SAN ANTONIO – Former Stars point guard Becky Hammon reached another career milestone Saturday night when her jersey was retired by the franchise after the Stars' 73-69 victory over the Atlanta Dream.
Most in the crowd of 9,439 stayed for the 35-minute ceremony, which ended with Hammon's No. 25 jersey raised to the rafters at the AT&T Center, where she thrilled fans with her gritty play and magnetic personality.
As Hammon hugged family members, teammates and friends after the ceremony, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" played on the building's sound system.
"I'm thankful for the people that showed up," Hammon told reporters later. "I'm an adopted San Antonian and just really thankful for the opportunity that I was given here. I just feel blessed and humbled that they chose to honor me in this way.
"It's a bit of a surreal moment. I'm glad that I kept it together for the most part because I was trying to keep it together. If I had let my emotions go, I probably wouldn't have been able to talk to you guys."
Hammon came to San Antonio in a trade with the New York Liberty in 2007, and played for the city's WNBA franchise until retiring in 2014.
One of he most consequential figures in San Antonio sports history, Hammon has been a trailblazer since she ended her playing career.
Hammon, 39, became the first female ever to land a job as a full-time NBA assistant coach when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hired her in Aug. 2014. She made more history last July as the first woman to serve as a head coach in the NBA Summer League and lead a team to the title.
After two seasons on the Spurs' bench, Hammon has earned the respect of the team's coaches and players with her exemplary work ethic and basketball knowledge.
A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon remains the franchise’s all-time leader in points per game (15.6), assists (1,133) and three-point goals made (498). She was named one of the WNBA’s All-Time Top 15 players in 2011, and on Tuesday was selected as one of the 20 greatest and most influential players in league history.
That’s not bad for someone who was passed over in the 1999 WNBA draft after an outstanding four-year college career at Colorado State. She made the New York Liberty’s roster as a rookie free agent in 1999, and went on to play 16 seasons in the WNBA. Hammon played eight seasons with the Liberty before being traded to the Stars.
"The whole night, the theme for me was just 'I'm thankful,'" Hammon told reporters. "I've loved my teammates and loved this journey that I've been on. I've loved basketball since birth, basically. Ever since I can remember. Very few people get to love what they do for a living, and even fewer people get the sport to love them back. The fans in the sport have loved me back."
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Listed as being 5'6 – some have said she isn’t quite 5'5 – Hammon quickly became a fan favorite in San Antonio with her hustle and unbridled passion for the game.
"My journey was not easy," Hammon said during the ceremony. . "It was not paved. I took the gravely road to the top. I took the trail that was no trail. I just kept going, and I'm thankful for that because what that taught me and what that built in me was something that I have no price for."
A self-described "gym rat" who was born and raised in Rapid City, S.D., Hammon thanked her family, coaches, former teammates and fans for their support throughout her career.
"When things are hard and people push you down and knock you down, and they've given you every reason not to believe in yourself, there's a time when you dig in," Hammon said. "Sometimes it's these people you see here that push you. When you don't believe yourself, they raise you up and you just keep walking when you don't think you can walk anymore. There are so many people that helped me."
Thought to be too small and slow to play college basketball, Hammon caught the eye of a Colorado State assistant coach. The rest, as they say, is history.
"You just never know where you can go and the places you can reach when you combine love and passion and a work ethic," Hammon said.
Popovich didn’t hire Hammon as an assistant coach because she’s a woman. It was no gimmick or publicity stunt. Popovich gave her a job because he saw somebody who knows basketball inside out, has good communication skills, and a history of rising to the challenge. After all, Hammon made a career of overcoming obstacles as an athlete.
"You played your butt off," Popovich said in a video played during the ceremony. "You deserve this. I wish I was still watching you play."
Whether it was being at the right place at the right time or whatever, Hammon was fortunate when the Liberty traded her to the Silver Stars in 2007 because it put her in the same city with Popovich.
When Stars coach Dan Hughes told Popovich and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford before the 2013-14 season that Hammon wanted to pursue a coaching career after she retired as a player, Popovich extended an open invitation to her. Hammon was a regular visitor to Spurs practices, attended coaches' meetings, sat behind the team's bench during home games throughout most of the season – and even went on a road trip.
After she was hired by Popovich, Hammon recalled a conversation she had with him about possibly coaching for the Spurs someday.
"Pop told me early on, 'As cool as it would be to hire you, you'd have to be qualified and I have to make sure you're qualified,'" Hammon said.
The Stars made the playoffs in seven of the eight seasons Hammon was on the team, missing the cut in 2013 when she played in only one game because of injuries.
Stars coach Dan Hughes talked about what it was like to watch Hammon play.
"I had the best seat for the best show in the WNBA," Hughes said. "I sat right there and every day I would be amazed, and I've seen a lot of basketball in my life. But I would be amazed."
Hughes said he misses Hammon's presence on the team – from her steely expression in team huddles during timeouts to the way she worked with younger players and played the game she loves.
"I'll tell you what I'm not going to miss," Hughes said during the ceremony. "I'm not going to miss her future. Because as much as Becky has done, she's going to do even more in the future."
The crowd responded with a rousing ovation.