Women can’t coach men, just like men can’t give birth.
That was the gist of a reader’s comment earlier this month after I dared to say — along with some other irrelevant female writers whom Mike Francesa has never heard of — that it’s not “impossible” for a woman to coach men in the NBA. The words stuck with me, because they were so illogical, they could probably be inserted into comedian Lewis Black’s old bit about mind-boggling statements that eventually lead to aneurysms.
The reader, who agreed with Francesa that women had “no shot” at coaching in the league, couldn’t comprehend that one is clearly a situation of circumstance; the other is a physical impossibility (with the exception of some transgender men and, you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in “Junior”).
Luckily, NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t subscribe to such close-minded views: He said “there definitely will” be a female head coach in the league.
During an interview Tuesday, the commissioner told ESPN he believes it’s up to him to ensure it happens “sooner rather than later” and disputed the WFAN radio host’s comments that women can’t coach men.
“First of all, let me say that I disagree that there will not be a woman head coach in the NBA,” said Silver, who also wants to see more female referees. “It is hard to say exactly when [it will happen]. There are three women currently in the pipeline.”
Silver added: “There are obvious physical differences between men and women and those differences are why we have a men’s league and a women’s league, but on the other hand, when it comes to coaching, when there is absolutely no physical requirement, when it is not a function of how high you can jump or how strong you are, there is no physical litmus test to being a head coach in the league. There is absolutely no reason why a woman will not ascend to be a head coach in this league. We are very focused in on it.”
Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman are assistant coaches with the Spurs and Kings, respectively. Clippers assistant video coordinator, Natalie Nakase, has said her goal “eventually is to be a head coach in the NBA.” Silver explained that it’s just a matter of having more women, like them, in the pipeline.
“In the old days, almost virtually all of our head coaches were former NBA players, and that’s obviously no longer the case now. That used to be another barrier to entry,” Silver pointed out. “Long before people asked about women being head coaches, people said, ‘Would it be possible for someone who hadn’t played in the NBA to be a head coach?’ Of course we are seeing that, so we have broken another barrier there.”
I mean, even retired NBA players with no coaching experience — most recently in New York with Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher — have found their way to head coaching jobs.
But Francesa did have a small point earlier in March: “If it wasn’t for Gregg (Popovich) — if it wasn’t the most the most dominant coach in the league doing that,” Francesa said, “I’m not sure anyone else would even hire a woman right now.”
Hey, that’s one thing Francesa said that I agree with (although Lieberman was hired to coach in the NBA Development League back in 2009); it will take successful, progressive and visionary men like Popovich — who previously called Francesa’s comments “nonsense” — giving experienced women like Hammon an opportunity for the “impossible” to become possible.
Even Hammon, who played 16 seasons in the WNBA, admitted last year “I’m not here unless Coach Pop kind of sees me genderless — he sees me as a person that knows basketball.”
Said Silver: “I do think there are things that the league can and should be doing to accelerate the move toward a woman being a head coach in the league.”
It’s not physically impossible, of course, but women — qualified women — will need to be given a chance. And it’s a good sign that the commissioner is interested in trying to provide one.