Nancy Lieberman: ‘Been Doing This My Whole Life’

We’ve been talking a lot about Becky Hammon lately – and rightfully so – but we also need to talk about Nancy Lieberman. The former Olympian, who was recently hired by the Sacramento Kings, is the first female men’s professional basketball coach and second full-time female assistant coach in NBA history.

She’s also from Brooklyn.

Scott Ferrall likes that.

“Thank you so much,” Lieberman said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I was born in New York, and I loved being in New York. I’m grateful for the days in Rucker Park and playing ball and pickup games. There’s so many people at that early stage of my career that really helped me kind of mold myself into a competitor. So I’m always grateful and never forget my New York roots.”

Ferrall’s 7-year-old daughter plays basketball with older boys. Lieberman, 57, knows a thing or two about that – even if she did it at a time when it wasn’t accepted.

“You’re so far ahead of the game with your daughter,” Lieberman said. “So many of those young daughters today have the support system where you’re encouraging them to play and encouraging them to go after their dreams. I’ve spoken to Becky, and we’ve been friends for a long time. Even her generation has been supported. My generation, I was a tomboy. I was worse than 10 boys. I’d never make anything of myself. Why am I out there playing with all the black kids in the park. Ms. Lieberman, what’s wrong with your daughter? So I didn’t have the WNBA or Title IX and gender equity and all these amazing media moments of these electric women that are out there. So my time was different but nevertheless, I’m not a victim on the big door.”

The abuse Lieberman took growing up shaped her into the person she became – both as a player, coach and executive.

“Of course it shaped me,” Lieberman said, “but I also had really good people. For all the things I didn’t have – being a poor kid at that time from a one-parent family – for all the things that I didn’t have, I had my confidence, I had my self-esteem, I had my belief and I fell in love with Muhammad Ali at 10. He really shaped my dreams. He was my eyes to what I could be. And then having made the Olympic team in high school, that gave me even more confidence. The moment of truth was really when I did meet Muhammad. I was 19 and we became friends, and we’ve been lifetime friends. I can’t even begin to express to you what this man (has meant to me). Everybody has their Muhammad Ali story, and I have mine. Just know that I love him and appreciate him because he’s always been rock solid in my corner and encouraging me and teaching me what I can be, not what I can’t be.”

When Lieberman was hired by the Kings, one of the first calls she made was to Ali, who intends to watch her coach in person.

“How amazing is that?” Lieberman asked. “To be able to be on your show and be able to tell you Muhammad Ali wants to see me coach? But that’s what friendship and that’s what love and kindness is. This is normal to me. I’ve been doing this my whole life. The people that grew up with me, they’re not surprised. They’re just happy. The people that didn’t really know me are happy because like with what Becky’s doing and Jen Welter and the amazing women’s soccer team and Serena Williams – we’re changing how we’re viewed. But men get it. These guys are hiring us – the Popovichs, the Vlade Divacs, the George Karls, the Bruce Arians’. They have really tremendous respect for us – because they know that it’s normal.”

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