LAS VEGAS — One day after the Las Vegas Aces were paraded around the elaborate multi-story video production facility Vu Studios for their annual media day, the WNBA smacked a bit of reality back into the defending world champions.
The league announced Tuesday it has suspended coach Becky Hammon for two games without pay for violating league and team “Respect in the Workplace” policies, and has also rescinded the Aces’ 2025 first-round draft pick. Due to a prior trade, Las Vegas does not have a 2024 first-round draft pick.
The penalties come after the monthslong investigation stemming from Dearica Hamby’s allegation she was bullied and manipulated for being pregnant.
The team violation involved promises of impermissible benefits in connection with negotiations for an extension of then-Aces player Hamby’s player contract. Hamby signed a two-year extension last June, then was traded on Jan. 21 to the Los Angeles Sparks. The “Respect in the Workplace” violation was related to comments made by Hammon to Hamby in connection with Hamby’s recent pregnancy.
After being traded, Hamby posted on Instagram: “Being traded is a part of the business. Being lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against is not.”
And while the players’ union had pushed for an inquiry into whether Hamby’s rights under the league’s 2020 labor agreement were violated, as well as state and federal laws, the league began an investigation after a complaint by Hamby was filed the same day she was traded, alleging misconduct by the Aces.
The investigation included interviews with 33 people and a review of numerous texts, emails and other documents. During the course of the investigation, several individuals raised additional concerns about the conduct of the Aces during the most recent free agency period. The investigation was not able to substantiate any of those additional concerns.
“It is critical that we uphold the values of integrity and fairness, which create a level playing field for our teams,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “The Aces failed to adhere to league rules and regulations and have been disciplined accordingly. We are also disheartened by the violation of our Respect in the Workplace policies and remain committed to ensuring that enhanced training is conducted and standards are followed across all WNBA teams.”
Hamby, who returned to the court a little more than a month after giving birth to her son, Legend, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
Hamby’s teammate, veteran and basketball analyst Chiney Ogwumike, said she was pleased with the league’s announcement.
“It’s important for players’ voices and thoughts and feelings and emotions and life experiences to be heard,” Ogwumike said during the Sparks’ post-practice Zoom session. “So to be able to see that she was heard in a platform, that makes me feel good. But also, we’re just here to support her. I mean, D is someone that I’ve known since she got into the league. She’s a year younger than me. And we’ve been close friends back until her San Antonio days.”
Ogwumike said being able to support Hamby since she arrived in Los Angeles has been “a gift” – from the players to general manager Karen Bryant and first-year coach Curt Miller – as the organization has rallied around the two-time WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year.
“I mean, hanging out with Amaya and Legend has been so fun,” Ogwumike said. “And I’m just getting that reality check of she’s a badass woman. As a mom, as someone that has been such a force on the court as well. I’m glad that we’ve all been collectively here for her. And I think we’re lucky to have her as a teammate and we will protect her at all costs.”
The Aces did not reply to a text requesting comment.
Las Vegas general manager Natalie Williams did speak briefly about the situation on Monday during Media Day.
“We always look at, as a group, what we need to do to make our team even better than it was last year,” Williams told The Sporting Tribune. “And so we really knew that we had to strengthen our bench. We had a great core, but we knew we had to do what we could, and unfortunately, trades happen. Just the way everything went down, it’s unfortunate, but in the game of basketball, there’s trades that happen every day.
“Unfortunately, with the allegations, that stuff happens here and there is what I’m told. It’s my first year. You just ride the wave and just take the time to enjoy, because what we accomplished last year was amazing and it can never be taken away.”
UPDATE (as of 3:25 pm pacific): The Las Vegas Aces released a statement via their Twitter page: