Women keep making news in the NBA these days.
In four months, four women were hired as assistant coaches. That doubles the previous number of four.
The most recent hire is Kara Lawson — former WNBA player and TV basketball analyst — on the Boston Celtics staff, this past week.
And just a few weeks before Lawson jumped on board, Lindsay Gottlieb — a former Cal women’s basketball coach — joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first women’s Power Five coach to become an NBA assistant coach.
Earlier this year, Lindsey Harding joined the 76ers and Karen Stack Umlauf came to the Bulls.
The four new assistants joined Becky Hammon (Spurs), Jenny Boucek (Mavericks), Natalie Nakase (Clippers) and Kristi Toliver (Wizards).
And, Toliver and Nakase joined the ranks in 2018 — making it six hires in the last year.
A handful of women have also coached in the G League — Nancy Lieberman (Mavericks) and Nicki Gross (Grizzlies and Raptors) — and currently Chasity Melvin for the Hornets.
Although it has been five years since Hammon broke ground in the NBA — and four years since Lieberman was hired right behind her at Sacramento — each time a woman is hired it is still an important step as she is the first for that team and it proves that it’s not just an experiment — women can coach in the NBA.
And it isn’t only in the coaching ranks in the NBA that the number of women are growing. More and more women have been hired for front office roles. Sue Bird worked for the Nuggets this year, Kelly Krauskopf (Pacers) was the first assistant GM and this past month it was Swin Cash who was named to a similar position with the Pelicans.
With all this action going on, the Star sat down to talk to UA coach Adia Barnes to understand what this wave of hiring means:
As these announcements keep piling up — Swin Cash, Lindsay Gottlieb, and now Kara Lawson — in a short period of time were your surprised?
A: “I am surprised at the wave of it. So, the last couple of years, obviously (Gregg) Popovich was the trendsetter. He’s always outside the box and does a great job being the first one to do things. He is well-respected and such a pioneer in the NBA. But, I’m surprised at how it’s been a ripple effect.
“It’s great for the game. I think for so many years it’s been only men have coached men and a lot of men coach women and women can’t coach men. So I think it’s a big thing and it’s a tremendous opportunity for all these women.”
And, how about the speed of these hires? Were you surprised with that?
A: “I actually thought it would take more time to have this many women in the NBA, regardless of their roles. I don’t know what has made it such a necessity now. I wonder what has made that shift. Has someone been vocal about it? I don’t know.
“But I am surprised that how it’s happening so much so fast. It’s not like Becky (Hammon) did it for a while and then it was Nancy Lieberman and then it was Jenny (Boucek) and then it was one every year or so and now it’s six this year. I think that’s huge. I think that’s a big change after there weren’t any for so many years.”
What does it mean to you, as someone who uses your platform to empower and develop women, to see these women get these coaching and front office opportunities in the NBA?
A: “It’s great. Jenny is a very good friend of mine. Sue (Bird), Swin is a friend — so these are all my friends. Even if not my friend, I know them from the pros, so they are all women I know and could call and ask things. So I’m really happy. Jenny is a great basketball mind. Becky was a great player for many years and just really smart and sharp — someone who was underestimated her whole career. … I think it’s a great opportunity. As a woman you are like ‘it’s about darn time.’
“I hope it’s not just being done for politics — I hope it’s being done for a purpose. And people see value in it. And people like Kara Lawson have been really important for the game. The sad thing is we are losing some really good coaches for the women’s game. I know Jenny would be an incredible college coach and she chooses to be in the NBA, but I think she’d be a great role model and influence. Becky, also. So these are women who need to come back one day to the women’s game. Because they can add so much to our game.”
How does this change the world for your players — now that they can see other women in these roles?
A: “It changes everything. It changes from the officiating. When I was growing up Violet Palmer was the first female official. Then Brenda Pantoja — you know Brenda was my teammate in college. They did it in the NBA. Now you are seeing NBA coaching and the front office. It’s just more opportunities for women that weren’t there. I think you are seeing that the world is changing. … And I think you’ll see women added to most teams, whether it’s front office, high positions or coaching. I think you’ll see it and I think it’ll add value.
“I think there are great opportunities and now our players can aspire to be a head coach in the NBA. I’m just curious, but I think it’ll (still) take time for a woman to be a head coach in the NBA. I think it’ll happen in the next five years.”
Do you think this will have a trickle-down effect and that athletic directors will see this and start hiring more women to coach women’s basketball?
A: “I think maybe. But what I am interested to see if this helps women coach men’s college basketball. Because it’s amazing to me how the trend has been in the NBA. I would have thought just looking from the outside in — rewind 10 years — I would have thought it would happen in college before it happened in the pros. Because I think the pros are more prestigious and a lot more money — finances and other factors versus college.
“I wonder if this NBA trend is going to make that happen. I’d be curious to see. I think we’ll see probably an NBA woman head coach before a woman is the head coach for college men. I would put money on that.”
What does this — women coaching in the NBA — mean to you, someone who grew up not seeing this and not knowing this was possible? Is this now an option for you?
A: “For me I think it’s harder because I played so long — it’s not like I’ve been coaching for 20 years. Jenny Boucek had coached for years, for probably over 20 years at different levels. And, Becky didn’t coach in college, but she played and been around it for so long. For me, it wouldn’t be something I desire at this point. I think it’s a great opportunity, but I also think there are a lot of challenges with the NBA.
“I think there are a lot of politics. I think the pros are different. After playing in pros, you know players have a lot of say … it’s different than in college. There’s more mentoring.
“A lot of people call it babysitting. But we’re developing young women for the future. I don’t think there is that much in the pros. You are guiding and you are coaching — you have to know your stuff. But, you are not really mentoring and helping change their lives. I think that’s what I love about college. You come into college one way and I can help influence you to grow with the best four years of your life and you become a better woman. I do love that part about college. You wouldn’t get that in the pros, it’s just different.
“A lot of people don’t like those aspects of college — recruiting and mentoring or ‘babysitting’ as pro coaches call it. I like developing the relationships with the family. I like the mentoring. I love the college game because of those things.”