Catchings, Director of Player and Franchise Development for the Indiana Pacers. The Seattle Storm have played in a city without an NBA team since 2008, while Hammon and Catchings played on WNBA teams whose ownership also had an NBA team when they retired.
That said, it probably doesn’t matter very much given Bird’s profile as a WNBA superstar. NBA players want to learn from other great players. So, if players like Irving, among many others, already respect Bird’s game as a player, they certainly will follow her lead as a coach.
For now, Seattle Storm and WNBA fans alike should enjoy Bird’s game on the court because she is one of the all-time greats. But when Bird eventually decides to retire, she has more than what it takes to be the next WNBA player to make it as a coach in the NBA.