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Hammon and that special worldwide appeal
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - While tempted to pen some words about Becky Hammon a couple of weeks ago when she was named an assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, it always seemed more appropriate to wait until the final curtain fell on her roller-coaster playing career.
Watching her trying to choke back the tears on television when interviewed after her final outing, one of the great women's basketball stories concluded its first and decidedly epic adventure and like any good movie - had us looking ahead and wondering what the sequel on the sidelines might bring.
Here was a player who attained success and respect. Not necessarily always glittering success, but then Hammon was never far from the camera lens whether she was winning things or not. She was something of an underdog and that won't change as she makes the transition into coaching, with many male chauvinists no doubt busily sharpening their respective knives.
It's certainly an exclusive club to go undrafted and yet still post a 16-year career in the WNBA. Not only that, but Hammon was actually one of the cornerstones of an era that arguably brought the WNBA into the basketball mainstream.
This is why her achievements are of course impressive, but not as much as the aura she commanded as a player and her capacity to act as a role model for so many people and especially young females. This shouldn't be overlooked or diluted by the media frenzy around her pending career switch.
Her basketball IQ and other smarts are what defined her on the hardwood. Her basketball is brain is now legendary. And, signing with the Spurs makes that legendary with a capital L.
She's been compared to the likes of Tim Duncan in terms of her impact on San Antonio Stars - and, rightly so.
It's also been said by so many people that she is a great person off the court - everyone has been pretty much consistent with that. There was also a notable linkage to this when Hammon herself spoke about the journey of her extraordinary career being mostly about the 'people'.
Someone said to me that Hammon retiring signalled the end of a golden age for the basketball purists who love the craft of a skilled guard, the ability to make clutch shots by slicing to the hoop, nailing big triples or just finding that open team-mate.
Those players will of course continue to come along - only they will be more athletic and shaped in the new modern era where physicality is trumping old-fashioned knowhow. Yes, where athleticism reigns supreme - whether we like it or not. It's something even Hammon herself alluded to.
The important thing which will never be lost on any aspiring women baller is that Hammon didn't have the physical attributes. She recognised this, she respected this and did everything possible to hone her skills to maximise the strengths she did have, including that priceless brain power.
One thing which has also perhaps been glossed cover in the coverage of her career is her time in European basketball and with Russia's national team at the international level. It has been barely a footnote in any of the reports in her homeland - yet it was a huge chunk of her career.
You could even argue that the potential vanilla scenario of only playing in the WNBA was given added flavour by her forays to Europe and her experiences as one of the first 'big name' naturalised players in the women's game at national team competitions.
Not only did these things add to her game and the coaching knowledge she is about to develop with the Spurs - it also left a big impression with fans outside of the USA.
Becky Hammon was a worldwide name in women's basketball as a player. For when I think of Hammon the player and her influence, I will always remember a group of young Russian girls who travelled from their country all the way to Istanbul to watch her play at the first EuroLeagueWomen Final Eight.
I recall clambering up from the media tribune and into the spectators' seating area to find out more. Sure, they would support Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje who she played for. But make no mistake, this 'fan club' was all about BeckyHammon.
"She is a great player and even better person," they universally declared.
Yes, it should never be forgotten that there was a lot more to her career than the likes of Colarado State, New York and San Antonio.
She really did have a special worldwide appeal.
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