When Barack Obama became President of the United States in 2009, some people wondered if his victory was helped by the desire to prove that America was finally open-minded enough to elect its first black president.
Becky Hammon faces a similar situation in the NBA. She is a top candidate for the head coaching job with the Milwaukee Bucks. The former WNBA star, an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs for the past four seasons, would be the first female head coach in the NBA's nearly 72-year history.
Now for the Obama comparison. Is Hammon truly qualified, or are NBA executives eager to prove their progressiveness and capitalize on the positive press?
It's likely both, but it's interesting that former Bulls forward Pau Gasol went out of his way Friday to dispel the idea that Hammon's bid is more about optics than credentials.
Gasol, writing in The Players' Tribune, offered his support for Hammon, who coaches him in San Antonio. Gasol is in his second season there.
"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," Gasol wrote. "And I'm telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. 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."
Gasol also explained that there's no way that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich would sacrifice a competent coach for a publicity stunt, meaning that Popovich, one of the most respected coaches in the NBA, believed that Hammon was and is a valuable asset to the team and that she could help the Spurs win. That's the one and only reason he hired her.
And yet, as much as Popovich is a fan of Hammon's, even he isn't quite sure that her hiring as a head coach will come easy.
"It's going to take somebody (an NBA owner) who has some guts, some imagination, and is not driven by old standards and old forms," Popovich told the New Yorker.
Hammon is among the few candidates being considered in Milwaukee. Another top candidate is former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt.
Considering a woman has yet to become a head coach at a major Division I men's college program, it would be huge for Hammon to crash through this ceiling.
Either way, it's interesting and refreshing that players are starting to speak out publicly in her favor. That, in many respects, is progress too.
The WNBA season is getting closer. The Sky is 0-2 so far during the preseason, but is missing key players to extended overseas commitments, such as veteran point guard Courtney Vandersloot.
The Sky has one more preseason game left Saturday night at Minnesota before the season opener against the Fever on May 19 in Indianapolis. The home opener at Wintrust Arena in the South Loop is 6 p.m. May 20 against New York.
Thoughts and prayers:
Fans of Northern Illinois athletics likely know the name Andy Garcia. He's one of the voices of Huskies radio and TV.
Andy covers a lot of NIU football and men's basketball, and we worked together broadcasting NIU women's basketball games on ESPN3.
Sadly, Andy's wife Meredith, age 38, died last Friday after a courageous yearlong battle with cancer. Even more heartbreaking, Meredith leaves behind 3 young children, a 3 ½-year old son Noah, and twin 1-year-old girls Amelia and Ava. Doctors discovered Meredith's cancer shortly after she gave birth to the girls.
It was heartwarming to see the NIU family at Meredith's funeral Thursday, including women's basketball coach Lisa Carlsen and some players.
During the service, friends and family of Meredith spoke warmly about what a lovely woman she was, a caring and kind friend and neighbor, and a happy and active mother.
It is heartbreaking to me that her children will have little memory of her, and that Andy faces the parenting of three children under the age of 3 on his own.
To help Andy and the Garcia family, please visit their page at www.gofundme.com/MeredithGarcia.