Overshadowed pioneers in women coaching men

MSR Sports

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer

Becky Hammon last week began her first season as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach. Sadly, not mentioned or oft-overlooked is the fact that two Black women, Stephanie Ready and Bernadette Mattox, earlier paved the way for the recently retired WNBA player’s historic debut. “It will be a nice education piece for this generation” to learn about the historical place that both Ready and Mattox rightfully hold, says Chicago Sky Head Coach and General Manager Pokey Chatman of the WNBA.

Asked his view shortly after Hammon’s hiring, Chatman told the MSR, “I think those of us on the inside who know Becky Hammon and the people that know Pop [Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich] and the organization know it is not a gimmick. She’s a perfect fit for his culture and his style of play. She knows the players and they know her, so there’s that respect.”

According to Wikipedia, “Ready’s hiring [was] perceived as a publicity stunt” when in 2001 she became the first female coach of a men’s professional basketball team as an assistant coach for the now-defunct Greenville NBA Development League team. However, she was heavily endorsed by team and league officials.

Especially notable was support from then-Coppin State men’s head basketball coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell, who earlier hired Ready as an assistant, which at the time made her only the third woman ever to coach Division I men’s basketball. “It was a no-brainer,” Mitchell told blackvoices.com.

Now a Charlotte Hornets sideline reporter, she says, “Thanks for the shout out” in her October 28 reply to a Tweet she received from the MSR.

Mattox, then Bernadette Locke, was an assistant coach with Tubby Smith for four seasons at the University of Kentucky (1990-1994) under then-coach Rick Pitino.

“I think it’s a nice timeline, [but] it’s been slow progress” in hiring women as assistants in men’s sports, continued Chatman, who calls Hammon’s hiring “a movement” to bring in more women assistants on men’s teams.

“I’m pulling for Becky,” added U of M Women’s Assistant Basketball Coach Nikki Dawkins last week in a brief MSR interview.  “I’m hoping that a lot of people will follow [Popovich’s] lead, because there are a lot of talented women basketball coaches that can bring a lot to the game.

“The game is the game,” said Dawkins. “Hopefully this will open up some eyes. I hope that we will be talking about five or 10 [more women] in the next couple of years, and then on and on and on.”

In the meantime, it’s too bad Ready and Mattox aren’t given more credit for their trailblazing rather than make it seem that Hammon is the first, because she’s not.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.