A few years back while working with a start-up, one of the co-founders sent out a rambling email after a small victory, entitled, “All We Do Is Win”. His evidence was their recent victory (fourth try at it) and his partner’s cool new car. I tried to maintain a straight face while I listened to several of my co-workers laugh a little louder than they should. When the company ended up closing up shop, the “All We Do Is Win” phrase was bitterly bandied about by the few who had ridden the bumpy ride to the end.
Corporate America, at least the part that has stockholders, is pretty cutthroat that way. You’d better keep winning, quarter over quarter, or you will often find yourself looking for a new gig to hook into. Talk about unrealistic expectations.
In sports, there really isn’t much more valuable over the long haul than being a winner. People actually argued about Michael Jordan being the best player of his draft before they argued about him being the best of his generation before they finally inevitably came to the conclusion he was the best to ever play the game. What led them to that conclusion was Mike was simply a winner. All he did when he played was win, and win at the highest levels.
Love or hate Tom Brady, he’s now stacked up a mass of data, which has all resulted in wins. Career wins, championship wins, statistical wins. There’s really no question. There are players over time you associate with lifting up everyone around them. LeBron James. Nikola Jokic. Derek Jeter. Todd Helton. Brady. John Elway. Wayne Gretzky. Joe Sakic. Dozens of others who contribute in every category. Brains. Heart. Savvy. Talent. Leadership. They are students and teachers of their game, and seem to impact it in every way they touch it. You see these people excel from afar, but rarely does their arc cross your path along the way.
When I was a still-aimless sixth year senior at Colorado State University, my group got a gig singing the national anthem and halftime shows for the Women’s Basketball team. We were a safe bet, as the games were often poorly attended. No wonder, as the program had often seemed a bit of an afterthought at the school at the time. The previous two seasons, the Women’s team had landed a game above .500, which was a step forward for the program, having had only three winning seasons out of their previous 19. But both of those winning seasons had been marred by poor conference records. As a matter of fact, in those 21 seasons preceding the 1995 CSU Women’s team, they had managed one winning conference year, going 6-4 in 1981.
And then Becky Hammon showed up. Alongside fellow freshman Katie Cronin and a seasoned group of players who had been trying to find a spark, Hammon was the key to unlocking their best traits.
But let’s back up for a second. How did she end up at CSU in the first place? Because no one took her estimable skillset seriously.
Hammon was at the lowly program as she was unregarded and underestimated by collegiate scouts coming out of high school. Despite being South Dakota’s Miss Basketball her junior year, and the South Dakota Player of the Year her senior year, all the scouts thought she was too short and too slow to ever do anything special in the NCAA. So Becky had to go somewhere and prove them wrong. Thank goodness for Colorado sports fans it was Fort Collins.
In her four years at Colorado State, Hammon led the Rams to records of 26-5 (12-2 in conference), 21-7 (12-4), 24-6 (11-3), and an astounding 33-3 (14-0 in conference) in her senior year. The last three years she paced the Rams saw them in the NCAA tourney, with her senior season as a two seed advancing to the Sweet Sixteen before a narrow loss to UCLA. She was a three-time All-American, Colorado Sportswoman of the Year, and surpassed none other than Keith Van Horn as the WAC’s all-time leading scorer. She still holds Colorado State all-time records in points (2740), points per game (21.92), made FGs (918), made 3-point FGs (365), and assists (538). At the conclusion of her senior year, she received the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award for the nation’s best player under 5’8″. Her #25 jersey now hangs amongst few others in the rafters of Moby Arena. To say that her time there was electrifying and earth-shifting would be a gross understatement.
Somehow, she came out of all of that still under-regarded and unconsidered again. Undrafted by the WNBA for a rookie season, Hammon was able to catch on and sign with the New York Liberty, as a backup to highly regarded Teresa Weatherspoon. Becky was immediately a crowd favorite for her scoring and tenacity, and after four seasons backing up Weatherspoon, she took over as the Liberty’s starting point guard. That same season, she was named a co-captain of the team, and would be with them for the next few seasons.
Hammon also played overseas in the offseasons, honing both her craft and her international connections. Over those years, she ended up playing for Spanish and Russian teams, eventually becoming a Russian naturalized citizen to play for their Olympic team when she was not able to play for the US squad. Her travels in the WNBA took her to San Antonio, another fortuitous stop.
When Hammon got to New York? They improved, and her 20.3 winshares is third-most in team history. Her Spanish and Russian teams? They won more when she was there. San Antonio? Her 24.6 winshares there are the second-highest in their team’s history.
She was so successful in San Antonio with the Stars, that during a lengthy injury rehab she started hanging around with the NBA boys across the hall. Hammon had made her coaching desires no secret during her years in the league, and an all-timer like Gregg Popovich gave her her first coaching shot with his already-incredible San Antonio Spurs team. That opportunity made her the second female coach in NBA history, and the first to coach in a live game. As Becky worked her way up the bench, she eventually became Pop’s main assistant, and was the first female coach at NBA Summer League and for Spurs games that Pop was not on the bench, whether via illness or simply being kicked out. Her first season with the Spurs? They won their last championship.
Somehow, Hammon was still underestimated in the league when her desires to be a head coach were well-publicized. Even with big-name players who had played under her signing her praises, team after team brought her in to interview for their head coaching position. Team after team decided to not be the first ones to take the risk.
So, as she was wont to do, Hammon found somewhere she could keep chasing those dreams.
A few years after Hammon left for coaching, the Stars picked up their act and moved to Las Vegas to become the Aces. When the team came to a point that they needed new leadership coaching the team, the name that first came to mind was one that had already made a massive impact on their history. The called Becky Hammon.
Her first season is now under her belt, and while Hammon has made quite a name for herself in first-season impacts, she may have truly outdone herself this time. By season’s send as the rookie head coach of the Aces, Becky has now added Coach of the Year, All-Star Head Coach, the #1 overall record, a Commissioner’s Cup Championship, and a League Championship title to her unbelievable resume. That Championship is the first one in Aces/Stars history, by the way.
Wrapping up a resume? Sometimes it still seems like Becky Hammon is just getting started. One of these days, the NBA may wise up and come calling again. If not, Big Shot Becky will just keep on doing exactly what she knows how to best. All she does is win.