In 2013, Hammon tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, abruptly ending her W.N.B.A. season. While she was in rehabilitation, she served as a coaching intern with the Spurs. And in 2014, Popovich hired her as the first full-time female assistant coach in the league.
At the time, she said of Popovich: “Honestly, I don’t think he gives two cents that I’m a woman. And I don’t want to be hired because I’m a woman.” She was head coach of the Spurs’ Las Vegas Summer League team three times, winning the title in 2015.
There were other milestones for women in sports this year.
In November, Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt became the first woman to play and score in a regular-season game in one of college football’s Power 5 conferences when she kicked for the team. Kim Ng became the first woman hired to run a major league team’s baseball operations when she was named general manager of the Miami Marlins. In an exhibition game in July, Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants became the first woman to coach on the field in the major leagues.
Hammon’s trailblazing in the league has prompted speculation that she will one day be a head coach, and she has been reported to be a candidate for several top jobs in the past, most recently the Indiana Pacers.
“The future is bright for her,” said Dejounte Murray of the Spurs after the game. “I hope she just sticks to it and doesn’t give up. One day it may happen, it may not happen, who knows, but she’s definitely on the right road.”
Hammon sought to keep the focus on her duties.
“I’m just in the moment with the guys,” she said. “Trying to figure out what’s the best way to help them.”