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LOVE AND BASKETBALL

PUBLISHED January 3, 2020 | News

I was retired. I stopped playing after 7 years of stints in the WBL, WABA, USBL (Men’s Professional League), the Harlem Globetrotters and the USA Women’s National team. I had done it all.

After retirement, it was about spending time with my family and doing TV work as an analyst and broadcaster. I was enjoying it but there was always that itch to one day play again.

In 1996, I was sitting with Magic Johnson watching one of the games at the 96’ Olympics and he asked “are you going to be playing in the WNBA?” At that time, I was 39 years old. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if I could do it. But, when Magic asked me if I thought I could play, I simply answered ”yes.” However, I didn’t know if I’d actually decide to play.

Months from the WNBA starting and I still didn’t have a decision. The driving force was my family.

When I returned from the Olympics,  I remember coming home to my three-year old son TJ and I asked him ”what does mommy do?”

He thought for a second and responded ”mommy does TV.”

It was at that moment that I wanted to play again. I wanted him to know what I did as an athlete. I wanted my son to see me play and wanted him to understand what it meant to play.

So I told TJ to tell his father, who was in the other room at the time, that I was coming out of retirement.

”Mommy is going to come out of retirement.” I overheard TJ tell Tim.

I knew that if I was going to play, that I needed to be in incredible shape for the WNBA to take me seriously and give me an opportunity. And so I did. I returned to the court and I was eventually drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in 1997 in the Elite Draft. At 39, I was the oldest player in the WNBA’s inaugural season.

At 39 (and then again at 50), I was able to come back. We made the playoffs and the most important part was my son getting to see me play again. He had never seen me play. So it was important for me to wear that number 10 on my back and for my son to see me on the court.

When you play the game for as long as I have, nothing really fazes you. You become the ultimate professional in your routine, respect and how you prepare for practices and the game. I was not only a role model to my son but to amazing and great women who were playing professionally for the first time in the WNBA. But, when my son was able to watch me play, I had a very different outlook on the game and what it meant for him.

TJ would show up to games dressed in my uniform. He’d have the headband, the uniform, everything. I could hear him yell on the sidelines cheering for me to shoot or for my teammates to pass me the ball. For me, It was a very memorable time in this game that I have loved since I was 9 years old. I had the three things I loved most, god, my family and basketball. Rarely, in any profession, do you get that opportunity where passion, work and family all intersect. But, I was blessed to have that.

It created special bonds with my family and more specifically, my son. He got a chance to see me in action and watch me do what I love. That decision to play again was one of the greatest in my life because of what I was able to give and show my son.

To NBA Commissioner emeritus David Stern. I am deeply grateful to you for fulfilling your promise to me in 1984. That promise was – that before his time in the NBA came to an end, there would be a WNBA. His hope that I would still be able to play in it one day. His phone call to me, the day of my first game, I won’t ever forget. There was so much emotion in his voice when he told me how proud he was of me.

When I look back on those memories, I vividly remember and cherish them. But, I also see the BIG3 as a similar opportunity for my players. It’s why I want my players to bring their families in the locker room. Because I know and understand what it was like for me. I understand the value and importance of having that unique opportunity to show your kids what you do. A great example of family was last year when we played in Dallas. When our captain and MVP Corey Maggette called my son TJ, who had been playing professionally in Tel-Aviv, and asked him to put Power through our practice and sit on the sidelines as an assistant coach in Dallas. That was a special moment.

This is what the BIG3 is. It’s a family. This is what Cube, Jeff, Clyde, Amy are. They don’t just say it, they make it real.

Over time, team Power has developed a bond with our families and each other. I know all my player’s kids, wives, many of their friends and they know mine. We share stories and build real relationships that create a better on-court experience for all of us.

I look forward to our team dinners just as much as I look forward to having dinner with other family. Every one of us comes from a different place, but we all have commonalities and the same goals in mind.

With any team sport, in order to thrive and succeed, I believe you need that camaraderie, love, compassion and understanding. We’ve built that with team Power. I’m grateful and appreciative that everyone on our team is together and understands how remarkable this opportunity is for all of us.

We will look back on our 2018 championship with great pride together. It’s just incredible to look back on my career and see what’s been created. The way basketball is played has changed. But, in a way, our culture, our personalities and the players haven’t.

This league has given many players the opportunity that I had. An opportunity that players never had before. Something that’s bigger than basketball. It allows players the rare opportunity to show their kids what they do for a living. To be able to share moments with not only teammates, but with their wives, kids and friends too.

So when I step on that court to coach a BIG3 practice or game, it’s why I take it seriously while doing it with a smile on my face. Because I know this game has changed culture, created opportunity, diversity and relationships through having the same goals and love of the game.

Thank you to Ice Cube and our BIG3 leadership,

Nancy Lieberman