Silver, though, is in a position to do something about the matter and, although his reign is in its infancy by David Stern standards, he intends to work to make the league’s first woman head coach among his signature achievements.
Saying there “definitely will be” a woman coaching an NBA team, Silver told ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that “I think it is on me to sort of insure that it happens sooner rather than later.”
Silver, in an interview to promote the league and Leanin.org’s new campaign to raise gender-equality awareness, also hopes to add female game officials as the league increases its roster of refs by 25 percent over the next three seasons. Lauren Holtkamp is the only woman officiating games, following in the footsteps of Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner.
During his WFAN show recently, Francesa made waves for saying that a woman has no shot at being a head coach and that hiring a woman would be a “sad publicity stunt.”
“First of all, let me say that I disagree that there will not be a woman head coach in the NBA,” Silver said. “It is hard to say exactly when. There are three women currently in the pipeline, and I think like we have seen in all other aspects of life, while there are certain cases for example, the athletes that participate in the NBA, there are obvious physical difference between men and women and those differences are why we have a men’s league and a women’s league.
“But on the other hand when it comes to coaching, when there is absolutely no physical requirement, when it is not a function of how high you can jump or how strong you are, there is no physical litmus test to being a head coach in the league, there is absolutely no reason why a woman will not ascend to be a head coach in this league. We are very focused in on it.”
Presently, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon and Sacramento’s Nancy Lieberman are assistant coaches; Natalie Nakase, who also hopes to become a head coach in the league, is the Los Angeles Clippers’ assistant video coordinator.
“I do think there are things that the league can and should be doing to accelerate the move toward a woman being a head coach in the league,” Silver said.
Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who hired Hammon in August 2014, called Francesa’s comments “nonsense,” and Hammon recently turned down an offer to become the head coach of the University of Florida’s women’s team, preferring instead to focus on becoming the first woman head coach in the NBA.
“I’m not here unless Coach Pop kind of sees me as genderless,” Hammon said last year in a spot for Lean In. “He sees me as a person who knows basketball. He didn’t care that I was a woman. What he cared about was, can I help the team?”
In 2015, after Hammon coached the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League title, Popovich said he saw the matter of the first female NBA head coach as “a societal sort of thing” and added that he doesn’t see Hammon, former WNBA player, as “the first female that-and-the-other.”
“In America, we are great at sticking our heads in the sand and being behind the rest of the world in a whole lot of areas. We think we are this big democratic, fair place. But you look at our world now, whether it’s gender-wise or racially or religiously, there’s all kinds of stuff that is not the way it’s supposed to be.
“I think a female coaching a team these days has a lot to do with the people on the teams maturing as individuals, as members of a society understanding that it’s not about any of those things,” he said. “It’s about talent. It’s about respect. People like Becky over time will gain respect and people will understand that this is possible. It can happen. It’s like women getting the vote. Think about how long that took before change was made.
“But I think since 2000 changes have been pretty damn lacking in a lot of ways. I think people are fed up with it, injustice, and people not respecting other people’s space and who they are. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”