Harding: Fear of unknown stops women in NBA

Lindsey Harding, who was hired as an assistant coach by the Sacramento Kings on Friday, said that "being afraid of the unknown," rather than concerns over whether they'll be respected by players, is all that's keeping women from ascending to head-coaching positions in the NBA.

"The question is always, 'Will the guys respect you? Can [women] coach men?' But when you get [to the NBA], the guys aren't the problem at all. That's the most fun part," said Harding, the former Duke and WNBA star who coached with the Philadelphia 76ers last season before landing a promotion on the Kings' staff.

"I think the whole thing is just being uncomfortable, or being comfortable in the unknown."

Harding told ESPN that she developed great relationships with several players, including point guard T.J. McConnell and forwards Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, last season on the Sixers' bench.

"The moment you talk to any guy that plays [in the NBA], you say hi, here's who I am and what I've done, I've played [in the WNBA] or coached [in college], there's an automatic respect," Harding said. "It was as if I'd been an NBA player."

Harding joins the growing list of female assistant coaches in the NBA, which includes Becky Hammon (San Antonio Spurs), Jenny Boucek (Dallas Mavericks), Natalie Nakase (Los Angeles Clippers), Kristi Toliver (Washington Wizards), Kara Lawson (Boston Celtics) and Karen Stack Umlauf (Chicago Bulls).

"I think if you speak to any other woman that is coaching here, they would say the same thing about the players," Harding said. "They've been fantastic. The players have never been the issue. I guess it's just being afraid of the unknown.

"Because you can't say we don't know basketball when you have someone who has played in the WNBA or played professionally [overseas] for years, you can't really say that."

Harding said the growing ranks of female coaches should help close that opportunity gap eventually.

"This isn't the only job in the world that was difficult for women to break through," she said. "At one point, with every job, there was only one woman doing it. and then eventually other women start doing it. I mean, you don't think twice now when you see a female doctor."

Harding began her time in Philadelphia as a scout with an eye toward a career in the front office. But she pivoted into a coaching role toward the end of the season and in the playoffs.

The opportunity to join Luke Walton's staff in Sacramento came up very recently while she was at summer league in Las Vegas. She'd previously worked with Kings assistant coach Jesse Mermuys, when they were both on the Toronto Raptors summer league staff, and he recommended her for this position. In addition to being an assistant, she will be a player development coach as well.

Harding said Sixers general manager Elton Brand immediately encouraged her to take the opportunity.

"From her strategic and insightful approach as a scout, to her commitment to excellence and attention to detail as a player development coach, Lindsey Harding was fantastic here," Brand said. "I'm not surprised she is in high demand in our league. I'm thrilled for her promotion and opportunity in Sacramento."