Becky Hammon is congratulated by the Minnesota Lynx team after a San Antonio Stars win Friday night. Photo by Scott Ball.
Becky Hammon is congratulated by the Minnesota Lynx team after a San Antonio Stars win Friday night. Photo by Scott Ball.

As an All-Star guard for the Womens National Basketball Association (WNBA)’s New York Liberty from 1999-2006, Becky Hammon was like most tourists who visit San Antonio for only a day or two at a time.

“I knew the River Walk, but I didn’t really know anything outside of that,” said Hammon, who played the final eight seasons of her standout WNBA career as a member of the San Antonio Silver Stars, now known as the San Antonio Stars.

Soon to enter her third season as an assistant coach for the Spurs, Hammon now knows plenty about San Antonio, where her No. 25  jersey will be the first retired by the Stars in ceremonies to be held after the Stars game against the Atlanta Dream on June 25 at the AT&T Center.

Hammon’s fondest memory from her eight seasons with the Stars was hardly a surprise: The team’s playoff run to the 2008 WNBA Finals.

“We had some really exciting moments on the court, but that core group got along so well,” she said. “It was just a great team with a great feel. Unfortunately, we had a few injuries and ran out of gas and didn’t have enough bodies to get to where we wanted to go. But it was great to see the AT&T Center packed for a professional women’s basketball game. When they opened up the top level for the women I think that’s a big deal and I hope they can get back to that. They have some really nice, young pieces on this team. I think they will be really good down the road.”

Hammon is the Stars all-time leader in scoring average (14.1 points per game), assists (1,133) and 3-point field goals made (498). In 2011, the WNBA named her one of its Top 15 Players of All Time.

A knee injury that limited her to a single game in the 2013 Silver Stars’ season proved a catalyst to her historic appointment as the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history. During her injury rehabilitation, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made her an unofficial coaching intern. Impressed by her basketball acumen and communication skills, he added her to his Spurs coaching staff on Aug. 5, 2014. That was something he had considered doing since he found Hammon seated next to him on a flight from London to San Antonio after both had been in London for the 2012 Olympic basketball tournaments, Hammon as a member of the Russian team.

Hammon understands the irony of turning a major setback in her playing career into an historic coaching opportunity.

“So many things had to be aligned and perfectly in order for all of this to fall in place: I had to be in San Antonio; I had to be in front of Pop (as a member of the Silver Stars); he had to see me interact with my teammates and how I interacted with my community; the injury had to happen in order for me to be here and not in Russia, playing overseas; I had to not be picked to be on the U.S. Olympic team in order to be on that plane with Pop coming back from the London Olympics,” she said.

“There are so many things that had to be the way they were, so when I look at the order of the steps that I’ve taken it’s mind-blowing and extremely humbling and I know I am extremely blessed and I know I had to have that injury in order to be here right now.

“Silver linings.”

The trade that brought her to San Antonio qualifies as an even greater bit of good fortune. The Liberty traded Hammon to the then-Silver Stars on April 4, 2007, and it didn’t take long before she discovered the difference between The Big Apple and San Antonio.

“I’m from South Dakota, so I found it a nice mix,” she said. “I played eight years in New York and never bought a house there. I played here one season and bought a house. It felt like home.”

Hammon says she enjoys the city’s urban core, even though her home is outside Loop 410.

“It was just about finding a house I liked,” she said. “I would love to live closer to the city because my drive can be terrible at times. I love the pace of San Antonio, but I’m starting to not like the traffic.”

Humbled to think her Stars jersey will be hanging in the AT&T Center rafters near those of the retired Spurs jerseys of James Silas, George Gervin, Johnny Moore, David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson and Bruce Bowen, Hammon reflected on the path that her career has taken since she fell in love with basketball as a youngster in Rapid City, South Dakota.

“First of all, it’s a little surreal, to be honest,” she said. “I look up in the rafters and see the names that are up there. To be respected – if that’s the right word – or honored among that group of names is something I couldn’t have dreamed up when I was little. And I did watch some of those guys as I was growing up. So it’s mind-blowing.

“It’s also a reflective time for me,” she continued. “There were so many people who helped me get up there. So many people who rebounded for me, mentored me, taught me, coached me, invested time in me. And then my teammates, great teammates. I made so many valuable relationships and friendships along the way. To me, that’s greater than any accomplishment or any amount of points I may have scored.”

Already a pioneer in pro coaching, Hammon recently has been linked to coaching vacancies in men’s college basketball. For now, she remains focused on her job with the Spurs.

“There have been things brought to me and some of them are very interesting,” she said. “At the end of the day I like where I’m at. I want to continue the journey that I’m on and see where that leads.

“It’s nice to have options.”

Top image: Becky Hammon is congratulated by the Minnesota Lynx team after a San Antonio Stars win Friday night.  Photo by Scott Ball.

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Mike Monroe is a longtime, award-winning NBA and Spurs reporter who recently retired from the Express-News and is now contributing to the Rivard Report.