Harding became the first black woman to become a full-time NBA scout when the Philadelphia 76ers hired her before the 2018-19 season. And just before the NBA playoffs began, the former Duke star became the Sixers’ first female assistant coach when she was promoted to player development coach.
Harding joins Becky Hammon (San Antonio Spurs), Jenny Boucek (Dallas Mavericks), Natalie Nakase (Los Angeles Clippers), Kristi Toliver (Washington Wizards) and Karen Stack Umlauf (Chicago Bulls) as the only women currently serving as assistant coaches in the NBA. Nancy Lieberman was also an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings.
“Becky gets hired and I said, ‘You know what? It could happen,’ ” Harding told The Undefeated. “I wouldn’t say that made me sure that I wanted to kind of get into it. But it let me know that it’s there, it’s open.”
Duke retired Harding’s No. 10 jersey after she finished her college career with 1,298 points, 579 assists, 296 steals and 565 rebounds in a school-record 128 games. The 5-foot-8 guard was only the sixth player in ACC history to register 1,000 points, 500 assists, 500 rebounds and 250 steals. In 2007, she was named the Naismith College Player of the Year and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA draft.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Harding averaged 9.8 points and 4.0 assists in nine seasons with Minnesota, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Phoenix. She also played professionally in Lithuania, Turkey, Russia and Cyprus.
Before the 2014-15 NBA season, Harding accepted an invite to sit in on coaches’ meetings with the Toronto Raptors during training camp. Then-Raptors coach Dwane Casey said he expected Harding to become a head coach in the NBA one day.
After retiring in 2017, the Houston native served as an assistant coach with the Raptors’ summer league team. She spent a year in the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associate Program before fielding several job offers in the league. She chose to work with the Sixers.
“Her love of the game shines through in everything she does, and I think that has a positive impact on everyone she comes across,” said Sixers general manager Elton Brand. “She’s a rising star in this industry.”
The process it takes to be great, all the hard work on the floor to be part of the women’s game, living in one city playing in the WNBA and then living in another country for seven months, and doing that over and over again, I was just tired of that stuff. Games? I love the game. I miss the games. That’s fun. But everything else around it, I don’t miss. And I think that was kind of easy for me [to retire].
Physically, I feel good. I’m happy. There are some people that look like they played a couple years too long. And I was happy that my knees are good. I didn’t retire because of injury. I got to choose.
Philadelphia 76ers player development coach Lindsey Harding (left) talks things over with Haywood Highsmith (right) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls on April 10 in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/Chris Szagola
What has your experience been like since joining the Sixers? Has everyone been welcoming?
No one has been unwelcoming. But there have been situations where you can talk to certain people that may want to downplay your accomplishments because it might not have been in the NBA — not to mention that these people might not have played either in the NBA. It’s a very competitive industry to be in, whether on the court or off. I ran into things like that.
Something as simple as me saying to certain people, ‘Oh, you know, I’d love to be in the office or possibly run a team someday, go in that direction.’ ‘Oh, a WNBA team. That’s great. I love the WNBA.’ But I want people to think differently. I don’t say bigger or smaller. I say, ‘Think differently.’ … You understand the game, you can learn just like everyone else. You have value. You have experience. Why not?
I was at the African American museum for the first time in D.C. last year and they were talking about sports, and talking about the first woman this and that, and the WNBA and everything. I remember looking, I was like, ‘Can I get a picture of you?’ I was there by myself and said that to myself. …
So a lot of people have actually called me and reached out: ‘Can you tell me about this?’ ‘What do you think?’ And I have players now that are black women who have called me about [the NBA Basketball Operations Associate Program] expressing interest and know that it is there.
What did you learn from being a scout?
I’ve seen so many games and learned the players. I have an idea about most of the players, if not all, in the league. So when players and when coaches are talking about certain players, there’s quite a few of them that I’ve written reports on, so I have a really good idea of who they are and what they do. That was a big reason why I wanted to scout, too, is to learn the league.
Have you encountered any sexism or harassment?
People know why I am there. They know what I have done. They all respect that, especially because most of them really haven’t had that experience. So that is great, but some people still see you as a woman first. And it could be at times an ego thing or it could be a woman [thing] … there could be some comments.
I play it forward. I can joke with the best of them. If we’re joking, I have no problem. But if they’re pointed toward me, that is when it might not be fully professional. But as a whole, it has been fun. That line might have been [crossed] a little bit. But I am the type of person, I handle myself, let them know certain things, and it has been great, especially in this climate.
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A lot of basketball you have, especially from my position, being a point guard, you have certain feels, you make certain adjustments. I learned the basics. Because I’m 5-8 on a good day, I have to have the correct form to shoot, use both hands to finish, use the right angle to pass to the post. You do a lot of the little things that these guys get away with because they’re bigger and stronger. We talk about the little things, what I can see, what I can teach and what I can do. It’s a lot of the little things that I have had to perfect to be good because I don’t have the physical attributes.
A few people talked to me about it, but I didn’t know. I was unsure for a while of when they were going to look to hire. The moment I showed interest and everything, there was an offer out there. I know it’s probably an unusual time to go with playoffs, but it just kind of moved quickly. I was like, ‘Sure, absolutely.’ This would be great, and they just give me like, ‘One, two, three, done.’
What made you comfortable making the transition at this time of the season?
What is that quote? It’s like, ‘If you’re doing something comfortable, it’s not worth doing.’ It took me a couple of months to get comfortable with scouting until I finally learned the ropes, knew what I was doing. It’s tough in this time because you’re still getting to know people. But it’s playoff time, so you don’t want to mess up routines, you don’t want to interrupt any of that stuff. You just want to, at this time, all hands on deck, helping out with anything that ne to be done right now.
Of all the positive comments you’ve received this season, what has meant the most to you?
One of the biggest things that got me was words from a player now at Duke. She is a black girl. She was talking to me about she wanted to stay in basketball when she finished playing and graduated. She wanted to do men’s basketball. She wanted to get into coaching.
Listening to her talk was amazing because she sees it as an option. Even when I was in college, I didn’t even think I could … so my mind didn’t even go there as far as working on the NBA side in this way.
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon (center) talks with guard Patty Mills (left) next to head coach Gregg Popovich (right) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 7 in Detroit.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Obviously, Becky Hammon is doing it, and Jenny Boucek’s doing it, Kristi Toliver. It was just another thing that hit me because I’m a Duke alum, I’ve spent some time there, and she was like, ‘Hey, you’re doing it. This is what I want to see for my future.’ That’s pretty special to where now kids like her, she’s in school, and she’s like, ‘You know what? I want to focus on this and do this.’
What advice would you give to a young girl who wants to follow in your footsteps?
One, this job is kind of like any job. Relationships are very important. Making sure you meet and know the right people, it’s very difficult, especially after my years of playing, to be around NBA organizations and staff long enough to develop relationships.
Obviously, it is much easier for the men who play because they’re with their coaches every day, or their GMs and everything. So that’s one barrier that makes it a little tougher. So it’s going to different events and making these contacts, and knowing that it may take years and years, and at that time you have to prepare yourself. How I prepared myself was my years of playing.
How excited are you for the Sixers in the playoffs?
I am super excited for the playoffs. I think we’ve done well this season. We have a great group of guys that this organization put together, and I know that everybody is excited and ready. So, yeah, I’m new to this side, so I’m still learning day by day. But this is something really exciting to be about.
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Why not? There are some great players in the league now. From what I’m watching … I am going to throw a name out there everyone knows. Diana Taurasi is one of the best players to ever play the game. She shoots better than the majority of people I have ever seen shoot the ball, men or women. She has respect from pretty much anyone.
People will joke at me and laugh about it. But why not? If we put a boundary on something, then why would it happen? I am a person that thinks outside the box.
Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.