WNBA All-Star, Aces head coach Becky Hammon honored by USA TODAY

Becky Hammon is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, recognizing women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. The program was launched in 2022 as a continuation of Women of the Century, which celebrated 100 years of women’s suffrage. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.

Growing up in South Dakota, Becky Hammon didn’t have many options.

Hammons didn’t have cable, so TV channels were (severely) limited. They didn’t own a video game system. They lived in a rural part of town in a distant state, which meant that their children’s only playmates were often each other.

So the Hammon kids—Becky is the youngest of three—played basketball all day, inside and out. If they weren’t traveling to each other’s games, they were playing each other in the driveway. When they weren’t playing sports, they were hunting, fishing and camping. They grew unusually close, which taught Hammon the value of relationships—and how to create them.

“I’m really thankful for my roots in South Dakota. I had a really fun childhood. South Dakota was part of it, but it was more because I had parents who were really invested in me and my siblings,” Hammon shared to USA TODAY. “Every weekend we got together and did something, and it really taught me how to build a relationship. Now my greatest strength as a leader is bringing people together.”

That ability has served her well as a coach, first as one of the only female assistants in the NBA to now, as a WNBA head coach. After years of being overlooked and underrated, first by women’s teams in need of a point guard and later by men’s teams in need of a head coach, in 2021, Hammon was finally selected first and became the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces.

She made everyone who doubted her look downright silly in her first season, leading the Aces to the franchise’s first ever World Series. For Hammon, it’s just the latest in a long line of achievements. The six-time WNBA All-Star is one of the greatest players in league history, and a two-time Olympian. She is also a USA TODAY Women of the Year from South Dakota.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Who paved the way for you?

Oh man, that’s a loaded question. In the basketball world, I would say people like Annie Meyers, Sheryl Swoopes, Cheryl Miller, Carol Blazejowski, Nancy Lieberman—there have been a ton of women who really had to endure much tougher circumstances than I did to become a basketball player.

Growing up without the WNBA, it was somewhat uncharted territory. To have that opportunity arise in 1997, there were really some instrumental pieces. First, you had the 1995 UConn Huskies going undefeated with Rebecca Lobo. Right after that, you had the ’96 Olympic Women’s “Dream Team.” Then, in 1997, the birth of the WNBA. It was three big things that all came together and launched professional women’s basketball in the United States

It is difficult to name just one person – everyone put in the work.

Team Wilson head coach Becky Hammon talks to players during the first half of a WNBA All-Star basketball game against Team Stewart in Chicago, Sunday, July 10, 2022.

Team Wilson head coach Becky Hammon talks to players during the first half of a WNBA All-Star basketball game against Team Stewart in Chicago, Sunday, July 10, 2022.
Nam Y. Huh, AP

What is your proudest moment?

Probably becoming a mother. I don’t know how you top it.

Professionally, there have been so many good ones. This past year’s championship was an accumulation of a lot of great work. But I think for me personally, just making the league as a player. I don’t know what will happen if I never make the first 1999 New York Liberty roster. Everything built on that. My life looks completely different if I don’t get on that team.

Every person, every team, passed on me in the draft – which ended up being a recurring theme in my life until recently (laughs). But I just kind of survived.

Do you have a lowest moment?

In 2007, when I lost the MVP, not to be put on the Olympic team at that time, it was disappointing. Not to be picked, not to be drafted. Those were all super low points. They are stomach checkpoints. When you’re younger it doesn’t feel like tough love, it just feels like rejection

But I don’t want people to feel like I have a sob story, I don’t. I have a story of endurance. Were there any bad times? Yes. But I wouldn’t trade any of those hard times because it built things into me that would be necessary tools down the road.

And it happens to everyone. Not being selected does not place me in an elite group – most people are not selected. But for me those things became fuel for the next part of the journey.

Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon reacts during the first half of Game 3 of the basketball team's WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn.

Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon reacts during the first half of Game 3 of the basketball team’s WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn.
Jessica Hill, AP

Do you have a guiding principle or mantra?

My parents really raised me on the golden rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. I always try to treat people with respect and dignity. But I also try to show up every day and do my best, because you never know who’s watching. Someone like Gregg Popovich might be watching.

Who did you look up to?

In 1993 we lived out in the sticks. We only had three TV channels. You have to understand, I didn’t grow up with MTV or ESPN, I didn’t have access to it unless I was at a friend’s house. We didn’t have a Nintendo, anything. We were always playing sports or playing outside.

Then in 1993, my dad tells me, “There’s this girl who plays for Texas Tech, they call her the female Michael Jordan.” It was Sheryl Swoopes. Well, Texas Tech was in the national championship that year and we got that channel so I got to watch. It was the first time I had been exposed to Division-I basketball.

Fast forward to 1995 and the Women’s Final Four is in Minneapolis. I was a senior in high school. For my senior present, I asked my parents to take me. So we drove from Rapid City, about an eight hour drive. When we got there, Nike had set up a booth with a track and they were doing little clinics. So I got to play with Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl. It was the best. And then, four years later, I’m playing against Swoopes when she’s with the (Houston) Comets and I’m in New York.

It’s Sheryl. I saw Michael Jordan and it was only occasionally. Then I saw her.

How do you overcome adversity?

You always have two choices: let adversity overcome you, or choose to overcome it. In many ways I have been taught how to be resilient through adversity. It’s a difficult quality to acquire if you don’t have adversity. After a while, you feel like i can get up from anything just like i can take a hit and know i get up. It’s not about if I’ll get up, but when.

With the 2008 Olympics, I had two choices: stay home and watch, or go out and compete with Russia. I chose to get up off my sofa and leave – which ticked off a lot of people. But you have to live your life and not care what other people say or think. Make a choice that is best for you.

Becky Hammon
You always have two choices: Let adversity overcome you or choose to overcome it.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s funny, I saw something the other day about “knock someone else off their game to win yours.” When I was younger I played with a chip on my shoulder, I was just always out to prove people wrong.

As I got older it really changed, probably because I became more comfortable with myself, my skills and my place in the league. So I would say to myself, don’t be afraid to be yourself earlier.


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