Kara Lawson, Tennessee and WNBA great, reached another milestone this past weekend when she called her first Final Four for ESPN.
But Lawson often wonders whether she’d have been in coaching, not broadcasting, if the Sacramento Kings didn’t stand in her way. The brainy point guard, who played under Pat Summitt in college and for coaches like Mike Thibault for years in the WNBA, would seem like the ideal coaching candidate for any team.
Back in 2003, Lawson was working as a studio analyst on the Kings’ broadcasts, following her second WNBA season. She asked to sit in on practice—precisely the request Becky Hammon made of the San Antonio Spurs a few years later, one that launched her coaching career.
“I wanted to be a coach, or an athletic director,” Lawson told The Summitt. “So I asked the Kings if I could come and observe practice. And they said no, you can’t… I said look, I’m just trying to learn. I want to do my job on television better, but I also maybe want to be a coach, I just want to learn.”
Lawson tried a second, then a third time. Finally, the Kings let her come, but sit behind a one-way mirror, where the media would sit. She couldn’t hear anything.
“Well, I was interested in how they were being taught,” Lawson said. “What are the concepts, what is the vocabulary. I can’t get that behind a one-way mirror. So I wasn’t able to learn.”
Finally, the Kings have Lawson a reason: that she would “distract the players, if I was sitting there.”
Lawson grew visibly frustrated as she related this story.
“This ain’t 50 years ago. They gave me that reason. This was 13 years ago. So you go back 13 years ago and I say, what if they had let me in? Where am I now? Who knows? Maybe I’m an assistant on a staff. Maybe I’m in a front office. Maybe I’m still doing TV. But when you deny the opportunity for somebody, and then you sit back and say there are no candidates—when people say to me, when people ask me if I think things will change—people need to say yes to someone who’s interest in learning, who’s interested in growing, who’s interested in being a coach.”
In the eyes of coaches like South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, the decline in numbers of women coaches at Division I schools is a simple question of women getting opportunities. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said that it is his belief that not as many women want to coach, a statement that brought him considerable criticism.
For Lawson, and many other women, the luxury of choice did not enter the equation.
“I’m not bitter about my path,” Lawson said. “But I tell that story, because that’s the essence of the problem, of women not getting the opportunity. And I’m sure there’s other stories like that.”
Watch the full interview with Lawson here.