|06 August 2014|
|Rebekka Hammon had a glorious playing career in Europe and in the States|
By Paul Nilsen
As social media threatens to go into meltdown with the news that San Antonio Spurs have appointed the first fully-paid female assistant coach in NBA history, it shouldn't be a surprise that Russia and Euroleague Women star Becky Hammon is the centre of attention.
There is also a rather neat symmetry in that there probably wasn't much of a surprise as to which NBA franchise had appointed her.
For San Antonio are usually ahead of the curve in most things and their propensity for thinking outside of the box is further strengthened with this latest and highly interesting move.
Cosmopolitan with a capital ‘C', the Spurs continue to ignore convention as they proudly break new ground.
As ever, they are endearing themselves to many in their fresh approach having also captured European coaching legend Ettore Messina as an assistant only a few weeks ago, prior to helping Hammon smash through what many see as a gender glass-ceiling.
Not that this necessarily needs to be an issue about gender at all - although the inescapable reality for the Spurs, Hammon and head coach Gregg Popovich is that it inevitably will be.
As others debate what it means for the NBA, the Spurs, women' basketball and women in sport more generally, the other dimension is the deep-rooted European influences which will presumably still flourish at the Spurs with the arrival of Hammon and Messina.
For while Hammon is quite rightly heralded as a women's basketball legend due to her terrific sixteen-year WNBA career (the last half of which has been undertaken while donning a San Antonio Stars vest), it has been her achievements and impact on European soil for both club and (adopted) country which have also caught the eye.
Recently announcing her retirement from the game, Hammon takes vast experience into the Spurs' camp from her playing days.
There is a credible argument that since the WNBA is strongly ‘vanilla', much of what the guard has learned over the years will have come from her more flavoursome pursuits on European courts.
For it has maybe been forgotten that for the first half of Hammon's career, she stayed in the relative comfort of familiar surroundings by plying her trade in the WNBA.
It wasn't until the summer of 2006 that she pitched up at Rivas in Spain, where she would spend one year, before playing six seasons in EuroLeague Women for the likes of CSKA Moscow, Ros Casares, Nadezhda and Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje.
|Hammon experienced great success playing for her adopted country of Russia|
It was arguably her decision to become a naturalised option for Russia which of course courted the most attention as she lined up alongside her new team-mates and a hugely gifted Russian generation. However, any furore over her decision to rule out playing for her native USA was quickly forgotten as she produced the goods.
She averaged double-digits in four of the five major tournaments she competed in, starting off with the Diamond Ball Tournament in 2008, which was quickly followed by a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics during the same year.
Reaching a EuroBasket Women final in 2009 with a stunning 16.5 points per game and going on to play at the FIBA World Championship for Women in 2010, before bowing out at London 2012, Hammon imposed her influence and showed that any negative attention wasn't going to knock her out of her stride.
Fast-forwarding to the current situation, Hammon hasn't simply parachuted her way into NBA history - it has been an organic process.
Sure, one which has been founded on her lengthy time with San Antonio and nurturing her coaching aspirations - but also via her rich and varied learnings in Europe.
Indeed Hammon herself would probably be the first to admit to the importance of that critical decision she made in finally deciding to cross The Pond.
As she embarks on her new career under the gaze of more media attention than ever before, she will surely be grateful for what her experiences in Europe have given her and that defining moment when those aeroplane wheels first touched down at Barajas airport some eight years ago.