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Aces’ Becky Hammon denies bullying following WNBA sanctions

Aces' Becky Hammon denies bullying following WNBA sanctions

Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon strongly defended herself and the organization Wednesday following the WNBA’s announcement that she had been suspended two games without pay and that a 2025 first-round draft pick had been taken from the franchise over the treatment of forward Dearica Hamby.

Hamby had alleged that she was traded in January to the Los Angeles Sparks because she was pregnant and that the Aces acted unethically toward her. Hammon countered that the trade was “a business decision” based on the Aces’ needs.

The penalties, announced Tuesday, followed an investigation by the WNBA.

“I don’t recall my relationship with Hamby being anything but on the up-and-up, and I’m just — obviously along with the organization — disappointed with the findings,” Hammon said in a video call, which was scheduled before the penalties were announced. “It’s never [good] to have your name be associated with something like that, which is not who you are as a person. That’s not how I operate. I did talk to my team; they were great. I have to say they’ve been very professional throughout this whole process.”

Hammon said that, to her knowledge, no Aces players from last season were interviewed by the league. The WNBA had said in its statement that “the investigation included interviews with 33 people and a review of numerous texts, e-mails and other documents.”

The WNBA told ESPN that investigators — two former prosecutors, one from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and one from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office — interviewed everyone who they thought would have relevant information, including people suggested by the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. The league said the Aces were given the opportunity to provide the names of individuals to be interviewed and did not.

“I never had one bad text between me and Dearica Hamby or email,” Hammon said. “First of all, I don’t email my players. I talk to them directly. But we do exchange texts, and anything that is less than the up-and-up I can tell you is adamantly false and not true from any person in this organization.”

Hammon addressed the possibility of a fake text chain being created. Asked if she thought Hamby had done that, Hammon said, “I’m saying I don’t believe anybody in our organization sent any nasty texts to Dearica Hamby. I think that’s completely fabricated from somebody on the outside that doesn’t know what the hell’s going on.”

The Aces released a statement Tuesday supporting Hammon and saying they were “deeply disappointed” with the outcome of the WNBA’s investigation.

Hamby had been with the Aces’ organization since 2015, when the franchise was still in San Antonio as the Stars. She agreed to a two-year contract extension in June. Hamby was then slowed by injury during the playoffs as Las Vegas won its first WNBA title.

During the Aces’ championship parade, Hamby announced that she was expecting her second child and planned to play in 2023. In January, after being traded to the Sparks, she said she had been told she was “not taking my workouts seriously” and that Aces personnel told her they “[didn’t] see that” she would be ready to return. She called the situation an attack on her “character and work ethic.”

Hamby, meeting with media in Los Angeles on Tuesday, said she was ready to play this season for the Sparks.

The WNBA said it was penalizing Hammon and the Aces for “violating league and team Respect in the Workplace policies.”

“I handled Dearica with care from day one when she told me [about the pregnancy], and she knows that,” Hammon said. “Once I made the phone call that the decision had been made to move her, that’s when everything kind of fell apart.”

Asked what the league told her about what it thought she did wrong, Hammon said, “Me asking about her pregnancy in a private conversation I was having with Dearica. That’s what they said.”

A league spokesperson told ESPN that Hammon’s violation included “inappropriate questions Becky asked Dearica about her pregnancy. We don’t think it would be appropriate to comment beyond that.”

Hammon said the Aces traded Hamby because they wanted to add other players and needed to create salary cap room. After the trade, the Aces brought in a pair of two-time WNBA champions in Candace Parker and Alysha Clark. They also added Cayla George, a center from Australia who last played in the WNBA in 2018 but has been very successful in her home country’s league, the WNBL, winning four titles.

“[Hamby’s pregnancy] wasn’t a problem, and it never was why we made the decision,” Hammon said. “We made the decision to move Hamby because we could get three bodies in her one contract, and we wanted to get three more people in. I think it’s very evident [with] who we signed on why we made the move.

“It came down to math in business. That’s all it was. Nothing personal. I had a great relationship with Hamby the whole time. Which is why she probably felt the way she did. You know, it feels like a betrayal. But like I said, it’s a crappy part of my job, but somebody’s got to be the bearer of bad news.”

Hammon said Wednesday that current Aces players — including 2022 starters A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray — told her the WNBA did not speak to them for the investigation. She said she believed the league did speak to former Aces center Liz Cambage, who played for Las Vegas in 2019 and 2021, before Hammon took over as coach.

However, the WNBA told ESPN on Wednesday that Cambage was not interviewed as part of the investigation.

Hammon said she understands that Hamby is upset and feels bad about that, but that the accusations against her and the Aces are not true.

“Whatever Dearica deemed as painful … I’m not invalidating her feelings,” Hammon said. “I’m sorry that they were hurt. My job is to have tough conversations. My job is to make the Aces better every year. And sometimes, that’s a hard process. This decision had everything to do with freeing up money to sign free agents. That’s all this was. … This trade had to happen for the Las Vegas Aces to get better.

“As much as I could sit there and say, ‘That’s not how I deemed the conversation going,’ she deemed it another way. And for that, I do feel bad. Because I’m not that person. Inflicting pain or stress on anybody … it’s just not in me. It’s not my heart.”

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