The Memphis Grizzlies announced last month the addition of Sonia Raman as the team's new assistant coach. This hire makes Raman the first female coach of South Asian heritage in the NBA, as well as the 14th woman hired as an assistant coach in the league.
Raman is also the sixth woman to be hired by an NBA team since the beginning of the 2019-2020 season.
This latest hire opens up a conversation about the history of female coaches in the NBA and other major sports leagues, and the pushback that often accompanies the existence of women in male-dominated sports.
These hires are often labelled “PR stunts” by many trolling sports fans, who ultimately could be outplayed and outsmarted by these women any day.
At the same time, however, we are witnessing a new wave in coaching within the NBA -- one where female coaches are being recognized for their contributions and skills.
This long-awaited and well-deserved recognition is important not only because they are women, although this characteristic is impressive considering the glass ceiling that exists in every industry, but because they have been scouted and hired due to their talent and impressive achievements, beating out other options in the process.
Becky Hammon became the NBA’s very first full time female assistant coach in 2014 when she was hired by the San Antonio Spurs. Hammon, a two-time Olympian and former WNBA star, brought with her an extensive knowledge of the sport.
However, when Hammon interviewed to be the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018, online trolls questioned her competence as a coach due to her gender, despite Hammon’s experience.
If someone has the skill set, ability, and interest to lead a team at that level, their gender shouldn’t be used as a reason to question their capability, especially by those who wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near their skill level.
Unfortunately, like many other professions, having a female with authority in the NBA is still perceived as illegitimate, minimized, and discredited. especially when it comes to sexist online trolls who will find almost anything to complain about.
This backlash works against normalizing female coaches for what they are: qualified and capable NBA coaches like any other coach who works in the league.
In an essay for The Players’ Tribune, Pau Gasol wrote about his take on female coaches in the NBA, using Becky Hammon as an example.
While reflecting on his 17 years of experience in the NBA, Gasol writes, “I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”
This type of support is absolutely necessary from everyone involved in the NBA, from the coaches, to the administrators, and the players and fans who love the sport.
Sonia Raman has served as the head coach of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) women's basketball team for the past twelve years, and in 2016 and 2017 she was named New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
Raman was clearly scouted for her talent and experience, which is something that needs to be recognized when discussing female coaches within any sport, to acknowledge that they got where they are based off of merit.
Both Sonia and Becky bring with them a different set of important experiences, as do many coaches in the NBA regardless of their gender.
There are obviously multiple layers to unpack when it comes to acknowledging the processes and barriers of hiring coaches within the NBA, especially when those potential coaches are women.
However, this can only be possible when the presence of female coaches is normalized, which is slowly beginning to take place with this new wave of hires.
If men can coach women’s sports, it shouldn’t be up for debate whether or not a female can coach men.
People’s perceptions and opinions are constantly changing because of trailblazers who smash through barriers like Becky Hammon and Sonia Raman.
Similarly, when it comes to Sonia Raman, the 14th woman and the first female South Asian coach in the NBA, she may be the latest to join as a female coach in the league, but she definitely won’t be the last -- and that’s a reason to cheer, regardless of what team you root for.