Getting swept in the 2020 Women’s National Basketball Association Finals after posting a pacesetting 18-4 slate in the regular season was not pleasant for the Aces, and so they set their sights on going all the way the next time around. Unfortunately, there was no redemption in 2021, as a heartbreaking Game Five loss to the overachieving Mercury in the semifinal round put an end to their campaign, and, as it turns out, to the head coaching stint of Bill Laimbeer. For all his accomplishments with a clipboard in hand, all and sundry knew they needed fresh blood to change their fortunes. After all, they weren’t about to engage in insanity by doing the same thing anew and expecting a different result.
And so the Aces thought outside the box. They didn’t just look for another bench tactician. They went about hiring one with both significant coaching National Basketball Association experience and significant playing WNBA experience — and Becky Hammon fit the bill to a T. She didn’t come cheap; she agreed to the job only after being guaranteed $1 million per year. And she didn’t come without criticism; naysayers loudly questioned her fitness for the role, not to mention the fact that her salary was multiple times that of the highest-paid players.
The good news is that Hammon could bank on decades of practice being doubted, and, more importantly, of turning critics into believers. It helped in no small measure that she oozed with self-confidence; she promptly put her money where her mouth was, instituting wholesale changes in the Aces’ offensive and defensive sets — a move that would have fazed most others in her position. She didn’t just need to get buy-in from her charges; she needed to thereafter make sure the changes led to success.
Considering the Aces’ path to the championship, Hammon clearly carries a big stick, and knows how to wield it. If nothing else, the individual accolades reflect the manner in which she is able to squeeze the most out of the talents at her disposal. Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year status for A’ja Wilson, a first All-WNBA berth for Kelsey Plum, a Most Improved Player award for Jackie Young, Finals MVP recognition for Chelsea Gray — all these show how she managed to get them to keep their eyes on the ultimate prize by, well, being themselves, or, to be more precise, the finest versions of themselves.
Given all the blessings that have come the Aces’ way under Hammon’s tutelage, it’s no wonder she wound up with the Coach of the Year trophy as well. Anticlimactic? Perhaps, but only because she proved to be head and shoulders above her so-called peers. In retrospect, her pay is a bargain. She met expectations, and more. And she’s bent on continuing to meet them, as she invariably has throughout her career.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, oprerations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.