PUBLISHED February 4, 2019 | News
Growing up in Far Rockaway, Queens, basketball superstar-to-be Nancy Lieberman wasn’t afraid to scrap with the boys, who sometimes questioned why she was even on the court. In fact, this just made her more determined to succeed. “I got tired of people insulting me because I was doing something that was different,” she says.
This commitment to ball took her to the blacktops of Harlem, hours away from home, so she could learn moves from the best of the best. She also played for her high school’s girls team, amassing a reputation as a rising star. This led to call-ups to the US Women’s Basketball Team that nabbed a gold medal at the 1974 Pan American Games. Lieberman was just 16 at the time.
When she made the final round of cuts for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, she couldn’t afford to fly to New Mexico for the last tryouts. “I asked my mom and she said, ‘Nancy, I can’t put food on the table, how am I gonna fly you to New Mexico?’” Lieberman recalls. Thanks to an assistant principal who put out an empty can of corn for donations, Lieberman was afforded the opportunity of a lifetime.
She never forgot the help she was given, and went on to have an accomplishment-stacked career. Following stints on teams including the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and Detroit Shock, Nancy took her talents to coaching, where she became the first female head coach of a men’s professional team, the Texas Legends. In 2015, she became the second-ever female assistant coach in the NBA, landing a spot with the Sacramento Kings. These days, she coaches in the Big3, guiding the Power to the championship in the budding league’s second season.
But to hear Lieberman tell it, her achievements on the court are nothing compared to what she’s accomplished with the Nancy Lieberman Charities, which she founded in 2009 to pay it forward. The nonprofit helps kids succeed by teaching them self-confidence through basketball and providing school supplies and scholarships. About 85% of the students served by the organization are from low-to-moderate income families. “These kids inspire me every day … I can’t tell you how it has made me feel, because my legacy will never be about trying to be a great basketball player; my legacy will be about what I left behind for other people.” That spirit of community-building has guided the charity’s mission to provide a plethora of services for underprivileged students around the country.
How can we help underprivileged kids and underserved communities thrive?
Consider donating to organizations like the Nancy Lieberman Charities – that’s one of the easiest way to get involved. The generosity of supporters is what keeps the goodwill going.
Beyond donating, showing up to events to volunteer can make a huge impact on kids’ lives. Show the kids that, beyond a helpful donation, they’re supported in person.
You don’t need to be as well-connected or well-funded to bring positive change to your communities; just be kind to those around you. “I … bought 500 breakfast coupons and I just start driving around looking for people on the corner so I can give them breakfast coupons,” says Lieberman on a recent random act of kindness. Something as small as a meal or even a cup of coffee can make all the difference in someone’s day.
Be a root
“We’re like trees; we have to root down to grow up. We don’t want to be a little twig that gives one way in bad times,” says Lieberman. Every tree needs a support system of roots, and it’s important to reach out and help those in need build and maintain a strong foundation.