Nancy Lieberman undoubtedly qualifies as a trailblazer.
52-year-old American has pushed gender boundaries and smashed stereotypes for
most of her adult life. As a basketball player in the 1970s and 1980s, she most
famously became the first woman to play regular-season games in a US men’s pro
league (in 1986) as part of the Springfield Fame of the United States Basketball
Lieberman went on to eventually play for the Phoenix Mercury at
age 39 in the WNBA’s inaugural season of 1997 and was coach and general manager
of the Detroit Shock from 1998-2000, before also suiting up for Detroit as a
player for one game in 2008... at the age of 50! Last season, she became the
first woman to coach a men’s professional basketball team affiliated with the
NBA when she was signed as the head coach of the Texas Legends, the Dallas
Mavericks’ D-League franchise.
Lieberman has also worked for ESPN,
including doing sideline work at NBA games, and also runs youth clinics while
being active in countless charities as well as speaking to kids and grown-ups
across the world.
In her latest book, Playbook for Success: A Hall of
Famer’s Business Tactics for Teamwork and Leadership
, Lieberman uses the
inspiration of her life story to present a detail-oriented path to success in
different aspects of business and life.
“Nobody has my story on how to be
successful in life and business,” Lieberman frequently says.
all her trailblazing, up until last week there was one thing that eluded her – a
visit to Israel.
That, too, can now be checked off the
Lieberman and Israeli basketball star Shay Doron, with whom she has
been in touch since the guard’s days at the University of Maryland, will be
holding a basketball summer camp in Israel in August named Tour Ball, and
Lieberman decided that she had to come and see the country for herself before
she could recommend the trip to others.
It is safe to say that Israel has
exceeded all her expectations.
“This has been the most memorable
experience of my life,” Lieberman told The Jerusalem Post earlier this
“I have been all over the world and I cannot believe that I have
never been here before. This country is absolutely breathtaking.
United States all you see is the bombs and stuff like that and then all of the
sudden you come here and you realize that it is not anything that is around
“Everybody has treated us like family.”
perception of the country has changed as a result of her visit.
the Western Wall was pretty impactful for me,” said Lieberman, who during her
trip was hosted by General Motors Israel to share her philosophy for achieving
success in business by building a high-performing team.
“It kind of takes
your breath away that you are actually there. You’ve got your hand on the wall
and you are saying a prayer that’s pretty strong stuff.
“It has changed
my outlook of Israel. I know as a Jewish woman how important it is for me to be
connected to this culture and to this community.
“I needed to come here
to Israel to see it, live it, experience it, eat the food and talk to the
“I needed to go to the Wingate Institute, the Weizmann Institute
and the Holocaust museum. I needed to go to the Dead Sea and needed to see and
feel these things before I could turn around and tell people from experience and
not from reading a brochure.
“It has been very impactful for me and
there’s no doubt in my mind that when I go home I will be able to tell people
what I did to change my perception.
“I will come back here as much as
everyone wants me.”
Lieberman – who toured Israel with her 82-year-old
mother, also making her first visit to the country – first made national
headlines in America when at the age of 17, she was named a member of the US
National team that went on to win an Olympic silver medal at the 1976
From 1976 to 1980 she starred at Old Dominion University in
Virginia, earning such a stellar reputation that the award for the most
outstanding female point guard in Division I basketball is now called the Nancy
Before playing against the opposite sex in the USBL,
Lieberman’s first involvement in a men’s league came in 1980 for the Los Angeles
Lakers’ outfit in a Pro Summer League, coached by Pat Riley, then a Lakers
The latest precedent set by Lieberman, who was elected to the
Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1996, arrived last year when Donnie
Nelson, General Manager and president of basketball operations for the
Mavericks, offered her the head coaching position at the franchise’s NBA
“When Donnie Nelson hired me, I looked at him and told him
‘you are going to get killed for this. People are going to think you are crazy.’
“He told me ‘Nancy I looked at hundreds of resumes and it dawned on me that the
best man for this job just might be a woman.’ “He said that I hit every
criterion that they needed and that this was the perfect time and the perfect
Lieberman feels that her first season at the helm of the
Texas Legends was truly unbelievable.
“The respect afforded to me was
nothing short of amazing,” she said.
“At any point in time, I was able to
pick up the phone to the likes of Pat Riley, Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks
coach) or Alvin Gentry (Phoenix Suns coach).
“These guys were so amazing
to me that they allowed me to be part of the fraternity. They were all rooting
for my success, from David Stern down.
“Making the playoffs was the icing
on the cake. After getting past the girl thing at some point I had to prove that
we could win. I knew that once the players were around me I would be like one of
“I spent a year before the season going around the country just
trying to understand the terminology and strategy of the NBA. I think the guys
respected the fact that I took the time to learn.
“I had to prove to my
peers that I was committed and I was serious and I had to walk away from ESPN to
show them. I wanted to earn their trust and respect.”
success, Lieberman has no illusions that women coaching men’s teams is about to
become the norm.
“It’s going to take time,” she said. “No one was going
to question my resume so I understood that it was important for me to be
Because if I’m successful, women behind me will have an
“If I fell on my face, what are they going to say about
other women? “I think it was very positive that not only did we break that
barrier but that we were successful, developing players and making the
Lieberman was an inspiration for an entire generation as a
player and her recent foray into coaching men just strengthens her position as a
true legend of American sports.
Coaching in the NBA would be a fitting
ending to her basketball career, but Lieberman has far more important
“If someone feels that I’m worthy of an opportunity in the NBA I
would certainly have to take a look at it,” she said. “Obviously, it would be a
tremendous honor, but it is not as if I have waited my whole life for
“I’ve never been happier in my life.
“My legacy, I hope,
will be about much more than playing basketball. I hope my legacy is about who I
inspired to be better at whatever they chose to do.”email@example.com