Back in the mid-2000s, long before she would eventually get the GM position she so desperately deserved, Kim Ng’s name used to pop up in every single GM search. “Oh, (insert MLB team name)? They’re interviewing this guy, that guy, this guy over here, and Kim Ng.”
Of course, Ng never got any of those positions, but teams loved to interview her and include her name in the list of candidates, hoping to gain street cred with women fans and diversity points with everyone else, even though it’s hard to believe any of those teams ever had any intention of hiring her.
Today’s Kim Ng is San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, Gregg Popovich’s No. 2 and the heir apparent to his head coaching job, whenever he decides he’s had enough. Were Hammon a white man sitting next to one of the most successful NBA coaches of all time (Popovich is only the third NBA coach to reach 1,300 wins), it would be more than enough to land her a head coaching gig of her own. Yet, here we are.
Over the weekend, news broke that Portland, a team that actually seemed like a viable destination for Hammon, was hiring Chauncey Billups as its next head coach. Portland had, as we discussed, made sure everyone knew they were interviewing a woman for their top job. I’m not sure why we fell for it again, other than we’ve all seen Portlandia, and Portland seems like the kind of place where a woman would have a real chance to smash through a glass ceiling. Alas, pro sports leagues run by men are not the bastions of equity and inclusion they like to make themselves out to be.
Let’s be clear: The NBA needs more Black head coaches. Full stop. With Billups’ hire, there are now 10 Black coaches in the NBA, the most since 2012. In a league where nearly 75 percent of the players identify as Black, that’s not nearly good enough.
All of that said, let’s take a look at what Portland is getting. Billups has been an assistant coach with the Clippers since November 2020. Prior to that, Billups was playing for the Big 3 League. Hammon, on the other hand, has been an assistant coach in the NBA since 2014. She led the Spurs Summer League team to a championship and took over for Pop as head coach when he was ejected from a game back in December, making her the first acting female coach in NBA history.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the revelation that Billups was accused of sexual assault in 1997. While Billups was never charged with a crime (only 50 out of 1,000 rapes are actually prosecuted), he and former Celtics teammate Ron Mercer settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged the two men raped her after she met them at a comedy club. Meanwhile, Jason Kidd, who is the new head coach in Dallas, pled guilty to domestic abuse in 2001 for hitting his now ex-wife and then to driving while intoxicated in 2012, after he crashed his car into a utility pole on Long Island.
It’s difficult for women, and a lot of the men I know, to accept the fact that Hammon wasn’t seen as the best candidate for the Portland job. We can probably chalk that up to some combination of sexism (rife in the sports industry) and the good-ole boys club, as Portland GM Neil Olshey has a prior relationship with Billups from their time with the Clippers. And we can, I think, safely say that Portland wanted everyone to know they were progressive enough to consider a woman for head coach, even if they never had any intent on hiring her.
But what feels like a real middle finger to female NBA fans is this: Men who have been accused of (or in Kidd’s case, admitted to) harming women are never asked about it. It never comes up. You never hear players or coaches or GMs bring up their sordid pasts. So the question we have for men who gloss over allegations of sexual assault and domestic abuse is this: Do you not believe the victims, or do you just not care?
Don’t worry, we know the answer.
Female sports fans are exhausted by being the keepers of the secrets. The ones who remember which man is accused of harming which woman and how, so that the men have the luxury of ignoring them. The only time someone says “hey, maybe you don’t want an accused rapist running your basketball team?” is after the fact, when the man has already been hired and we, the women, raise holy hell on social media, ruining everyone’s feel-good press conference. And we are tired of it. And while everyone loves Dame Lillard, his excuse for not knowing about Billups’ sexual assault history — “Sorry I wasn’t aware of the history, I didn’t read the news when I was 7/8 years old … say less” — is complete bullshit. If you’re gonna recommend someone for an NBA head coaching job, you should have at least run them through a Google search. I know all about Bobby Hull and that happened before I was born.
At this point, it would be refreshing for an NBA team to come out and say, “sorry, we’re just more comfortable hiring a problematic man than a woman.” At least that would be honest. At least then we wouldn’t have to put up with all the dissembling from the men involved about how they take sexual assault and domestic violence seriously, blah, blah, blah.
So here’s what it comes down to: The next time an NBA team interviews a woman for their head coach, be it Hammon or Teresa Weatherspoon, or someone else. Surprise us. Hire her, or keep her name out of your mouth. We don’t want to hear it.