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Eight years ago, Becky Hammon made history as the first full-time female assistant coach in the NBA. On Monday, she was officially announced as the next head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, three days after signing a five-year deal that will reportedly make her the highest-paid coach in the WNBA.

Hammon’s return to the league might have come as a surprise to those who thought she’d be the first woman to serve as a head coach in the NBA. Since Hammon joined Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs staff in 2014, six other women now hold assistant coaching jobs in the NBA, including Teresa Weatherspoon, Hammon’s former New York Liberty teammate who is currently with the New Orleans Pelicans.

On Monday, Hammon called NBA jobs “hard to get.”

“In some ways, I feel like the NBA maybe is close,” she said. “In other ways, I feel like they’re a long ways off from hiring [a woman head coach]. I don’t know when it could happen.”

Hammon has interviewed for NBA head coaching jobs on multiple occasions, and said that, in some ways, she feels like she “was very close” to finally landing a head coaching gig. When Aces owner Mark Davis and president Nikki Fargas met with her about the Las Vegas opening, she knew she was ready to lead a basketball team.

“I sat in a lot of head-coaching interviews,” Hammon said. “Two things that people always said: ‘You’ve only been in San Antonio, and you’ve never been a head coach.’ Well, Mark Davis met me. Nikki met me. And they said, ‘That’s a head coach right now.'”

But Hammon isn’t looking at the Aces as a stepping stone. It’s a head coaching job in a major professional sports league, and it’ sa league she spent 16 years playing in — eight with the Liberty and eight with the San Antonio Stars. While she had never closed the door on the WNBA, Hammon said she hadn’t intended to leave the NBA until the Aces pursued her.

“A lot did go into this decision, a lot of sleepless nights,” Hammon said. “I came to the conclusion that this was the best spot for me and my family, and an opportunity for me to sit in the big chair and be a head coach of a major professional sports league.”

Fargas said Hammon made such an impression when the Aces retired her jersey in September that they decided to try to lure her away from San Antonio.

“Being the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces is a step forward and a step in the right direction for myself and for women’s basketball,” Hammon said. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this opportunity that I have. There’s something to being a head coach.

“I feel like I’m ready to have my own team. And this is the organization that made it very, very obvious they wanted me really, really bad. And so it’s always good to be wanted.”

She also recognizes how big of a deal it is that more WNBA teams are hiring women. Now, six of 12 teams have female head coaches, with the New York Liberty expected to make it seven when they officially name Sandy Brondello as head coach. The Phoenix Mercury are the only other team with a job opening.

“It matters because representation matters,” Hammon said. “I think once we can start peeling back the layers of society and what is viewed as [a leader], we can start hiring people based on what they bring to the table.

“There are so many great women coaches out there who should be leading their own teams and given those opportunities. We have never had these press conferences when it came to a man leading a women’s team, but there are all these conversations about women leading a men’s team.”

Hammon also wants the narrative between men’s and women’s basketball to change.

“Quite frankly, I’ve been watching the WNBA for a long time and stealing all their plays for a while,” she said. “[WNBA coaches] have great basketball minds, and they are 100 percent invested in what they do, and they are the best at what they do.

Long thought to be Popovich’s replacement when he retires, Hammon now takes over one of the best teams in the WNBA. Bill Laimbeer will remain with the Aces and assist in roster-building during free agency while Hammon finishes out the NBA season with the Spurs. Las Vegas ended 2021 as the second-best team during the regular season before falling to the Mercury in the semifinals.