Becky Hammon: A Portrait of Integrity
Hammon’s significance goes beyond basketball.
by Ben York
“There could never be a more beautiful you.
Don’t buy the lies, disguises, and hoops they make you jump through.
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do.
So, there could never be a more beautiful you.” – Jonny Diaz
When you visit Becky Hammon’s website, those are the words you’ll hear. They come from the popular song “More Beautiful You” by Jonny Diaz. As I’m sure you’ve gathered from even just a few lyrics, the song is about finding strength in yourself, being comfortable in your own skin, and always remaining true to one’s self.
Those words couldn’t describe Becky Hammon, and her journey, any better.
As anyone who knows Becky can attest to, she is living proof that believing in yourself can take you to places you never thought possible. Hammon has continually relied on both her faith and unshakeable sense of self to get to where she is at today – one of the best, and most recognizable, players in the WNBA.
Hammon is a living testament to where dedication, hard work, faith, and seizing the moment can get you. More than her play on the court, Hammon has created a perfect example for young women to follow. The constant mantra of negativity they hear growing up can be consuming and depressing. However, Hammon’s life is an illustration of hope and perseverance that girls can directly connect with.
“My faith is the most important relationship I have in my life,” Hammon said. “If you know my story, then everything and everyone in this world said I shouldn’t be a professional athlete. All the ‘experts’ said I’d never really amount to much in the basketball world, and where everyone else said no to me, He said yes! And He’s always made a way for me. So I’m just walking out the journey He set in place for me. Everyone is always very quick to point out my height and my quickness (laughs) or lack of, but God always assures me that He’s given me enough to do what He wants me to do. I love the song on my website, because once a person discovers the reason why each and everyone one of us is beautiful, it’s something no one can take away from you, because it’s a gift designed specifically and personally just for you! All life is precious. When you know where you came from, and you know where you’re going, the rest is just putting one foot in front of the other.”
It’s this type of attitude that the Hammonites (her legion of die-hard fans) respect and love so much. Hammon has always maintained integrity and dignity during the more difficult times in her life and utilized an innate inner strength to get by.
Becky is listed at about 5-6 – small even by WNBA standards. Hence, her journey to the WNBA was certainly a remarkable one, if not improbable. Playing high school in South Dakota, Becky was Player of the Year as a senior and was recruited to play basketball at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. At CSU, she set a plethora of school records and had her jersey retired in 2005. Ultimately, it was her growth (in confidence and in ability) at CSU that truly propelled Hammon to stardom, and set the tone for her distinguished WNBA career.
“CSU was key for me,” Becky said. “Not only did I get great coaching, but I got valuable on the court, in-the-moment training. Coach Greg Williams and Tom Collen really let me play free on the court. Coach Will especially had a great X-and-Os mind; we always were going to get a good shot at the end of a close game. So I learned a lot under them both. And like I said, while other people at big colleges were riding the pine until their junior year, I was getting valuable experience on the court in game situations as a freshman. Honestly, I’ve had great coaching all the way. Ron Riherd, my high school coach, was a stickler on fundamentals. He told me if I wasn’t going to shoot the ball right, don’t shoot it at all, and he also yanked me out the first time I threw an around the back pass to one of my teammates, even though she caught it! I’m thankful for my experience at CSU and couldn’t have picked a better place for me. I had a blast and absolutely love Colorado.”
In the WNBA, Hammon quickly rose to prominence as a member of the New York Liberty backing up Teresa Weatherspoon. Again, through her continual dedication to getting better and beating the odds, Hammon won over fans and critics with her endless energy and exciting play on both ends of the court. In 2007, Becky was traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars and led them to the Western Conference Finals averaging 19 points and 5 assists a game that year. Hammon and the Silver Stars would win the Western Conference Championship a year later in 2008, but would lose to the Detroit Shock in the Finals.
Not surprisingly, the young woman from South Dakota who was written off by so many people was the driving factor behind the Silver Stars immediate success. Looking back, however, Hammon has realized that proving people wrong can sometimes be a losing battle.
“I will admit early on in my career I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” Hammon said. “I was very motivated to prove people wrong. The problem is, when there’s no one left to prove wrong — then what? So, I dropped that approach a while ago. Every now and then it’ll rear its ugly head in my mind and I put the idea to rest immediately, because proving people wrong isn’t what motivates me anymore. I’m motivated to simply make the most of every opportunity that I have today. You’d be amazed how when you take care of today, tomorrow isn’t an issue! I’m motivated by being the best that I can be, not by comparing myself to this player or that player. You can’t imagine the peace of mind it brings to just be able to rest in being yourself. It frees my mind and heart up to love and better serve people around me.”
Perhaps no better example of this was the so-called ‘controversy’ when Becky decided she would become a Russian citizen in 2008. Hammon had a dream since childhood of playing in the Olympic Games and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to have the opportunity to play for the United States, another door opened – Russia needed a point guard. She had played in Russia overseas for a number of years, and spent almost as much time there as she did in America.
Of course, playing for Russia in the Olympics would inevitably lead to Becky being unfairly labeled as a traitor due to the two countries long, tumultuous history together. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Hammon simply followed her heart. Was she maligned for it? Yes, but she held true to her convictions and beliefs – something that takes an immense amount of courage to do on such a big stage.
“The whole experience leading up to the Olympics actually changed me as a woman for the better,” Hammon said. “It’s not always the final outcome, but the process along the way that builds integrity, perseverance, and character. I learned a lot. I go back to what I said earlier about God always making a way. His way and plan had so much more impact than what I thought would be my greatest moment as an athlete, standing on the medal stand for the USA, but it wasn’t His plan. He had a much bigger purpose and plan for me than I even had for myself.”
Some said the decision to play in Russia would tarnish her image of being an all All-American, hometown hero. Even some of her previous supporters in the WNBA had questioned her patriotism. In typical Becky fashion, she never once said a negative thing about her detractors and made the absolute most of her experience. She looked at it as a growing opportunity and as a way to better herself. It wasn’t so much about basketball, but about staying true to herself and standing up for what she believes in – even if not everyone agrees with it.
“For me it’s always bigger than basketball,” Becky said. “If it were just about basketball, well that’d be pretty sad and unfulfilling, and about to end in a few years. Instead I feel like my best years are still in front of me!”
As Becky stated, the recognition and accomplishments are nice but they only go so far in life. Even after as hard as she’s worked to get to where she’s at today, the more important thing for her is the example she sets for young women across the globe. Hammon always takes the time to sign that extra autograph, participate in a meet and greet after a grueling day of practice, and give back to worthy community causes. In some ways, Hammon’s journey has become less about basketball and more about self-confidence.
“As much as we’re judged on the court by our stats and numbers, the fans and teammates will remember us for a much different reason,” Becky said. “They judge with a different scale a lot of times. So, more than I want to be remembered on the court, I’d like to be remembered as someone who cares about her teammates and made a positive impact on the people that I’m surrounded by daily. Awards, records, championships, recognition — it will all fade eventually. They’ll be somebody new to cheer for, somebody new breaking a record, but when you impact someone’s heart – that’s the only thing that really lasts; and in the long run, the only thing that really matters. Lead a life of impact, not merely an existence in a moment in time.”
After over a decade in the WNBA, Hammon is still going strong. She’s been through some of the more turbulent times of the league and seen many organizations disband and others thrive. All the while, Becky has remained fervent in her faith and believes in the overall mission of the WNBA. She realizes that although it’s still a young league, people are going to need to change their perception of women’s athletics in order for it to truly take off.
“We’ve made great strides as a league, but I feel like we still have a long way to go,” Hammon said. “No doubt our game keeps getting better and better, and that is huge when trying to sell the product, but we’re also still battling generations of thoughts and attitudes towards women being respected as athletes. Until ‘Joe on the Street’ understands he can’t walk onto a court with a female professional athlete and expect to beat us just because he’s guy, and I’m a girl, we’ll continue to struggle to gain respect and legitimacy. The reality is there are some highly skilled athletes in our league, whether ‘Joe on the Street’ believes it or not.”
Although Becky has such a strong sense of self, it’s her altruistic views that really set her apart from other popular athlete’s. She feels the pain of others – it gets to her, it’s a part of her soul. Hammon’s dedication to the less fortunate comes from a completely genuine and authentic place.
“I am passionate, and I’m that way because at my core I’m very compassionate,” Hammon says of her work in the community. “If I see others suffering, it affects me; it moves me, it stirs me, it bothers me – and I’m motivated to help. If I have the ability to help, I want to help! That’s how I was raised; if someone needs help, you help them – just that simple. And I’m glad that I’m in a position to help many others. The saying is true – it’s much better to give than to receive.”
In regards to the Silver Stars, Becky is already thinking of the 2010 season. In spite of a fantastic individual season in 2009, the Silver Stars fell to the Mercury in the first round of the playoffs. With the Detroit Shock now in Tulsa and the Lynx’s recent trade for Lindsay Whalen, the West certainly isn’t getting any easier
“The West is always really competitive, and each year it just seems like the teams get better and better,” Hammon said of the fierce competition. “It’s really important to keep up with that trend. I think we need to get off to a better start. Last year, we struggled early on as a team and it carried into the whole season. We must find our identity quickly and go with what we do best and make other teams adjust to us and our style.”
In the end, maybe Hammon’s most appealing characteristic is her down-to-Earth personality. You never get the feeling of inferiority that you would with other professional athletes or that you’re in the presence of a celebrity when around her. She’s just…Becky, and that’s why so many people love her. They love her for her faith, her steadfast conviction, her passion, her inspiration, and her heart. They adore her continuous interaction with fans on her website, where it’s obvious she truly appreciates them. Still, don’t expect her to join the WNBA Twitter craze anytime soon…
“Nah, not at this point,” Becky said. “I barely email! If I’ve got something on my mind of any kind of importance I’ll do a blog, an interview, or something like that. Not so tech savvy here! Plus, I might blow the illusion of my life being so exciting.”
That’s Becky for you – friendly, passionate, and classy; a portrait of integrity.