Born in South Dakota in 1977, Becky Hammon was a three-time All-American in basketball at Colorado State University. She became one of the best and most popular players in the WNBA, despite a controversial decision to play for the Russian Olympic team. In 2014, Hammon joined the NBA's San Antonio Spurs to become the first full-time woman coach in the four major North American professional sports leagues.
Early Years and Schools
Rebecca Lynn "Becky" Hammon was born on March 11, 1977, in Rapid City, South Dakota, to parents Marty and Bev. Raised on a property in the Black Hills National Forest, Hammon and her two older siblings developed a love for outdoor activities. She learned to dribble a basketball at a very young age, and honed her skills through competitive games with brother Matt at their home court.
The star player at Stevens High School in Rapid City, Hammon was named South Dakota Miss Basketball as a junior and the state player of the year as a senior. Despite the accolades, she drew little attention from college basketball recruiters, who considered her too small and too slow, but she made a favorable impression on an assistant coach from Colorado State University.
"My story, just in general, is a story of someone who was overlooked, someone who was told they can't, someone who was told, 'You're too slow. You're too short.' I've heard every reason why I shouldn't be successful. And yet, you just take that all in. I always say you should be very careful with the voices you listen to. And my closest voices have always told me, 'You can.'" - Becky Hammon
Hammon became one of the most celebrated players in Colorado State history. A three-time All-American, she led the team to a 33-3 record and a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament as a senior, and finished as the school's all-time leader in points, three-pointers, assists and steals. Facing more doubts about her athleticism by others, she was bypassed in the 1999 Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft, but eventually signed with the New York Liberty.
Early Professional Career
As a backup for the Liberty, Hammon won over teammates and fans with her hustle and shooting ability. She helped her team advance to the WNBA Finals in three of her first four seasons, and earned her first All-Star selection in 2003. The following year she took over as the Liberty's starting point guard.
Hammon enjoyed success with other teams during the WNBA offseason, playing for clubs in Italy, Spain and Russia. She also emerged as a star in the fledging National Women's Basketball League (NWBL), winning an MVP Award while leading the Colorado Chill to championships in 2005 and 2006.
Traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2007, Hammon went on to lead the league in assists per game and earn her first All-WNBA First Team selection. Known as "Big Shot Becky" for her clutch shooting, she led the Silver Stars to their first finals appearance the following year.
Left off the initial list of players invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic basketball team, Hammon signed a lucrative contract with CSKA Moscow in 2007. Although she later received an invite from Team USA, Hammon decided to play for her employer's country and became a Russian citizen in March 2008.
The decision was not well received by some members of U.S. women's basketball, with national coach Anne Donovan blasting her as "unpatriotic." However, for Hammon it was a matter of pursing the best opportunity to fulfill her dreams of playing in the Olympics. She helped her adopted country win the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, and also played for Russia during the 2012 Summer Games.
Professional Playing Career
The international flap had little negative effect on Hammon's popularity, as she finished second in the fan balloting for the WNBA All-Star Game and earned her second All-WNBA First Team selection in 2009. Crystallizing her impressive rise from undrafted prospect to superstar, Hammon was named one of the Top 15 players in WNBA history in 2011.
Her playing career seemed to be coming to a close in 2013, when Hammon suffered a broken finger and then a torn ACL. However, while rehabilitating her leg she received an invitation to join the staff of Gregg Popovich, head coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, and she spent the next few months attending the team's film sessions, practices and games.
Hammon played one final season in San Antonio before announcing her retirement in July 2014. She finished her stellar 16-year WNBA career ranking seventh all-time in scoring, fourth all-time in assists and second in three-pointers.
Making (NBA) History
On August 5, 2014, the Spurs announced the hiring of Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first full-time coach in the history of the four major North American professional sports. The announcement drew the praise of notable NBA personnel, including Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, as well as trailblazing female athletes such as Billie Jean King and Nancy Lieberman.
Hammon was further honored that year with the announcement that she would be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, and with her selection as espnW's Woman of the Year.
In 2016, Hammon made history again when she became the first woman to join the coaching staff of the NBA All-Star game.
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