PUBLISHED August 25, 2019 | News
Lady Magic is looking to make hoops history once again.
When Nancy Lieberman takes the court in New Orleans this afternoon for Power’s BIG3 semifinal playoff game against the Killer 3’s, she will be trying to make history — again — by becoming the first woman to win back-to-back championships as a head coach of a men’s professional team.
By leading Power to the BIG3 title in her first season as coach, Lieberman not only crushed any myths about the capability of a woman to lead men, but she won BIG3 Coach of the Year and the respect of the basketball world in the process.
Whether it be equal participation in sports for girls, equal pay for women in the sports world or exemplifying what it means to grind, Lieberman has always been the standard. When it comes to representing, elevating and advocating for the participation of women in men’s basketball, she remains unparalleled.
There’s never been a more exciting and opportunistic time for women coaching in men’s pro hoops leagues and women are bum-rushing pro hoops coaching and front office positions.
When Kara Lawson (Celtics) and Lindsey Gotlieb (Cavs) were hired as assistant coaches in June, they became the seventh and eighth female assistant coaches in the NBA and increased the number of women with on-court roles to 11.
Lieberman’s historic hire by Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 League in 2018 has seemed to open up the floodgates for women to serve in leadership roles in the NBA and other men’s pro sports leagues.
The Shadow League spoke with Lieberman, AKA “Lady Magic”, about the advancement of women in sports, the injury challenges Power has faced as defending champions, Ice Cube and the overall health of the BIG3 League.
Nancy Lieberman: “I’m not taking any credit (for the explosion of women pro coaches). I’m just glad that the NBA is moving in the right direction as far as opportunity, inclusion. More importantly, I’m honored to be a head coach… or whatever designation you guys give me as the first female head coach of a men’s league.
I look around the landscape and Lisa Leslie is doing a great job coaching The BIG3 ‘s Triplets as the second female head coach in history. Becky Hammon is phenomenal as an assistant in San Antonio. They are really good, talented people not just in basketball but in life, and to be able to get that opportunity is a very powerful statement.
The Shadow League: How far are we from the first woman being named head coach of an NBA team?
Lieberman: I think it’s closer than further. I think it’s going to happen in the next two or three years to be quite honest. Becky has steadily moved up from behind the bench to the front of the bench. She’s getting invaluable experience working for Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches in the history of our game. That mentorship is absolutely invaluable and to have someone champion you is very important.
TSL: Would you be interested in a head coaching NBA job?
Lieberman: Of course I’d be interested. Absolutely. I love this game; I just didn’t stumble on it three years ago. I have been at it for 40 years as a player and 25 years as a coach. I’m a big fan of paying your dues and grinding. If given the opportunity, someone would be blessing me and we have to be ready for those moments.
The men out there are really good and they are amazing mentors. From the video coordinator to player development coaches, those guys are unbelievable in our success as well as the head coaches.
TSL: What do you say to the contingent of haters who say this recent explosion of women coaches is taking jobs from more qualified men?
Lieberman: This is America and we give jobs to people of all persuasions. I don’t think the NBA is just a man’s league. It’s a league of opportunity. They are the industry leaders in opportunity for women. I work in the BIG3 for Ice Cube and I get paid equal to my male counterparts because it’s the right thing. In a joking way, this isn’t about skittles, everybody doesn’t get one. You have to earn the right to get these jobs.
The fact that men like Ice Cube, Adam Silver, Rick Carlyle and T-Mobile CEO, John Legere, are pushing hard for equality and inclusion, that says a lot about who they are and how they view the world.
TSL: Switching gears to the BIG3 semifinals against Killer 3’s. Your team has been decimated by injuries this season. Talk about how hard it’s been trying to repeat as Champions and having a target on your back all season.
Lieberman: We don’t worry about a target on our back. Anytime you’re a champion you have set the stage for someone else to strive for success. We want to be those people. It’s a very competitive league with great players and we have tremendous respect for anybody we compete against because anybody can win on any given day.
Losing the BIG3 Defensive Player of the Year, Chris Birdman Andersen, then losing the head of the snake in Cutino Mobley (quad injury) is devastating, but that just puts more pressure on Corey and Quentin Richardson to bring more to the game from the perimeter. Our guys are mentally tough. Very capable and focused and locked in on what’s in front of us.
The BIG3 is poised for more exciting expansion, and Ice Cube is capitalizing upon the league’s success to catapult his growing empire into other economic opportunities.
TSL: You were part of Ice Cube and LL Cool J’s financial Dream Team in their bold attempt to purchase 21 Disney Stations and change the culture of sports media and entertainment.
It didn’t materialize but it surely caused excitement throughout the Black community because of the potential and possibilities that such a power move flexed and the cultural progress that the attempt implied.
Discuss the attempted bid from an insider’s perspective.
Lieberman: Anything that Ice Cube does is gold. He’s a smart businessman. He’s logical. He’s sensical. He’s not afraid. I would have been thrilled to death if Cube could have been that first minority owner of these stations… show the world that the United States is truly a country of equality and inclusion and the power people he put in that group was unbelievable.
He would have made that thing so different and would have changed the industry. All he does is change the industry. He did it in entertainment, he did it in sports and he could’ve done it owning those 20 plus regional networks.
Cube and Lieberman are forging a new movement in pro sports together and constantly breaking ground as the most progressive pro league in history gets ready to crown its third BIG3 Champion next week.
Leiberman: I mean how many people do you know that have ever started a league?
I didn’t know Abner Doubleday when he started Major League Baseball. I didn’t know Abe Saperstein when he started the Harlem Globetrotters. But Ice Cube did and it’s thriving.