Sports

Pau Gasol: The NBA is ready for a woman head coach and it’s Becky Hammon

Pau Gasol knows a thing or two about basketball.

He’s been in the NBA for 17 seasons. He won two championships with the Lakers. He’s played for two of the league’s most highly regarded coaches, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich.

Gasol thinks it’s about time the NBA had a female head coach. And he says he knows the right person to break that barrier — Becky Hammon, currently an assistant coach under Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs and said to be interviewing for the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching position.

“I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach,” Gasol wrote in an essay published Friday by the Players’ Tribune. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. 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, a former Laker who has spent the last two seasons with the Spurs, started his piece by stating that his mother was a doctor and his father a nurse. “I grew up knowing that my mom got into a more rigorous school and program, and thus she had the more prominent job,” he wrote. “That wasn’t weird, or a judgment in any direction. It was just the truth. And we never really thought twice about it.”

In the same way, Gasol wrote, NBA teams shouldn’t think twice about hiring a highly qualified applicant just because she’s a woman.

“It goes to this idea that … as we’re making all of these amazing strides in society, in terms of increasing our social awareness, and making efforts toward ideas like diversity and equality, and just sort of creating this more inclusive world … somehow sports should be an exception,” he wrote. “It’s this idea, for some people, that sports should almost be this haven, where it’s OK to be closed-minded — like a bubble for all of our worst ignorance. And that as athletes, if we have any problems with the way things are, we should (as the saying goes) ‘stick to sports.’

“So when I see arguments — or even jokes — that we shouldn’t have female head coaches in the NBA because of ‘locker room’ situations or whatever … I guess it just reminds me that, for as much progress as we’ve made as a league over these last few years … we still have a ways to go. Because let’s be real: There are pushes now for increased gender diversity in the workplace of pretty much every industry in the world. It’s what’s expected. More importantly — it’s what’s right. And yet the NBA should get a pass because some fans are willing to take it easy on us … because we’re ‘sports?’

“I really hope not.”

Gasol pointed to Hammons’ anticipated interview with the Bucks, which will be the first time ever that a woman has interviewed for an NBA head coaching job, and the Phoenix Suns hiring the league’s first European-born head coach in Igor Kokoskov as positive steps. The veteran from Spain said he’s also encouraged by how the league has embraced such issues as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights.

And, Gasol wrote, he’s optimistic that there’s more to come:

“A more complacent league, it might take a look at these accomplishments — and be comfortable saying, OK, we did it, we’re finished. But the NBA is not a complacent league.

“It’s a great league.

“And to me, a great league would take a look at this, and say, We’ve come a long way, and we’ve shown a lot of growth … but there’s still a lot more growing left for us to do. A great league would say, Yes, this is progress — but it isn’t the finish line.

“Wait and see. We’re just getting started.”

charles.schilken@latimes.com

Twitter: @chewkiii