LOS ANGELES — In quick succession, but completely separately, Vanessa Nygaard and Diana Taurasi abruptly stopped by Dearica Hamby in the hallways of Crypto.com Arena on Friday to give her a large embrace and words of support.
“It’s so good to see you out there,” said Nygaard, who coached Hamby as an assistant with the Aces in 2021. “I got your back.”
Taurasi came by two minutes later and delivered a message from herself as well as Penny Taylor, her Basketball Hall of Fame wife, with what was likely her own F-bomb included.
Hamby played 15 minutes in the Los Angeles Sparks’ 94-71 season-opening victory against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday in her first game since giving birth to her son, Legend, in March. She had 9 points and 3 rebounds off the bench but was 1-of-7 from the floor as she works on regular repetitions of those “little basketball movements” again.
“I was kind of in Coach’s ear. I was like, 'Let me play these minutes so I can kind of get my flow back,'” Hamby told Yahoo Sports. “The shots I took — same as [in] the scrimmage — are shots that I make and would take in a normal scenario. I’m just trying not to be too hard on myself, and one game at a time.”
It was also days after the WNBA levied a two-game suspension to Aces head coach Becky Hammon for violating team “Respect in the Workplace” policies in relation to an investigation into allegations made by Hamby after she was traded from the Aces. The two teams will meet twice in the coming week, with the game in Las Vegas serving as a celebration of their WNBA title.
Taurasi and Nygaard each touched base with how Hamby was feeling before heading off to the bus and a plane ride back to Phoenix. Taurasi is a mother to two, both children carried by Taylor after she retired from a three-championship career alongside Taurasi with the Mercury. Nygaard, a former player, and her wife have three children all older than Taurasi's and Hamby’s crews.
“Only moms know,” Nygaard said after chatting with Hamby about how much sleep she’s getting. “I cannot believe that you’re playing basketball.”
Hamby, who helped the Aces to their first WNBA championship in September, said a feeling of gratitude hit when she took the court. In her Instagram story in January that detailed the allegations, Hamby said members of the Aces’ front office told her she wouldn’t be ready for the 2023 season and she was not taking workouts seriously to return. She told Yahoo Sports that at first she wanted to prove the Aces wrong, but then she realized she needed to do it for herself.
Hamby, a former two-time Sixth Player of the Year, opted against a full maternity leave and started the second quarter for her first regular-season minutes of what she has labeled a fresh start. It was 9½ weeks after she gave birth, she said, a quicker turnaround than the three months she took off with her daughter, Amaya.
“The second one is easier,” she said.
Hamby said she hasn’t fully experienced what it will be like to be a professional basketball player with a 6-year-old and a newborn yet, given that the Sparks have been home most of the preseason. Amaya went to spend time with her father when Legend was born, Hamby said, and both Hamby’s mother and Legend’s father have been around Los Angeles. But immediately after the Sparks’ season-opening victory, Hamby was taking her mom to the airport to head home.
In the times she has traveled, which has been only with Legend and not with Amaya, Hamby has already noticed other mothers stepping in to see if she needs assistance. Nygaard said she does the same when she’s on the road, lending a hand to a mom who might need it. She’ll even hold a baby on a plane if it’ll log a necessary assist.
“It’s a code of motherhood,” Nygaard said.
Hamby’s initial post detailing the discrimination noted that the comments made by “women who are mothers, who have claimed to be ‘in these shoes’” was “disappointing and leaves me sick to my stomach.” Until the WNBA levied sanctions following an investigation headed by two former prosecutors, no names were mentioned.
The 2020 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) introduced progressive action for players that included child care assistance programs, family planning assistance and accommodations for nursing mothers. It was a focus of the league's and WNBPA’s media push on the agreement.
Hammon called the allegations “vehemently false” last week and said the trade was a business decision The Aces’ organization voiced its disappointment with the punishment. The WNBPA is also not happy, saying the suspension “misses the mark” and fails to show other teams the need to respect their players and, specifically in this case, player parents.
“It’s amazing when verdicts come back and no one is happy, and I think that just shows a poor level of leadership and a poor process on the investigation,” WNBPA vice president Kelsey Plum told the Las Vegas Review Journal last week. Plum is close with Hamby and Amaya and wrote an emotional post to her after the trade.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Friday that she had spoken with Hamby ahead of the game and shared that the admiration she has had for Hamby since watching the “Hamby Heave” when she came on board in 2019 has only strengthened. The WNBA told Yahoo Sports last week that the questions Hammon asked Hamby were “inappropriate” and the league didn’t “think it would be appropriate to comment beyond that.”
“I have full faith they did a very thorough investigation,” Engelbert said Friday. “Only they and I and maybe a few of our lawyers know all the facts in this case. Obviously, everybody is going to have their opinions on both sides.”
Engelbert called Hamby “courageous” and confirmed that she will be in Las Vegas on Saturday for the Aces-Sparks game, which will begin with the championship ring ceremony. The two will first meet Thursday in Los Angeles, with a moment to potentially iron out any awkwardness in the second game of Hammon’s suspension. She’ll return for her first game of the season for the ring ceremony in Las Vegas. The Aces trounced the retooling Seattle Storm 105-64 in Seattle to open the season.
Hamby said it was nice one game into the season to have peers, people she looks up to and respects, who are hearing, validating and touching base with her.
“This goes for anything in life,” she said. “I think you don’t truly realize what you’ve been through until you’re in hindsight looking back. In the moment, it’s like, 'Duh, I can do this,' but when I look back, I’ll probably look back like, 'You really did that.'”