Nancy Lieberman has become the first female head coach of an NBA basketball team.
The first women to play pro basketball with men, Lieberman has taken charge of the Dallas Mavericks’ affiliate in the NBA Development League, which will tip off next November.
Lieberman said: “I feel like I'm the right person for the job. “I know how these guys feel. I played in the minor leagues. I’m ultimately connected to that part of development in a player’s life.”
“I kind of look at President Obama,” she said. “Everybody knows it’s historical because he's a man of color. But at the end of the day, regardless of his race, creed, color or gender, he has to be president. Everybody knows I’m a woman, but at the end of the day, regardless of my race, creed, color or gender, I have to win basketball games.
“In 1986, my goal was not to be a girl playing in a men’s league, it was to be a player in a men's league,” she said. “In 2010, I don't want to be a woman who is coaching men, I want to be a coach who is coaching.”
Her son, TJ, was one of the first to hear the news. Lieberman said: “"When I told him I was going to do this, he was so excited,” she said. “That was so different from when I came back last summer. He was like, ‘Ma, come on.’ But then the night I played, kids were blowing up his cell phone and he's like, ‘Dude! I'm here with her! We’re making history!’”
Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations, said: “She’s got the skins, the experience - she knows what she’s doing - so I certainly hope that we’re well beyond those issues.
“Besides, if you can’t respect authority, no matter what form or color it comes in, I don’t want you on my team.”
Lieberman is regarded as one of the greatest figures in women’s basketball. A basketball pioneer at age 17, she made the USA Olympic team for the inaugural women’s tournament, at the 1976 Montreal Games. She starred at Old Dominion and in various women’s pro leagues, then in 1986 played for the Springfield Fame of the United States Basketball League. When the WNBA started, she returned as a player, and later was a coach and general manager. She returned briefly as a player in July 2008, at age 50.
She was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Lieberman is also a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.