Tonight was a huge night in sports. No, I’m not talking about the Tampa Bay Lightening beating the Philadelphia Flyers in an 8-7 barn-burner. I’m not talking about Monday Night Football between the Bears and the Dolphins. It’s not because of wins by the Indiana Pacers or the Orlando Magic. What made this night historic came from an unexpected place: the NBA Development League.
Tonight, the Texas Legend, affiliate of the Dallas Mavricks, took the court with their coach to start their season. Her name? Nancy Lieberman. Tonight, a woman walked onto the hardwood as the head coach of a professional basketball team for the first time ever.
Lieberman is a well-known name in women’s basketball (well, about as well-known as you can be when your field is women’s basketball). She was a standout player in high school, and she was still in high school when she made the USA national team at age 17. In 1975, she was named to the USA team for the Pan American games, where the team won a gold medal. She was also on the teams for the 1979 World Championships and Pan American games, where she won gold and silver medals, respectively.
Lieberman played for the 1976 US Olympic Women’s Basketball team as well. It was the first time women’s basketball was a competition at the Olympic Games. In Montreal, she became the youngest Olympic basketball player ever, having just turned 18. The US lost in the gold medal game to the USSR (one of the teams Alex Ovechkin’s mother, Tatyana, won a gold medal playing for).
While attending the Old Dominion University in Virginia, Lieberman won a total of three national championships. She won the Wade Trophy twice as player of the year. She also won the Young American Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1980.
After boycotting the 1980 games in Moscow, Lieberman embarked on her journey as a professional player. She played for the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Pro Basketball League, a men’s league called the United States Basketball League, and the Washington Generals as the regular opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters.
She was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. She also played in the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997 at 39. Lieberman then became the General Manager and head coach of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock before working as a women’s basketball analyst for ESPN. It was after ESPN that she was named the Legends’ head coach.
Lieberman is an important figure not just in women’s basketball, but in sports in general. While women often rise through the ranks in the women’s section of sports (i.e. the new women’s category in the Hockey Hall of Fame) they rarely are granted the opportunity to cross over to the men’s version of their sport. This is great breakthrough, and hopefully it will continue to expand into sports like baseball, hockey, and football as well.