And then comes Nancy Lieberman.
Nancy Lieberman joined the Sacramento Kings in 2015 and became the second full-time female assistant coach in the league, and this is after she made history as the first woman to ever be named head coach in the NBA’s development league.
Before making the transition to coaching, Lieberman had an impressive playing career of her own. In 1976 she attended Old Dominion University in Virginia and subsequently led the women’s basketball team to become AIAW champions in both 1979 and 1980. While at Old Dominion, the young point guard averaged 18.1 points per game, was twice awarded the honor of National Player of the Year and ended her college career as the school’s leader in assists and steals.
At the Pan American Games in 1975, Lieberman played for the US team and brought home a gold medal. She then made the US Olympic team in both 1976 and 1980 but couldn’t play in 1980 due to America’s boycott of the Games. In 1976, though, she was part of the silver medal-winning Olympic team.
In 1980, Lieberman was drafted by the Women’s Basketball League’s Dallas Diamonds, but this league was defunct by 1982. She joined the Women’s American Basketball Association in 1984, but this was also short-lived. After several other attempts at playing in professional leagues, including performances in the Harlem Globetrotter’s World Tour, Lieberman joined the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in 1997 – at nearly 40 years old! Although she only played that one, inaugural season with the Mercury, she was back on the court again with the Detroit Shock in 2008. She played only one game with the Shock, but by doing so broke her own record of being the oldest player in the WNBA; she was 50 years old.
Life hasn’t been all about playing, though. Nancy has also spent significant time in the coach’s chair over the years. She was the head coach for the Shock from 1998 until 2000 and then became the Dallas Maverick’s head coach and general manager in 2009 – this made her the very first woman to occupy a head coaching position within the NBA’s umbrella of teams. Then, in 2015, she was named assistant coach to the Sacramento Kings and therefore the NBA’s second full-time assistant coach.
The day that Lieberman walked onto the Kings’ practice court as assistant coach for the first time, she was greeted by hugs from players like Seth Curry, David Stockton, and Rajon Rondo. DeMarcus Cousins embraced her and said, “We’re happy you’re here.” In a piece she wrote for The Player’s Tribune, Nancy commented how the Sacramento players made it clear that they wanted “to know how they can get better and they wanna know my perspective – on life and basketball.”
Nancy left the Kings in 2017 to care for her ailing mother, and in 2018 she took on a coaching position with Ice Cube’s BIG3 league. She works with the Power and led them to a 2018 championship title win. The New York Times summed up Nancy’s relationship with the BIG3 perfectly: “[it is] a good fit for her as she herself was a professional basketball player who played until late in life, which is quite unusual. But since the BIG3 is filled with former pros and older athletes, she [is] in good company.”
Just as Nancy is in good company with the BIG3, anyone who spends time with her, and especially those who receive coaching from her, are in very, very good company themselves.
For more thoughts and opinions from Melanie, check out her author page.
Image Source: AP Images