History, however, didn’t wait long. Duncan’s coaching career lasted only one season after he chose to leave the staff in November to return to family life. Hammon’s fellow assistants on the bench are Will Hardy, who also works an assistant under Popovich in his USA Basketball head coaching role, and the newly promoted Mitch Johnson.
Hammon, 43, was undrafted out of Colorado State but played for 16 years in the W.N.B.A., where she was a six-time All-Star. After being passed over for the United States Olympic team, she represented Russia, where she had also played professionally, in the 2008 and 2012 Games.
On her flight home from the 2012 London Games, Hammon’s seatmate was Popovich. She recalled that he asked her, “So if you were an assistant for me and I asked you something, you’d tell me the truth?”
She replied, “I don’t know why else you’d ask if you didn’t want me to tell the truth.” He answered, “Good, I don’t want a bunch of yes men.”
In 2013, Hammon tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, abruptly ending her W.N.B.A. season. While she was in rehabilitation, she served as a coaching intern with the Spurs. Soon after, Popovich hired her as the first full-time female assistant coach in the league.
At the time, she said of Popovich: “Honestly, I don’t think he gives two cents that I’m a woman. And I don’t want to be hired because I’m a woman.” She was head coach of the Spurs’ Las Vegas Summer League team three times, winning the title in 2015.
There were other milestones for women in sports this year.
In November, Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt became the first woman to play and score in a regular-season game in one of college football’s Power 5 conferences when she kicked for the team. Kim Ng became the first woman hired to run a major league team’s baseball operations when she was named general manager of the Miami Marlins. In an exhibition game in July, Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants became the first woman to coach on the field in the major leagues.