Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon denied the validity of the WNBA's recent discipline, calling the allegations of pregnancy discrimination "vehemently false," in a virtual news conference with reporters on Wednesday.
One of the league's most notable figures, Hammon was suspended for two games without pay for violating the league's Respect in the Workplace policies in her comments about All-Star Dearica Hamby's pregnancy. The punishment was a result of the league's findings in two separate investigations, the WNBA announced Tuesday.
Hamby was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks in January after spending eight years with the franchise that drafted her fifth overall in 2015. After the trade, she released a statement detailing "disgusting comments" and "discrimination" from her former team.
The league said it interviewed 33 people and reviewed texts, emails and other documents. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement she was "disheartened" by the violations.
“I actually haven't seen that Dearica said she received nasty texts from us," Hammon said. “I think that's completely fabricated by somebody on the outside that doesn't know what the hell's going on.”
Hammon also said that screenshots could be altered, suggesting that she was framed.
According to Hammon, no current Aces players were interviewed. She cited former Las Vegas player Liz Cambage as the only player she was aware the league spoke with. The league refuted her statement, saying no such interview occurred.
“It is true that the Respect in the Workplace violation included inappropriate questions Becky asked Dearica about her pregnancy,” a WNBA spokesperson told Yahoo Sports. “We don’t think it would be appropriate to comment beyond that.”
'Nothing personal,' Hammon says
In the other probe, the league found the Aces promised "impermissible benefits" during negotiations for Hamby’s player contract. As a result, the Aces' 2025 draft pick was taken away.
Hammon claimed that the decision to trade Hamby had nothing to do with her pregnancy and more to do with landing two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker.
“We made the decision to move Hamby because we could get three bodies in for her one contract,” Hammon said. "I think it’s very evident who we signed why we made the move, but (Hamby's pregnancy) was never an issue and it was never the reason she was traded. It just wasn’t. It came down to math and business. That’s all it was. Nothing personal."
After the trade, Hamby said she was asked if she planned her pregnancy, which she says she didn't.
"I was then told that I 'was not taking precautions to not get pregnant.' I was being traded because 'I wouldn't be ready and we need bodies'. I planned to play this season, and I have expressed my desire to play this season," she wrote in the statement.
She played while pregnant during the Aces' championship title run last season. She also has a 6-year-old daughter, Amaya. Hamby is already back on the court for the Sparks, nine weeks after giving birth.
On Wednesday, Hammon said she asked Hamby about her pregnancy once in "private conversation," but didn’t detail what she said.
“I guess you’d have to ask for (the league’s) interpretation,” she said. “But, yeah, that from my understanding was my misstep, if you will.”
WNBA ruling leaves WNBPA and Aces unhappy
The WNBPA spoke against the WNBA's ruling, arguing that Hammon and the Aces should have received a more severe punishment that would not impact a future player.
"Where in this decision does this team or any other team across the league learn the lesson that respect in the workplace is the highest standard and a player’s dignity cannot be manipulated?” the statement said.
The Aces also released a statement denouncing the league's decision, in support of Hammon.
“The WNBA’s determinations about Becky Hammon are inconsistent with what we know and love about her," the statement read. “Becky is a caring human being who forges close personal relationships with her players.”
According to Hammon, the support from Aces president Nikki Caldwell Fargas is all she needs to "keep it moving."
“I’ll take my little lump on the chin," Hammon said. "We’re bigger than this. It’s just not who the Aces are. It’s not who I am. And so, yeah, everybody’s disappointed in the situation, but at the end of the day, we know who we are and so we go to sleep every night in that truth.”
Hammon cites the nature of the job
A former WNBA player herself, Hammon claims things didn't change with Hamby until after she was traded.
"I had a great relationship with Hamby the whole time, which is probably why she felt the way she did," she said. "It feels like a betrayal. It’s a crappy part of my job, but somebody’s got to be the bearer of bad news.”
During her eight seasons as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, Hammon interviewed for countless NBA head coach jobs. She was the first woman to assume the head duties in an NBA game when Gregg Popovich was ejected during a December 2020 game against the Los Angeles Lakers. She also coached the Spurs to the 2015 NBA Summer League title.
In a recent profile from TIME magazine, Hammon said she won't leave her current role easily. “You’re going to have to come after me,” she said. “I’m not going to beg for a job anymore.”
She has been linked to the vacant Toronto Raptors head coach opening, but said on Wednesday that she is not "far along in the process with any team."
Her focus is on the WNBA season, which begins on Thursday.