There’s always a silver lining.
That is true about each and every pit fall life will ever throw at you. Every time a situation blows up in your face, there is also a chance to retool, rebuild, and come back stronger than ever.
The Toronto Raptors find themselves in such a position.
With the official announcement today that the Toronto Raptors are parting ways with Dwayne Casey, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is searching for a head coach for the first time. Ujiri inherited Casey from his predecessor, and despite that fact the two have forged a successful relationship in their five seasons together.
Still, there was always a sense that Ujiri and Casey were not cut from the same cloth. Ujiri is an innovator, a think-on-the-fly Nigerian immigrant who at the start of his career was willing to work for free just to get into the business. He is known in Toronto for the infamous “F*** Brooklyn” rant in the 2014 playoffs, an act which garnered praise and admiration from the fan base but wrote a cheque his team was not ready to cash in on the court. Contrasted with old-fashioned Dwayne Casey, who came from the Kentucky Wildcats of the 1970’s, and Ujiri seems positively flamboyant.
Ujiri will now do what every team president does. He will "pick his guy", knowing full well that the next time there is a team failure, he will not have the “inherited situation” argument to fall back on. In most cases, a GM or President would play it safe here, bringing some established, recently retired NBA lifer who can be trusted with the keys to a playoff team. It’s the safest thing to do…no matter how boring a move it is.
Ujiri doesn’t do boring. The man’s life is as inspirational as they come, and his love for Toronto and Canada are well known. He has openly spoken on the progressiveness of this country, whether it be the welcoming he has felt personally or the more political events that have occurred since his arrival in Toronto.
If only there was some major, progressive move he could make in this coaching change. A move that could prove yet again that Canadians are willing to take the steps that some others seem hesitant to take and pioneer the sport into a direction it has never been before.
If only there was someone…
Enter Becky Hammon.
Hammon is the first full time assistant coach in any of North American sports.
She is a former Olympian, WNBA and NCAA star who has spent the last four seasons as the assistant to Greg Popovich, wildly considered the best active coach in the NBA.
While her tenure with the Spurs did begin just after their most recent NBA championship, Hammon is not without her own accolades. She has played professional basketball in both Europe and North America and was named to the WNBA Top 20 list in 2016.
News reports have her currently interviewing for the Milwaukee Bucks job, though that coaching search is far from over. Make no mistake about it…whether the Bucks decide that Becky Hammon is the coach for them, or they pass on her…Hammon is mere months away from becoming the first female head coach in the history of the four major sports. It is a momentous milestone we now stand on the precipice of…one made even more tantalizing by the glowing reviews she has received from all around her.
If you have yet to read NBA All Star Pau Gasol’s glowing review of Hammon, you are missing out. In it, an individual who has won two NBA titles, a FIBA world Cup, and has been named to six NBA All Star team openly scoffs at the idea that “men cannot be coached by women.” Gasol, who it should be noted has been coached by two of the greatest coaches ever, Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich, openly muses that Hammon is such a good assistant she could coach now. He also pushes back on the notion that players wouldn’t respond well to a female voice. “The NBA is the highest level…” he explains, “…and at the highest level, it’s about winning.”
Greg Popovich, the active wins leader, hired Becky Hammon for one reason. It made the Spurs better. It gave them a better chance to win games.
If it’s good enough for Pop…it should be good enough for the rest of the league.
I have no idea who the Toronto Raptors will hire as their new head coach. A report has already surfaced that the Raptors will interview former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, among other names. If Masai Ujiri truly is the kind of progressive mind that he comes across as, Becky Hammon has to be one of those names.
If there are any individuals out there who are still holding on to the idea that this is a “man’s league”, those people need to wake up. Half of the fans in the building are female, and sports watching is by no means limited to men. Yes, there will always be the obvious physical limits that will stop the NBA from becoming a league dominated by women. But there is nothing stopping those women from being coaches. There is not a single physical attribute in an NBA coach’s life that would disqualify women from participating.
Whether we are mere days away, or months…this milestone will happen. The NBA, already the most forward thinking of the four leagues, will be the first to hire a female head coach, and I believe Becky Hammon will probably be that person. And when I look across the league at all the jobs that are open…the Toronto Raptors are the best one.
Who is the best person looking for a job right now? In my opinion…it’s Dwayne Casey. After that? Becky Hammon.
Toronto would welcome her with open arms, and the Raptors would finally gain the casual American fan who does not care about WE THE NORTH. And on the court, we would be getting a disciple of Greg Popovich, and maybe that last missing piece to get us over the hump.
It might not be the safest pick…but it’s the most momentous one.
And Masai Ujiri is the one man I believe who wouldn’t hesitate to make it.
Follow Alex Taylor on Twitter
Alex Taylor is a graduate of McMaster University, with degrees in Anthropology and History, and a minor in classics. Alex currently attends Sheridan College, where he is working on a Journalism diploma.
Alex is also a novel writer, having written a manuscript, and he is currently working on another (fiction)
Alex Taylor writes more frequently on his website, TheFanLife.net
Alex has also written a published paper while attending McMaster University: an academic journal piece on the depictions of aging in the media.
And avid sports fan, Alex Taylor will be starting a podcast soon (titled thefanlife. It will be on Soundcloud).