‘I want to be the best. I don’t want to be the best of my gender, I want to be the best in the league.‘
In a week where free agency has dominated the NBA headlines and Kiwis have celebrated the success of Sean Marks at the Nets, it’s been hard for other basketball news to get a look-in, but the highlight for me happened about 300kms north of Brooklyn, in Boston. For my sins, I’ve been a Celtics fan since the mid 80’s, aided by Saturday night highlights packages of the playoffs on BBC1, but in the 73 year history of the franchise, there has been a missing piece – until now. Kara Lawson, a 38 year old former professional and ESPN analyst has become their first female assistant coach.
‘My perspective that I try to bring is I’ve been there, I’ve won championships, I’ve played almost any role that you can possibly play on a team. Most of the things that they experience, emotionally, most of them, I’ve experienced, too. So I can not just understand but I can relate to their ups and downs.’
As a player, Kara represented the Sacramento Monarchs, Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics in a career spanning 2003 to 2015. Winning a title with the Monarchs in 2005, becoming an All Star in 2007 and winning Olympic gold with the USA in 2008 are her playing career highlights. Since working for ESPN, she’s become a highly respected broadcaster, focused on the Washington Wizards.
Although the first for Boston, Lawson is another in a growing list of female coaches in the NBA.
Lisa Boyer paved the way in the early 2000’s at Cleveland before a lengthy gap to Becky Hammon at the Spurs in 2014 (who was the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the main US sports) and Nancy Lieberman who joined Sacramento in 2015.
The NBA isn’t alone. In 2016, Dawn Braid became the NHL’s first female skating coach for the Arizona Coyotes. In the NFL Kathryn Smith became the first woman to hold a full-time coaching position in the NFL, working as a Special Teams coach for the Buffalo Bills. Katie Sowers was the second, but also, significantly, the NFL’s first openly gay coach, when she joined the 49ers. Kelsey Martinez became assistant coach at the Raiders last year; their running back coach Jemal Singleton said at the time:
‘To get to have a female strength coach in Kelsey is unbelievable…because now my daughter can see there’s so many different roles when you come here….you see Kelsey out there working the players, and it’s one of those things as a father you want your daughter to have those aspirations to be whatever she wants to be.’
With assistant head coach role numbers heading in the right direction (although let’s not be complacent, there’s still plenty to do) the obvious question is, when will we have a female head coach? The Milwaukee Bucks interviewed the previously mentioned Becky Hammon for their head coach role last year. Although viewed as a huge positive by most, there was criticism from some who saw her as being undeserving of consideration. Mike Budenholzer got the job so the mountain has yet to be climbed and with that we are reminded that however positive appointments like Kara Lawson’s this week continue to be, there is still a trailblazer waiting to be anointed.
Back home, progress is slow. Professor Sarah Leberman’s research hit the headlines last year but it’s a long road ahead and it’s the same in most parts of the World. The USA is leading the pack in this area, but we’re not quite there yet and it’s not clear when we will be.
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