Natalie Nakase Rumors
Rivers won’t exactly anoint himself Nakase’s mentor, but he will allow her the chance and provide the vehicle to make an impression. “She’s been great,” Rivers said. “You know it’s funny, when guys during the season, when they want someone to help them out on the floor, they go to Natalie. I’m very happy for her.” When asked if Nakase could coach in the NBA, Rivers said: “I don’t know. Give her a chance. Could Pat Summit coach in this league? Yes.” Of course she’s heard the remarks. “Why don’t you coach in the WNBA?” “Do you really think you’ll be a head coach?” “Is this a publicity stunt by a maligned franchise looking for good PR?” But those misguided questions have nothing to do with Nakase’s quest.
Women have coached men’s teams before, such as Charlotte Bobcats sideline reporter Stephanie Ready, who was an assistant coach for a NBADL team in the early 2000s while Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman coached the NBADL’s Texas Legends in 2009. But Nakase is going after the big carrot, one of 30 NBA jobs, fully understanding she will have to overcome several stereotypes and barriers in her quest. She worked as video coordinator for the Clippers the past three years and two current NBA coaches — Indiana’s Frank Vogel and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra — began their careers as video coordinators. So there is a blueprint for her success. But she has to be taken seriously as a coach, and the experience last week in Las Vegas added to her legitimacy. Nakase has her mind focused on one goal, and she knows that skipping steps is not an option. “It was great to get back into it,” Nakase said this week. “Coaching is my comfort zone. So it’s almost like home for me to get back out there and coach. But it wouldn’t have happened if all the other [Clippers] coaches on our staff weren’t supportive. They were basically like mentoring me.”
The pushups, the sprints, the crawls, the slides — they fortify Nakase and will help her to destroy one of the excuses NBA people will use to dismiss her. General managers and coaches won’t say, “We don’t hire women.” They’ll have other reasons and arguments, such as, “We need someone who challenges our guys.” They’ll have justifications, an endless supply, for upholding the status quo. Natalie Nakase wants to be the first female coach in the NBA. And when you’re trying to do something never before done, you must first understand all of the reasons you might not succeed.
Del Negro didn’t know a thing about Nakase. Who was she? Where had she come from? How serious was she about the game? Del Negro played for Hill in San Antonio, which helped, but he wanted more firsthand proof that Nakase knew her stuff. Instead of getting the job, Nakase was given an open invitation to observe the Clippers’ summer workouts. She did, arriving early and leaving late. She settled into a corner of the gym and filled pages in her notebook: assessing each player’s footwork, diagramming the angles the coaches taught, counting the number of repetitions required before moving on. Nakase’s scribbling included words, phrases, numbers and arrows, like a cross between an NFL playbook and graduate-level lecture notes. After a few days, Del Negro walked over to Nakase, intrigued to discover just what, exactly, she had been so thoroughly detailing. He asked whether he could see her notes. She handed them over. Del Negro looked down, absorbing it all for a few moments. Then he looked at Nakase. “You’ve got the job,” he said.
At the beginning of September, Nakase attended a coaching clinic at the team’s practice site. She almost didn’t go, thinking it sounded too basic for someone with her experience. But Bob Hill was in her head again. Never turn down an invitation to step foot inside an NBA facility. So Nakase went to the clinic, convincing herself that good things happen when you least expect it. The clinic was pretty much Coaching 101. The man running it, however, was Dave Severns, the Clippers’ director of player personnel. He quickly noticed Nakase’s aptitude and made her his partner in demonstrating drills. She, in turn, chatted him up during every break in the action. By night’s end, Nakase had Severns’ email address and an open invitation to drop him a line. In years past, Nakase might have waited a few days to reach out to someone like Severns, being careful not to seem too eager. But when she got home from the clinic, she sent him a note and boldly requested to watch Clippers star Blake Griffin work out the next day. Severns responded immediately: Come on over.
Knight, who counts many NBA players as friends, is confident Nakase will get her chance to coach in the league. He is also quite sure a lot of guys won’t take her seriously at first — “because they’re like that with all coaches,” he says. Eventually, though, “once she passes all of their tests, they’ll see she’s really just a basketball person, and they’ll respect her.” Denver Nuggets forward Andre Iguodala, who has been in the league since 2004, offers a similar take. “If a female coach knows the game, veteran players would respond well,” he says. “All we want is someone who knows the game.” And that’s exactly what Nakase had to prove to the Clippers.
Natalie Nakase, the first female head coach in bj-league history, recently began working as a video production intern for the Los Angeles Clippers. A former UCLA women’s basketball captain, Nakase told The Japan Times she’s excited about this new opportunity with the NBA club. “It’s been a dream job and I am learning so much about the NBA every day,” said Nakase, who led the Saitama Broncos from late November until the end of a rocky 2011-12 campaign. “We will be helping the coaching staff scout teams and prepare them for their opponents. I’m extremely excited for this season.”
Saitama point guard Darin Satoshi Maki, who played for the now-defunct Apache last season, introduced Nakase to Hill while she was visiting Maki and his wife, a longtime friend, in Tokyo before the 2010-11 season began. Nakase then joined Hill’s Apache staff. “As soon as I met Bob, I learned all these different tactics in terms of vocabulary to basketball,” she said. “He would use different words that I had never even heard of in practice, and that’s when I was like, wow; the NBA is a whole new level that I had no idea of in terms of vocabulary, drills, preparation. And when I saw how much work had to be done in order to achieve at the top level that just intrigued me 100 percent.”
Two decades later, Nakase is the first female head coach in Japan’s men’s pro basketball history. She was named the Saitama Broncos sideline supervisor after Dean Murray was relieved of his coaching duties on Nov. 24. Now she wants to begin taking Japanese lessons in order to become an effective communicator on and off the court. “Eight of the players speak Japanese only, and I don’t speak Japanese at all,” the 31-year-old admitted during a Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan meeting on Monday. Despite having a translator available during games, “I instantly want to talk to one of the players immediately, making a switch or something in the game.” When she replaced Murray, Nakase, a native of Huntington Beach, California, experienced a night that many first-time parents can relate to. “There wasn’t any sleep,” Nakase said, describing her life-changing job opportunity. “The first person I called was my dad and I’m like, ‘Dad, guess what’s happening?’ And he was just as shocked as I was. And I’m like, ‘What do you think.’ His best advice to me was, ‘Natalie, just don’t be afraid to fail.’ ”
Nakase has an open mind about returning to the Broncos next season if she’s offered a contact extension. But her ultimate goal is to reach the sport’s pinnacle: to coach in the NBA. “It doesn’t necessarily mean head coach, “she said, “but just being a part of a program in the NBA and reaching a level where it’s the highest level in your sport, I think, that is definitely a goal of mine.”