Becky Hammon and Dawn Staley were literally right there.
But, instead of making history by being the first NBA team to hire a woman as their head coach, the Portland Trail Blazers chose former point guard Chauncy Billups — and he led them to one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
This is what misogyny looks like.
On a day — Tuesday, Sept. 20 — when Hammon and the Las Vegas Aces will hold their championship parade on The Strip in Sin City, it’s a great time to remind folks just how bad Portland screwed this up. There were only five teams that had a worse record than the Trail Blazers last season, as they only won two of their last 23 games. And yes, the team lost Damian Lillard in January to a season-ending injury, as well as trading away their second-best player in CJ McCollum to New Orleans. But how do you explain going 27-55 with a rookie head coach when the two candidates you passed on cut down nets this year?
The answer is a simple one: Making dumb decisions is just what this franchise likes to do.
In 1984, this was the team that took Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the draft. And don’t give me that “But they already had Clyde Drexler” excuse. You make it work.
In 2007, this was the team that took Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in the draft. And don’t give me that “But, we still thought you needed a big man to win” excuse. It was clear as day that Durant was a transcendent talent.
And in 2021, this was the team that chose Billups over Hammon and Staley to be their head coach. And don’t give me that “but, he has experience in NBA locker rooms” excuse. The Trail Blazers hired Billups when he only had one year as an assistant as the lone coaching experience on his resume compared to the eight seasons that Hammon spent on the San Antonio Spurs staff.
There’s also the drama that still hangs over Billups.
“Jason (Quick from The Athletic), we appreciate your question, we’ve addressed this. It’s been asked and answered so happy to move on to the next question here,” a Trail Blazers employee said as he cut off a reporter’s follow-up question to Billups during his introductory press conference.
Billups faced a sexual assault allegation in 1997. And before the Trail Blazers shut down any questions about it, Billups took to the mic to say that the situation “(has) impacted every decision that I make, you know, it really has. It’s shaped me in some unbelievable ways.” And after former Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey — who was fired in December of 2021 due to reports that he created a toxic work environment within the organization — told reports to “take our word” on the team’s “thorough investigation” into the matter, it was reported the team never contacted Billups’ accuser or got statements from other key figures from the investigation.
Incompetence is as much a part of this franchise’s DNA as is their bad decision-making.
“I come with a lot of credentials,” Staley told the New York Times in June of last year. “I surely have the confidence. I surely can stand in front of men and lead them. First-team All-Stars. MVPs. I’m OK with that.” Since Staley said that — and when Billups was hired — she’s won an Olympics gold medal as the head coach of Team USA and the 2021 Women’s NCAA Tournament, making her the first Black coach — of any gender — to win multiple championships at the highest level of college basketball.
And in terms of Hammon? Well, on top of leading the Aces to their first WNBA title in her first season as a head coach, the highest-paid coach in the league got a chance to show people that she was a star after being repeatedly passed over for NBA jobs.
“Every hard thing that I’ve gone through has built something in me that I’ve needed down the road, 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,” she said after the Aces defeated the Connecticut Sun, 3-1, in the WNBA Finals.
“For me, it’s not really about proving other people wrong, it’s about proving myself right.”
The Portland Trail Blazers keep getting it wrong. And for a franchise that has messed things up so many times in the past, you would have thought that they would have tried to change their misfortunes by hiring Staley or Hammon after bringing them in for interviews. But, they did what they always do and chose wrong by sticking with the “safe choice.”
Don’t be surprised if you see Dawn Staley at the Las Vegas Aces parade on Tuesday, as she’ll more than likely be on hand to celebrate with A’ja Wilson — her former star player. And in a moment in which women will be drinking in celebration — and being celebrated for their coaching excellence — the powers that be in Portland will probably just be drinking their sorrows away, again.