Old man Pau Gasol wrote for The Players’ Tribune this week about the head coaching qualifications of Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, who reportedly has an interview lined up with the Milwaukee Bucks in the coming days. The upshot of Gasol’s letter is this: Hammon is exceedingly qualified to coach an NBA team, and the main arguments against her candidacy are mostly dumb and wrong.
It’s a good letter, and I recommend reading it in full. While it convincingly addresses the most common objections to Hammon leading an NBA team, it fails to anticipate and answer the particularly dumb and unfair one uncorked by Gary D’Amato in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday. D’Amato’s argument, unbelievably, is though Hammon has a strong resumé and the Bucks deserve credit for interviewing her, they should not hire her because scumbags will act like scumbags about it:
“There would be considerable pressure on the Bucks players to say and do all the right things under Hammon.
But human nature being what it is, sooner or later a player would get upset about playing time. Someone would question a rotation or a late-game coaching decision. And heaven forbid the Bucks lose a couple close games at the buzzer. The vocal segment of fans who believe a woman can’t or shouldn’t coach an NBA team would be relentless and cruel in their criticism.”
This normal and predictable reality of coaching in the NBA will present an opportunity for misogynists to attempt to discredit women as coaches, and therefore Hammon should wait for an opportunity where players do not behave like players and teams do not lose close games at the buzzer.
D’Amato concedes that Hammon—who played basketball professionally and is already the very first full-time woman assistant coach in NBA history—would probably be able to handle, umm, criticism. But, he says, if the Bucks were to fail to improve they “would come under fire for allowing a ‘social experiment’ to derail their title aspirations,” and this particular strain of criticism is “just too big a gamble for a team teetering between good and potentially great.” Never mind that hiring Hammon could only be considered a social experiment if you’re preloaded with doubt that a woman can coach men professionally.
D’Amato’s concern is not the risk that Hammon would fail, but the risk that if she were to fail, garbage people would say mean things about her and the Bucks. Her failure in this job would be worse than the same hypothetical failure by, say, David Blatt, because assholes are assholes. This seems like a fair reason to deny a candidate whose qualifications you have already praised! People are bad, therefore a qualified candidate coaching a quality roster for a progressive organization in a small media market is the wrong opportunity at this time.
Thankfully, D’Amato does allow for one narrow set of circumstances where hiring Hammon would make sense for an NBA team, potential for failure be damned:
“If it were solely about marketing, you could justify hiring her. It would be the biggest sports story of the year, one of the hottest topics of conversation in every locker room, living room and board room in America. Every blogger, tweeter, texter and talking head would weigh in and the buzz would last for weeks, for months, for however long Hammon was in charge and probably long after she wasn’t.”
Ah ha. So if the first woman to coach an NBA team is hired just for “marketing,” that will be fine. But if she’s hired to lead a competitive basketball team looking for a coach with just her caliber of basketball pedigree, people might not take her seriously. Got it.