The Jerusalem Post
Nancy Lieberman ready to roam the sideline for Sacramento Kings
Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was running her son T.J. through basketball drills on Thursday when she got the call. Sacramento Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac had offered Lieberman a position as an assistant coach on George Karl’s staff.
Since working as an assistant coach for the Kings’ Summer League squad in Las Vegas, Lieberman had anticipated that she would be offered the opportunity to finally work in the NBA.
“You never lose hope that something positive can happen,” she said. “I’ve been at this a long time.” Still, it caught her off guard. “Everything just took a fast track during the day.”
Her phone blew up with congratulatory calls: John Calipari, Larry Fitzgerald, Muhammad Ali, former players, friends, family.
“I have a lot of friendships and when people who love you and care about you tell you how proud they are of you – we’re only human – it makes you feel good.”
“I was born to teach. I was born to do this.” I love coaching. I love teaching. I love making people better. I love being part of a team and giving players a reason to come to work every day and become better. I want to inspire people to get the best out of them, and I want to win. I’m wired to win. That’s in my DNA.”
In an early-morning-night text on Friday, Lieberman called Thursday a “crazy, wonderful day.”
Lieberman, 57, is a pioneer. She is in the Hall of Fame for her career as a player at Old Dominion, silver medalist at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, player in the Women’s Pro Basketball League and men’s pro league the United States Basketball League. She also coached in the WNBA and the NBA D-League’s Texas Legends in 2010-11, preparing for the chance one day at an NBA job.
She says she owes thanks to Legends co-owner Donnie Nelson for giving her the growing experience she needed to land her upcoming NBA job.
“He entrusted me with his team NEW SACRAMENTO KINGS assistant coach Nancy Lieberman, who joins San Antonio’s Becky Hammon as the second female assistant coach in the NBA, spent time as an assistant with the Kings’ Summer League team earlier this summer. when nobody was thinking about putting a woman on the bench,” she said. “I learned NBA coaching styles, the dialogue, how to handle players. It was the D-League so I could make my mistakes in there, too, and learn from them – how to become a better communicator, a better coach.”
Lieberman is also thankful for some wise words from then NBA commissioner David Stern, from five years ago.
“I was getting ready to go in September to the Hall of Fame enshrinement where I go every year, and David said to me, ‘Nancy, you need to be where the people who are going to hire you are.’ He was absolutely right,” said Lieberman. “I got invited by David to go to the symposium, and that was a seminal moment for me because I got to connect with all the NBA coaches, assistants, GMs,” said Lieberman.
It was Stern’s intervention that led to her career as an assistant coach with the Kings.
Further, Lieberman believes that coaching for a men’s team was a necessary prerequisite.
“It’s a different game,” she said. “The year before I started coaching the Legends, I went to see [Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin, who was kind enough to let me come to Pittsburgh and pick his brain about how to handle players. I told him I was going to be coaching predominantly young African-Americans guys. I asked him, ‘What do I need to know? How can I make them better?’ I’ll never forget Mike saying, ‘Nobody’s ever called and asked me how to make black players better.’ Isn’t that my job? I know I’m going to be judged on wins and losses but isn’t it my job to learn how to communicate and let them know I care about them and that we’re in this thing together?”
Lieberman added, “I know I’m a woman coaching in a man’s world.”
Feeling somewhat out of place, Lieberman has been seeking out advice and direction for her position since before she started coaching the Legends. Alvin Gentry let her come in wit the Phoenix Suns, Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers. She met with numerous coaches, too: Bob Hill, Del Harris, Dwane Casey, Terry Stotts, Rick Carlise, Larry Brown.
“I picked up the phone and I asked and I asked and I asked and not one guy said no. They were generous with their time. My D-League brothers – Nick Nurse, with the Raptors, is a dear friend, like a brother. Chris Finch, he’s with Kevin McHale in Houston. Darvin Ham in Atlanta, Eric Musselman at Nevada – I can do down the list. [Jazz assistant] Brad Jones. [Blazers assistant] Nate Tibbetts – all these guys who are in the NBA, they were so good to me. I couldn’t have done it without them caring enough to want to help me. They have choices too. They can say scram. Or they can open their hearts, minds and wisdom and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing.’”
Lieberman will find out exactly what her role is this week at the NBA coaches camp, where she was once an instructor.
“They told me that’s where they will have my press conference,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll let me what my role will be. George will know, and whatever he wants, I’ll deliver.”
As for an Israel connection, Lieberman – who was raised Jewish, but has become a born-again Christian – toured the Holy Land with her mother in what was their first visit to the country four years ago.
“This has been the most memorable experience in my life,” Lieberman said at the time. “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.”
Having played for two leagues, and coached for two teams in two separate basketball associations, Lieberman is confident. She knows how to adapt and learn.
“Change is hard for people,” she said, “and our job is to make it normal. I know I’m a woman coaching in a man’s world. It’s normal to me. It’s maybe not normal to other people.”