Women Coaches in the NBA in 2018

Over the last few years, the NBA has been at the forefront of professional sport welcoming female coaches with open arms.  The professional mens basketball league which comprises of 30 teams across North America (and Canada) has a growing number of women making their impact in the league.

The trend kicked off 2009 with the hiring of women’s basketball legend Nancy Lieberman as the Head Coach of NBA Development Team Texas Legends, followed by Natalie Nakase as the LA Clippers Assistant Video Analysist and finally the hiring of Becky Hammon as Spurs Assistant Coach.  Since then, those women have progressed further in their careers as Nancy went on to become the Assistant at Sacramento Kings, Natalie continued at the Clippers also becoming assistant and Becky has been topped to be the predecessor to the current Head Coach Gregg Popovich.

The NBA are proving that finally, a sport is beginning to recognise the importance of hiring the best COACH for the job regardless of their gender.

We wanted to introduce you to some of those women and share just a small part of their coaching journeys….

Nancy Lieberman

Nancy Elizabeth Lieberman born July 1, 1958, nicknamed “Lady Magic”, is a former professional basketball player who played and coached in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and currently works as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association (NBA), as well as head coach of the Power in the BIG3, where she led them to the 2018 BIG3 Championship.  Lieberman is regarded as one of the greatest figures in American women’s basketball.

In November 2009, Nancy Lieberman became the coach of the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League, an affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, thus becoming the first woman to coach a professional men’s basketball team. The team began play in November 2010.  She later moved to a front office position with the Legends before joining Fox Sports Oklahoma as an analyst for the Oklahoma City Thunder studio shows, Thunder Live.  In July 2015, she was hired by the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach, becoming the second female assistant coach in NBA history.

Read our EXCLUSIVE interview with Nancy CLICK HERE

Natalie Nakase

After years of hard work and commitment to becoming a coach in the NBA, Natalie Nakase was promoted to LA Clippers Assistant Coach in the Summer of 2018.  Having spent a number of years in the role of Assistant Video Coordinator , Natalie is now part of the player development staff sitting on the bench alongside Head Coach Doc Rivers.

Nakase played in the NWBL for two seasons, playing with the San Jose Spiders in 2005 and the San Diego Siege in 2006.   She was the league’s first Asian-American player.  In 2007, she tried out with the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), but was waived.  She coached an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, and went to Germany to play one season with Herner in 2007–08, when she again tore knee ligaments.

Opting to retire as a player rather than undergoing surgery again, Nakase coached for the Wolfenbüttel Wildcats in the Damen-Basketball-Bundesliga for the 2008–09 and 2009–10 seasons. She next went to Japan in hopes of playing, but learned that the Japanese women’s league doesn’t allow foreign players.  A friend of Nakase’s, Darin Maki, was playing with the Tokyo Apache, and arranged with his coach, former NBA coach Bob Hill, to allow Nakase to observe practice before the 2010–11 season began.   She then prepared a scouting report for the team’s next opponent, which led to a volunteer assistant coaching position under Hill. After the Apache folded at the end of the season, Saitama Broncos head coach Dean Murray hired Nakase as an assistant at the urging of Hill.  She took over the struggling team midseason after Murray stepped down, and became the first female head coach in the bj league, Japan’s top professional men’s league.  However, her father persuaded her to not return to Japan in order to pursue her dream of becoming a coach in the NBA. 

In September 2012, Nakase began a yearlong internship in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers, working under the team’s video coordinator. She became the team’s assistant video coordinator. She was one of 15 women of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage honored at the White House in 2013 as their Champions of Change.  During the two-week 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Nakase was an assistant coach for the Clippers, becoming the first woman to sit on the bench as an NBA assistant.

To read our exclusive interview with Natalie – CLICK HERE

Nicki Gross

Nicki Gross born July 24, 1989 is an assistant coach for Raptors 905 of the NBA Development League. She is currently the only female coach in the D-League.  Gross initially entered the NBA Development League as the Assistant Video Coordinator for the Bakersfield Jam, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Phoenix Suns.   She remained in Bakersfield through the 2013-2014 D-League season.

She was hired by the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League on July 30, 2015. The Iowa Energy are the NBA Development League affiliate of the Memphis Grizzlies. At the time of her hiring, Gross was the only female assistant coach in the NBA D-League.

Gross would later be hired by the Toronto Raptors to be the player development coach of their D-League affiliate, the Raptors 905 on November 4, 2016.   She will be serving under head coach and former NBA All-Star player, Jerry Stackhouse.

She was not a gym rat, nor a basketball star. She was a soccer player at Seton Hall who was a basketball fan; a men’s basketball manager during grad school years at Monmouth College; an intern at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas; assistant video co-ordinator of the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam; video co-ordinator of the Iowa Energy in the same league, promoted to assistant coach with the Energy last season; and finally, added to the 905 staff by head coach Jerry Stackhouse.

“It’s a strange path, but it’s been fulfilling,” she said after the team went through an almost four-hour workout at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

That she can be an inspiration to other young women is just a byproduct for Gross. She hadn’t thought about that aspect of her ascension until last season, when she joined Nancy Lieberman and Stephanie Ready as the only female assistants in D-League history. Now, she understands what she can mean to people.

“I was just kind of grinding my way through it until last year, when I was an assistant coach for the first time and people started reaching out,” she said. “It’s a fortunate situation to be in, so I’m willing to be that (role model) for any young females that want to get into basketball.

“There’s no limit. Basketball is basketball. I never saw a way that I wouldn’t work in men’s basketball.”

Gross’ role with the 905s will be kind of a “jill of all trades.” She’ll work with players on skill development — “that’s our big goal, especially with (Raptors) assignment guys, helping guys get called up,” she said — while helping keep Stackhouse in line and organized.

Becky Hammon

Rebecca Lynn Hammon  born March 11, 1977 is a Russian-American assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and a retired professional basketball player. Hammon played for the San Antonio Stars and New York Liberty of the Women’s National Basketball Association, as well as multiple basketball teams outside of the United States. Hammon, who was born and grew up in the United States, became a naturalized Russian citizen in 2008 and represented the Russian national team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

On August 5, 2014, Hammon was hired by the Spurs as an assistant coach, becoming the second female assistant coach in NBA history, and the first full-time assistant coach. This also makes her the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major professional sports in North America.  On July 3, 2015, the Spurs announced that Hammon would be the team’s Summer League head coach, the first woman to be a head coach in that league. Hammon led the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League title on July 20, 2015.

Jenny Boucek

Jenny Boucek joined the Sacramento Kings in October 2017 as assistant coach and went on to become assistant coach to the Dallas Mavericks in October 2018.  In the new role at the Mavericks, she also became the first pregnant coach, she will be a mother to a newborn as the Mavericks begin the 2018-19 season.  Boucek discussed her pregnancy with ESPN’s Zach Lowe in a terrific article which details her decision to start a family at the same time her NBA career launched. She had previously coached in the WNBA before joining the Sacramento Kings’ staff in October 2017, just as she was preparing to begin in vitro fertilization.

“It was overwhelming,” Boucek told ESPN. “My two biggest dreams were happening at the same time.”

Every person — man or woman — should be able to start a family when they want. “Women get pregnant in every workforce,” Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon told ESPN. “There are female CEOs who get pregnant. This should be no different.” But the time and travel demands of NBA coaching create unique challenges, especially for a single parent like Boucek will be. A respected basketball mind and a hopeful parent, there was no question she could coach or be a mother. “Now it became: Can I really do both?” Boucek said. “Can it be done? It hadn’t been done in the NBA.”

Boucek began her coaching career in the WNBA during the 1999 season as an assistant with the Washington Mystics. In 2000, she joined the Miami Sol, also as an assistant coach, for three seasons.  In 2003, Boucek joined the Seattle Storm as an assistant coach and in 2004, helped the team win the WNBA Finals Championship, beating the Connecticut Sun. She also served as one of the Storm’s scouts for prospective college players during the NCAA basketball season.

In addition to her official scouting duties, Boucek also served as a color commentator on a several Fox Sports Net broadcasts of ACC women’s basketball games.  However, shortly after the 2005 WNBA season ended, Boucek declined to remain with the Storm for the upcoming 2006 season, citing personal reasons for her departure.

On November 15, 2006, the Sacramento Monarchs named Boucek as their new head coach for the 2007 WNBA season. On July 12, 2009, Sacramento Monarchs general manager John Whisenant announced the team relieved Boucek of her head coaching duties. She compiled a 40-41 record in two-plus years as Monarchs head coach. She was 19-15 in 2007, 18-16 in 2008, and 3-10 in 2009 at the time of her dismissal.

On January 20, 2015, the Seattle Storm named Boucek as head coach. On August 10, 2017, the Storm fired Boucek as head coach after compiling a 36-58 record for the franchise and, in particular, for a disappointing 2017 season. 

Kristi Toliver

In mid-October 2018, the Washington Wizards announced their coaching and training staff changes. Included in the announcement was that Washington Mystics All-Star guard Kristi Toliver would be joining the assistant coach/player development staff.

Toliver is the first active WNBA player to be on an NBA coaching staff. Her spot on the Wizards’ bench is historic, joining the likes of Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman as female coaches in the NBA. Hammon and Lieberman both played in the WNBA, but neither were active players while coaching in the NBA.

The 10-year WNBA veteran Toliver helped the Wizards at Summer League during the Mystics’ season, showing her dedication to making the most of that opportunity. As time went on, Grunfeld and Brooks decided to bring her on full time for the season.

Kristi Renee Toliver born January 27, 1987 is an American-Slovak professional basketball player for the Washington Mystics of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Toliver was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States and possesses a dual American-Slovak citizenzhip. She is the daughter of former NBA referee, George Toliver and Peggy Toliver. During her rookie season in the WNBA, Toliver signed an endorsement deal with Nike.  

On May 30, 2018, Toliver scored a season-high 30 points in a 103-95 victory against the Phoenix Mercury Later on in the 2018 season, Toliver was voted into the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game, making it her second all-star appearance. Toliver finished off the season with 13.9 points per game with career-highs in free throw shooting and minutes. The Mystics finished as the number three seed in the league with a 22-12 record, receiving a bye to the second round elimination game. They would defeat the Los Angeles Sparks 96-64, advancing to the semi-finals for the second year in a row. In the semi-finals, they would defeat the Atlanta Dream in five games, advancing to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. However, the Mystics would get swept in the Finals against the Seattle Storm.

Chastity Mevin

In mid-October 2018, Chasity Melvin has been hired in by the Hornets‘ G League team, the Greensboro Swarm, as an assistant coach.  She becomes the first female coach in Hornets and Swarm history.

Born May 3, 1976, Chastity is an American professional basketball player, originally from Roseboro, North Carolina.  A 6’3″ forward, Melvin entered the WNBA in 1999, and played for the Cleveland Rockers, the Washington Mystics, and the Chicago Sky over twelve seasons in the league. She recorded WNBA career averages of 9.7 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game.  Melvin has also played professionally in Italy, Israel, Spain, Poland, Russia the ABLand China.

During a game at the UIC Pavilion on August 15, 2007, Melvin’s left eye was dislodged from its socket after Shameka Christon of the New York Liberty accidentally struck Melvin’s face as the two were battling for a rebound. Melvin was treated at the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Center, where her eye went back into its socket by itself. She was able to return to the arena to participate in Fan Appreciation Night activities after the game. Melvin suffered scratches to her cornea, but no skull fractures or vision loss.

Melvin played for Asia Aluminum Basketball Club in China during the 2008–09 WNBA off-season.  She returned to the Mystics for the 2009 season; she had played there previously from 2004–07.

Melvin attended and played basketball for North Carolina State University from 1994 to 1998. In 1996-7, she was named a Kodak All-American. She led the Wolfpack to a Final Four appearance in her senior season and set an NCAA semifinal record by scoring 37 points in the Wolfpack’s loss to Louisiana Tech on March 27, 1998.

Alongside these female coaches, there are many other women in important roles such as referees Violet Palmer (retired), Dee Kanter and Lauren Holtkamp as well as broadcasters such as Stephanie Ready.

If we have missed any off the list – please email us at info@femalecoachingnetwork.com