Since 2017, the NBA has seen ten women coaches join organizations, a sign of progress and inclusion for the league. The boom of female coaches we are seeing in today’s NBA began 19 years ago when Lisa Boyer was named an assistant coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2001.
In college, Boyer played forward for Ithaca College, graduating in 1979. Her coaching career began in 1981 when she was an assistant coach for the Davidson Wildcats women’s basketball team. Throughout the 1980s, Boyer was an assistant coach for East Carolina, University of Miami Ohio, and Virginia Tech. Boyer was briefly head coach for Converse College during the 1982-1983 season. Boyer was head coach of the Bradley Braves women’s basketball team from 1986 to 1996.
In 1996, the first independent professional basketball league for women in the United States called the American Basketball League (ABL) was created. Boyer was named head coach of the Richmond/Philadelphia Rage and coached the team for one season. After, Boyer joined the WNBA as an assistant coach for the now-defunct Cleveland Rockers from 1998-2002.
The head coach of the Rockers during Boyer’s time with the team was Dan Hughes, who had a relationship with Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Lucas. Lucas would attend Rockers’ practices and games, which is how he noticed Boyer.
Boyer asked Hughes to ask Lucas if she could attend a Cavaliers practice in October 2001.
According to The Athletic, Hughes said, “So I talked to John (Lucas), and John said, ‘Yeah have her come.’ He said, ‘Matter of fact, why isn’t she helping us out?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And he goes to me, ‘Do you think she would want to do that?’ And I said, ‘I think she would.”‘
After attending the Cavs practice, Lucas asked Boyer to help the team for the rest of the season. Since the Rockers and Cavs had the same owners and Boyer was under the Rockers’ payroll, she was not paid for her work with the Cavs. Boyer was considered a volunteer assistant coach and not listed in the Cavs media guide staff section. However, Boyer can be considered the first female coach in NBA history.
During Boyer’s time with the Cavs, she helped create transition and defensive drills and help run them in practice. Boyer would sometimes work out with 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Boyer would attend coaches’ meetings and tracked the Cavs defense during games.
Boyer wasn’t allowed to travel with the team or sit on the bench, but she sat behind the team at every home game. Boyer was allowed to enter the locker room, so the players would permanently keep their shirts on at all times.
After 2002, Boyer left the WNBA and NBA to be an assistant coach for the Temple Owls women’s basketball team. Boyer has been with South Carolina Gamecocks since 2008, now an associate head coach to former WNBA star Dawn Staley.
When Boyer was coaching the Philadelphia Rage in the ABL from 1996 to 1998, Staley was her star player. Boyer joined Staley in Temple in 2003 and followed her to South Carolina. Boyer and Staley won a championship in 2017 with the Gamecocks.
According to womenshoopsworld.com, Staley said, “A lot of times people hire friends just to hire them because they’re close to them, but they have to be the type of friends that really understand this business and know you. (We) have to be cut from the same cloth when it comes to philosophy, and being good people. Boyer checked off on all those qualities.”
Boyer told The Athletic: “I’m so happy that the women are in it now because there’s a lot of women out there that, you know, used to get mad because men can coach women, but why can’t women coach men? And so, that in itself is pretty frustrating. So I’m glad that it’s hopefully starting to change the tide a little bit.”
It took thirteen more years for another woman to be hired and coach in the NBA. In 2014, Becky Hammon joined the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching staff.
Today there are eleven women coaches in the NBA.
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(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)