If she had her choice, Lindsey Harding would've played basketball for the rest of her life. The Duke alumna and former No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick had spent most of her time on the hardwood, dating back more than a decade to her days at Cy-Fair High School just outside of Houston.
But after spending time with 13 teams all around the world, Harding began to look to the future.
"Playing in a different city from where you might live and having to go to Europe for seven or seven and a half months, you miss everything," Harding said. "You miss birthdays, graduations, babies being born, and I knew I wasn’t going to do it forever. I knew there needed to be something next."
That "next" was an opportunity with the Philadelphia 76ers, who hired Harding as a pro personnel scout in August. Harding is the second-ever full-time female scout in the NBA, and the 2007 Naismith Player of the Year joins Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, Mavericks assistant Jenny Boucek and Clippers assistant coach Natalie Nakase among the very few former WNBA players who are now working in the world's premier men's basketball league.
Harding will link up with a couple other former Blue Devils in the City of Brotherly Love—veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick returns to the Sixers for a second season and Elton Brand, the top overall selection in the 1999 NBA Draft, is at the helm of the front office as the team's newly-hired general manager.
"I think it’s kind of unheard of for someone to retire and two years later be the GM. I want to be on that path," Harding said of Brand. "I know he’s excited. We have a really solid group there and we’re all there. He’s not just there on an island. He’s the boss, but it’s all of us pitching in."
'I'm used to tennis shoes'
Harding's path to the NBA began when she retired from pro basketball in 2017. Harding then joined the NBA's basketball operations associates program, working in the league office and traveling to visit different teams.
Harding acknowledged that there was plenty to learn, including what she didn't like.
"From playing, that’s what you know, and from coaching, that’s what you know. You don’t know everything that’s around the game and there are other things you can do to be a part of basketball," Harding said. "Three-hour meetings [were] really tough. Corporate [attire], having to wear business suits every day was different—not that I won’t get there in the future, but I’m used to tennis shoes."
The constant search for knowledge has been a part of Harding's identity since her first days on the basketball court. Former Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors, who recruited Harding to Durham in the early 2000s, said she's seen an evolution of those same characteristics within Harding over the years.
"It's a great thirst for knowledge that she has and a passion for competition, pushing herself to be the best," Goestenkors said. "She wanted and needed to understand the game at a very high level because as a point guard, you need to not only know the plays, but also where everyone needs to be."
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Harding developed relationships with many teams, networking throughout her years at Summer League as well as during her time with the league office.
Eventually, she interviewed with teams that were hiring for multiple positions. The Sixers first looked at Harding in a coaching role, something that she had done a few years prior with the Raptors at Summer League.
But without a position available, they instead opted to hire Harding as a pro personnel scout, meaning she will primarily look at talent in the G League and internationally, as well as on other teams in the NBA, trying to find the pieces to help the Sixers complete their roster.
Still, Harding has her eyes on an eventual return to the sidelines.
"I’m not going to lie—being able to be on the floor and teach the game, that’s awesome. I’ve done that for years," Harding said. "But being able to put the team together...I’m really excited for that. I’m taking this step and seeing what comes from this."
The Sixers are just as excited to have her on board.
"Lindsey has quickly become one of the game's bright young minds in basketball operations," head coach Brett Brown told ESPN. "It's no secret how much I value the culture we've built in Philadelphia and how much a family-like atmosphere means to our program. Lindsey is a leader, and she is a welcomed addition to the 76ers family."
'Basketball is basketball'
The WNBA has grown in recent years. Its television ratings have increased and the players are inching toward earning bigger salaries. Although the league is nowhere near as profitable as the NBA, its players are speaking up, hoping to negotiate a deal in which they can earn a similar proportion of the league's revenue as their male counterparts.
But it goes without saying that there are not enough women working in the NBA. Even in an age when women and men work alongside one another in almost every occupation, there are currently just three female assistants.
"It’s just [about] more men being open," Goestenkors said. "They’re in the power positions, at this point, to do the hiring, so as they see Becky Hammon and some of the other females coaching men, and they see them be successful, more and more will be hired. The bottom line is basketball is basketball."
Hammon is often regarded as the trailblazer—she became the first full-time female assistant in any of the four major professional sports when the Spurs hired her in 2014, and she became the first woman to be the head coach of a Summer League team in 2015.
Hammon was also one of the first people to congratulate Harding once she was hired. But Harding wants to drastically expand the group beyond the elite few that it has now.
"I’m doing this because I wanted to do it," Harding said. "If any woman wants to be a coach or wants to be a scout or wants to get in the front office or wants to work for an NBA team, nothing should discourage them from doing it and they should pursue it and do it. Again, you want to know what you’re talking about, you want to have some experience, but I think now, more teams are open to it."