Sep 18, 2022; Uncasville, Connecticut, USA; Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon celebrates after winning the WNBA Championship in game four of the 2022 WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

When Becky Hammon is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, she will be presented by Sheryl Swoopes and Teresa Weatherspoon, two women who have impacted basketball not just as players but also as coaches.

Hammon's Hall of Fame induction will be as a player, but you can't ignore her accomplishments as a coach.

The two legacies are intertwined.

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Hammon started talking about how she wanted to be a coach well before she retired as a player in 2014. When she had to miss playing time for the San Antonio Stars after an ACL tear, she sat in on San Antonio Spurs practices, meetings and games. That experience opened the door for her to become the first woman to work as a full-time assistant coach in the NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB and then the first woman to be a head coach of an NBA Summer League team.

And after Gregg Popovich (also part of the 2023 Hall of Fame class) was ejected from a Spurs game in 2017, Hammon became the first woman to be the head coach of an NBA team.

You can't separate the coach from the player. Everything about Hammon's playing career prepared her for coaching.

"My journey is not by mistake. Every hard thing that I've gone through has built something in me that I've needed down the road," Hammon said after her Las Vegas Aces won the 2022 WNBA championship. "And even though it sucks in the moment to not to be picked or to get hurt or whatever it might be, the hard stuff builds stuff in you that's necessary for life, and you'll use it down the road. It may not feel like it in that moment."

Maybe Hammon built that mettle when she was in South Dakota in high school while not getting noticed by blue-chip women's college basketball programs. Maybe it was during the 1999 WNBA Draft, when, despite a stellar career at Colorado State, she went undrafted.

Maybe it was when she rehabbed from an ACL injury in 2003 with the New York Liberty or when she rehabbed from her second ACL injury with the Stars in 2013. Perhaps it was over the course of 16 seasons in the WNBA, in which the six-time All-Star also played overseas every year.

Somewhere along the way, Hammon became the kind of basketball coach who would help her players reach their own personal heights. It's appropriate that she's being inducted in the same class as Pau Gasol, who she coached in San Antonio. In 2018, the Spurs center wrote a letter for the Players' Tribune about her ability as a coach.

"I've played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach," Gasol wrote. "I'm not saying she can coach pretty well. 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 Aces won their league title in Hammon's first year, making her the first rookie WNBA coach to win a championship. Part of the reason the team didn't have any drop-off when it changed coaches was because of how Hammon started requiring the players' best from day one.

"It's been great from start to finish. She demands excellence from us each and every day," star guard Chelsea Gray said of Las Vegas' 2022 championship run with Hammon. "It's fun to do that with somebody that you know has your back, and she's instilled that into us each moment. And so it's fun to raise that banner with her."


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