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First woman on Raptors 905 coaching team changes the play
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First woman on Raptors 905 coaching team changes the play

From Olympian to NBA G-League coach, basketball star Tamara Tatham is breaking new ground


This story is part of our Breaking Barriers series, which profiles prominent Canadian women in male-dominated industries. Breaking Barriers is brought to you by Ameri­can Express Canada, which is proud to be a four-time winner of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers.

Basketball has always been a part of Tamara Tatham’s life. Her childhood home in Brampton, Ont., was known as “The House of Hoops,” where watching NBA games was a regular family event.

“I loved the surprises, I loved the underdog,” she recalls.

But it wasn’t until she hit the court herself at age 13, prompted by her father and older brother, that Tatham fell in love with the sport.

Not only was she blessed with height and natural talent, her parents “gave my brother, sister and me a great opportunity to play and focus, with no pressure,” says the six-foot, one-inch champion.

Fast-forward 20 years and the 33-year-old is the first woman in Canada to join the coaching staff of a National Basketball Association G-League team, Raptors 905.

A two-time Olympian and a Gold Medallist at the 2015 Pan Am Games, Tatham regards coaching the Raptors 905 as an “honour.”

“[The players] are very respectful to me, and were immediately,” she recalls, after starting her new job as the only woman coach of an all-male team. “You still have to prove yourself, but being such an established basketball player gave me a leg up. I have a lot of insight on the game, the players and how to connect with and speak to them.”

Family support and a strong faith (her grandmother was a pastor in Jamaica) has kept Tatham grounded during the gruelling practice schedules, travel and competitions throughout her career, including a stint in Europe when she turned pro in 2007.

Although she witnessed “a lot of crazy stuff” while playing overseas, such as coaches dating players, being a woman hasn’t resulted in negative or uncomfortable moments in her career, Tatham says.

“Part of that is being very mindful of where I am in relation to the locker room – and only entering when I’m supposed to,” she says with a laugh.

Respect is a big part of her overall coaching philosophy. “Everyone should be able to celebrate. But at the same time, be respectful of the game and your opponent.”

Joining the coaching team last year in advance of the Raptors’ historic NBA win in June was a slam dunk for the elite athlete, who had a hand in bringing Montrealer Chris Boucher up the ranks. Named the 2018-2019 G-League MVP, as well as Defensive Player of the Year, Boucher now plays for the pro team.

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Never one to take too much credit, Tatham simply says, “I was on staff.” Her humility, however, isn’t for lack of confidence. When Tatham saw an opportunity to coach, she stepped up.

She says, of the dearth of female coaches in sports, “I think most women haven’t even thought of applying. It’s not a common role, and many of us haven’t seen other women doing these jobs. But I’m thinking ‘Why not apply? See what happens.’ It shows people that we’re interested.”

Tatham is more outspoken over the recent debate about calling a woman athlete (such as tennis player Serena Williams) the top player in her sport, male or female.

“If you’re the best, you’re the best – period,” she says. “It’s 2019. There is nothing wrong with saying a woman is the best at a sport.”

She also sees some room for improvement in how other G-League teams can level the playing field for female staffers.

“The biggest obstacle is probably that venues need to be better prepared for women coaches – so things like separate locker rooms on travel days,” Tatham says, adding, “the 905 has done an amazing job accommodating women.”

So where will Tatham’s talent take her from here? She wants to continue working with Raptors 905 and as assistant coach with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues Women’s Basketball Team. “Maybe a university head coach?” she ponders. “And being with the NBA would be cool.”

Without having had the benefit of learning from a lot of women leaders, Tatham is dedicated to mentoring girls and young women on and off the court. On top of juggling two jobs, she also does outreach work whenever she can, appearing at community events and speaking at schools.

Shouldering the responsibility of being a positive role model is “intense,” she says. “I’m inspiring a lot of women and girls right now. It’s a privilege to be in a position where I can connect.”

It’s good for her too. “The kids say, ‘You’re the GOAT!’ It’s great to see that enthusiasm!”

Tatham’s message to women is to be confident, open and honest, and remain strong, no matter what. And don’t let frustration or anger build up.

“You have to know that everything is a game of chance,” she says. “If the ball doesn’t go in, it’s probably just not your day. But you need to trust that there are better days ahead.”

Photo credit: Thomas Bollmann

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