The sports industry has long been a man’s world, but slowly women have made their way in to not only the media, but also the officiating, and more recently, the coaching ranks. Women make up roughly 40% of the fan base of major sports, and they’re being called upon more often get involved at a higher level. I’m a perfect example. I grew up watching basketball with my dad, and I have a deep love for the game. I will never play in the NBA, but I love that I get to participate in the incredible world of professional sports.
As part of the effort to bring more women into the league, the NBA has partnered with LeanIn.org to launch a gender equality public awareness campaign, and the first move will be seeing the NBA implement more female officials starting next season. Currently, Lauren Holtkamp is the only female official the NBA has, but league commissioner Adam Silver is taking an active approach to see that change. The league recently began implementing plans to improve its officiating program starting with increasing the number of officials by 25%. Silver said that the league plans to pull from qualified women as equally as men.
Silver went on to say that there’s nothing preventing women from taking coaching jobs in the NBA and that he hopes to see a female coach in the league sooner rather than later.
“But on the other hand when it comes to coaching, when there is absolutely no physical requirement, when it is not a function of how high you can jump or how strong you are, there is no physical litmus test to being a head coach in the league, there is absolutely no reason why a woman will not ascend to be a head coach in this league. We are very focused in on it.”
Silver stated that the main reason there are no women coaches in the NBA is primarily because there have been none in the pipeline to hire. However, in recent years things have changed and I’m happy to say that there are currently three women in the pipeline for head coaching positions in the league. Becky Hammon- San Antonio Spurs’ Assistant Coach, Nancy Lieberman- Sacramento Kings’ Assistant Coach, and Natalie Nakase- Los Angeles Clippers’ Assistant Video Coordinator.
Hammon is a retired WNBA player whose resume includes the San Antonio Stars and the New York Liberty, as well as several teams outside the United States. Hammon was born and raised in the US, but became a Russian citizen in 2008 and represented Russia in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Hammon was brought on with the Spurs organization in 2014 becoming the second female assistant coach in NBA history, and the first full-time female assistant coach. She also was the first full time assistant coach to be hired out of all four major sports—football, basketball, baseball & hockey. In the summer of 2015 Hamon led the Spurs to the summer league title after being named Summer League Head Coach.
Lieberman is also a former WNBA player and coach nicknamed “Lady Magic”. Lieberman played for the USA Women’s Pan American team bringing home both a gold and silver medal for the US. In 2000, she was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame, and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. She also served as coach for the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League becoming the first female head coach of a men’s professional basketball team.
Last, but not least, Natalie Nasake grew up in Orange County, California and played college basketball for the UCLA Bruins. She went on to become the first Asian American to play in the National Women’s Basketball League. Nasake played in Germany before sustaining a career-ending knee injury. She returned as a coach for a women’s team in Germany and was later hired on as the first female coach in Japan’s professional league. Nasake returned to the US to pursue a coaching job, and was hired on with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2012.
These three women certainly have the qualifications to pursue a head coaching job in the league, and it appears that they may not be far away from realizing their goals. Congratulations to the NBA for being active in their pursuit to give women a prominent role within their organizations.
Part of the reason I love this league is their progressive and unwavering stance on equality for everyone regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or anything else that might cause division between people. They continuously set the example for other leagues on how to tackle sensitive issues with dignity and professionalism. I’m excited to see what the future holds for women in the NBA, and I am hopeful to see one of these amazing ladies get a shot at their dream job paving the way for others after them.
by Ashley Douglas