As the president of the NBA Coaches Association, Rick Carlisle has to address many issues.
In a progressive age when folks strive for equal pay and opportunities, Carlisle was asked about a key issue pertaining to female coaches: How long will it be before the NBA hires its first female head coach?
Becky Hammon (San Antonio Spurs) and Nancy Lieberman (Sacramento Kings) are the only female assistant coaches in the NBA. Hammon is in her second season on the staff of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Lieberman was hired this summer by Kings coach George Karl.
With those two on board, the obvious next step is for the always proactive NBA to hire its first female head coach.
“It’s going to depend on the qualifications of the ladies that are involved,” said Carlisle, the Dallas Mavericks’ head coach. “Ladies like Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman have great qualifications as former players, as champions, and as they get the experience they’re going to move up the ladder.
“It’s a matter of time. I’m not sure how much time, but I’m pretty sure the women need to be taken seriously.”
Quin Snyder, who is in his second season as head coach of the Utah Jazz, said a female’s ascension to an NBA head coaching job more or less comes down to someone giving them an opportunity.
“I know Nancy Lieberman was a head coach [with the Texas Legends] in the D-League, as was I, and I have a lot of respect for her,” Snyder said. “I’ve known Becky Hammon, and I have a lot of respect for her.
“I don’t think it’s anything that I can predict, but you just know that there are quality coaches around the league, and there are quality women that are coaches around the league.
“And as opportunities come, hopefully they’ll be given the same consideration the men are. The primary thing that we can think about and talk about is just opportunity.”
Never at a loss for words, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his thoughts on whom he believes will be the NBA’s first female head coach.
“I think Becky gets it first just because San Antonio’s got a track record like that,” Cuban said. “But I don’t know when.
“You’ve got to have a history of being an assistant [in the NBA], and you have to create a platform from which you grow from. So I think it’s any more than saying, ‘Let’s get them some experience with the NBA game and go from there.’ ”
Hammon got the attention of many observers in July when she coached the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League championship.
“What we’re doing in sports is not new,” Lieberman said. “We have an African-American president in his second term, we have two women running for president, we have women CEOs.
“We are doing things that are just mirroring society. We’re not inventing something here. All we’re doing is creating the opportunity for qualified people to be a part of an organization.”
Will the players in this all-male sport respect a woman giving them commands?
“I think so — this is 2015,” Mavericks superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “There shouldn’t be any prejudice stuff going on.
“If you know your stuff, if you know hoops, if you can motivate guys and you can push guys in certain spots, then it shouldn’t matter the color of your skin or your gender. But you’ve got to be good, you’ve got to have what it takes to motivate the guys and get the best out of them.”
Memphis Grizzlies forward Vince Carter agrees.
“I just look at it as if you know what you’re doing and you know the game and you can make players better, that’s all that matters,” Carter said. “I know we’re so sensitive about different topics and we have our opinions and so on and so forth.
“But if they can go in the locker room and make guys better and get them to the level of play they need to play, that’s all that matters, because if you look at the WNBA, college basketball, women’s basketball, there’s coaches who do that. So this shouldn’t be any different.”
In the WNBA, Seattle Storm head coach Jenny Boucek has an impressive résumé and NBA potential. Boucek was an assistant coach when the Storm won the 2004 and 2010 WNBA titles.
Boucek played in the WNBA, was voted the best player in Iceland in 1998, and was the head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs from 2007-09.
“She was in our training camp last year for a month,” Carlisle said of Boucek. “She sat in on all our staff meetings, and I learned a lot from her.
“She’s very qualified to be an NBA staff person — behind the bench or on the bench. She has the knowledge, she has the experience, and she’s got great energy and great people skills.”
Whenever an NBA team decides to hire a female head coach, Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger thinks it’s a “fantastic” idea whose time has come.
“I know both [Hammon and Lieberman] personally, and it’s long overdue,” Joerger said. “Whether they’re male or female, are they good coaches?
“So it’s a tremendous opportunity for them. They’ve both done a good job and will continue to.”
Pro personnel generally agree that it’s difficult to gauge if successful female college coaches, such as Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, could duplicate that success as an NBA head coach. But Carlisle believes they deserve the same chance as their male college counterparts.
“You’ve got to believe anybody that’s that successful in college could have the same success in the professional ranks,” Carlisle said. “But those ladies have made such a niche for themselves that it may not be their preference to jump to the other side of the game.
“But one thing is for sure, there’s no lack of respect for female coaching prospects from the NBA coaching fraternity, I can promise you that.”
When the first female is hired as an NBA head coach, that will show just how proactive the NBA has become.
“I don’t know Becky at all, but I used to play pickup games with Nancy forever, so she’s going to be great,” Cuban said. “She understands the game as well as anybody, understands the locker room, understands competition, she’s been a gold medalist and a great player.
“But you’ve got to be there in order to get the promotion. Now, they’re starting to be there.”