Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon came across as defiant and defensive on Wednesday morning during a virtual media session in advance of the WNBA’s regular season starting this week.
While she preferred to talk about the Aces’ roster as they open defense of the 2022 league championship, the call mostly focused on Tuesday’s news that the WNBA suspended Hammon for the first two games of the regular season for violating the league’s Respect in the Workplace rules and docked the Aces their 2025 first-round draft pick for “impermissible benefits.”
The two investigations were touched off by claims from Dearica Hamby earlier this year that she was traded by the Aces to Los Angeles because she was pregnant with her second child. Hammon insists Hamby was dealt because the team could get “three bodies” in exchange for the two-time Sixth Player of the Year and for the same amount as Hamby’s salary, and that the move was just business.
It’s understandable that Hammon would be defensive. She is known as a player’s coach and is the highest-paid coach in league history, lured away from her job as a San Antonio Spurs assistant by Aces owner Mark Davis with a big payday and the WNBA’s first dedicated team training facility.
But there’s a lot in this that feels icky.
Starting with Hammon’s implication that Hamby may have “doctored” screenshots of communications between herself and the player.
“I never had one bad text between me and Dearica Hamby. Or email. I don’t email my players, I talk to them directly. We do exchange texts,” Hammon said. “But anything that is less than the up-and-up is adamantly false and not true from anyone in this organization. That’s not how we do business, that’s not who we are.
“But I did learn recently that people can, uh, screenshot or I don’t know what — like set up a conversation, they can have their friend text them certain things and frame it and put ‘Coach Hammon’ or whoever or [Aces team president] ‘Nikki Fargas’ on the top of the screen and just doctor things the way they want to doctor. That’s the world we live in. But those accusations are vehemently false.”
When given a chance to clarify or correct those comments a few questions later, Hammon doubled down and didn’t sound very convincing.
“I’m saying I don’t believe anybody in our organization sent any nasty text to Dearica Hamby,” Hammon said. “Like I said, when you’re dealing with a really tough conversation I think things can get twisted really quick.”
At the time she was traded nearly five months ago, Hamby posted a goodbye and thank you to Las Vegas fans to her Instagram feed. The post also included a long statement in which she said she was “heartbroken.”
“Being traded is part of the business. Being lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against is not,” she wrote. Hamby went on to detail some of the alleged things said to her in wake of her telling the team she was pregnant, including that she was “not taking precautions to not get pregnant” after revealing that it wasn’t a planned pregnancy.
“To be treated this way by an organization, BY WOMEN who are mothers, who have claimed to be ‘in these shoes,’ who preach family, chemistry and women’s empowerment is disappointing and leaves me sick to my stomach,” Hamby also wrote.
She never named the person or people she felt were disparaging her. The WNBA’s statement Tuesday on the punishments named Hammon as the person who made comments to Hamby.
Hammon asserted Wednesday that just asking Hamby about the pregnancy is what the WNBA found punishable.
The league said as part of the inquiry it spoke to 33 people and reviewed “texts, emails and other documents.” Hammon said to her knowledge, none of the players on last year’s Aces roster were questioned by investigators, including star A’ja Wilson. According to Hammon, Liz Cambage, who did not play for Hammon in Las Vegas, was interviewed. The league denied that claim.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that Aces players didn’t tell Hammon if they had spoken to investigators, as is their right.
The investigation was conducted by a prosecutor from the Southern District of New York and another from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the league told Yahoo Sports. It reportedly included a list of individuals that was, at least in part, provided by the WNBA Players Association.
The WNBA, particularly the WNBPA, has gotten plaudits in recent years for being the most progressive American professional sports league, regardless of how low a bar that is to clear. Protecting players who become pregnant in the collective bargaining agreement is one part of that. But how they are perceived and treated if and when they do get pregnant, well that’s not as easy to legislate. Hamby and the league’s other mothers are an inspiration to many, especially to an older generation of women, athletes or not, who have long felt like they had to choose: career or kids.
Hamby; Skylar Diggins-Smith, who also just welcomed her second child; Jamaican world 100-meter champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce; and numerous members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team are among a growing group who are proving it’s possible to return to elite athlete status after having children.
After seeing Hammon via Zoom on Wednesday and seeing video of Hamby talking Tuesday, it’s hard to feel like this isn’t a black eye for a league that is finally getting the recognition it has long deserved, not just for its advocacy efforts but its exceptional product.
For her part, Hamby told reporters in Los Angeles on Tuesday that she’s ready to move forward with the Sparks.
“I’m healthy, I’m happy, my son is healthy,” she said. “And I’m going to be playing basketball this season.”