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Old Dominion unveils statue of women’s basketball luminary Nancy Lieberman

PUBLISHED November 5, 2022 | News

Old Dominion unveiled a statue of Naismith Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman on Saturday, the first time the school has so honored a former athlete.

Lieberman played for ODU from 1976 to 1980, helping lead the Monarchs to AIAW national championships in 1979 and 1980. The statue is located between the school’s Mitchum Basketball Performance Center and Chartway Arena.

ODU hopes eventually other statues of past sports stars, such as the late Anne Donovan in women’s basketball and Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, the Monarchs’ career strikeout leader, will join Lieberman’s statue.

The school also named a portion of a street on the campus in Norfolk, Virginia, “Nancy Lieberman Pass” to honor the player considered one of the greatest point guards in hoops history.

The Naismith Hall of Fame’s point guard award that is given annually in women’s college basketball is named after Lieberman.

“I am close to Old Dominion and will be a Monarch for life, for everything that they did for me as a young woman growing up there,” Lieberman told ESPN. “Anybody who sees that statue might see my accomplishments, but I would hope that it would go far beyond just winning championships and being a good teammate.

“You have your biological family, then you have your chosen family. Old Dominion became my chosen family.”

Lieberman and Pepsi Stronger Together also dedicated a court at a recreation center in Norfolk, the third court opened in that area and 116th overall donated by Nancy Lieberman Charities in underserved neighborhoods in the U.S.

Lieberman, 64, has coached women’s and men’s professional basketball; she now works on the Oklahoma City Thunder broadcasts. She was a member of the silver-medal-winning U.S. team at the 1976 Montreal Games, the first time women’s basketball was contested in the Olympics. Lieberman had just turned 18 years old two weeks before the 1976 Olympics started and also made the 1980 team that would have competed in the Moscow Games if the Americans had not boycotted.

Lieberman averaged 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 7.2 assists at ODU. Professionally, she played in the 1980s for two short-lived women’s professional leagues, the WBL and WABA, and a men’s league, the USBL. She also played for the Washington Generals, who toured with the Harlem Globetrotters.

And at age 38, she played in the first season of the WNBA in 1997 for the Phoenix Mercury. She returned for one game in the 2008 WNBA season, making an appearance for the Detroit Shock at age 50.

She was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1996 and was in the inaugural Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class in 1999. Lieberman credits late boxing legend Muhammad Ali with helping her become confident.

“I needed sports … it gave me direction,” she said. “I was molded and directed a lot by Muhammad Ali and my friendship with him. At first, I didn’t understand when he said, ‘You have to be a champion every day.’ He was teaching me how to be that person, a giver not a taker. I did my job on the court, but I care even more about what I’m doing off the court for people.”

Lieberman, a New York City native, was asked about the progress that women’s basketball has made in her lifetime and the importance of women athletes being honored with things such as on-campus displays. A statue of the Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson, the 2017 NCAA champion who won the WNBA title and her second MVP award this year, was installed outside the South Carolina Gamecocks’ Colonial Life Arena in 2021, three years after she graduated.

Lieberman’s statue was unveiled 42 years after her college career ended.

“We’re still fighting the fight, on so many different levels,” Lieberman said. “Am I happy [a statue] is going up in 2022? Yes. Could it have gone up earlier? Sure, but we as women athletes weren’t a priority. And I’m not saying this about Old Dominion, but in most people’s consciousness. Old Dominion has been fantastic to me.

“As women, we have powers in numbers, absolutely. Economic power. And we are going to be able to continue to translate that in sports because sports is a business. But there are still jobs I can’t get as a woman. It’s hard to believe because I think I’ve broken through on enough levels. But if you’re a powerful woman, that is scary to some people. You still have to be who you are. And you have to use the strength that God gave you to help other people.”

Lieberman said that as much as she would have loved to have the WNBA to play in during her prime, she is proud to be part of the generation of women athletes that in the 1970s launched modern collegiate women’s basketball as we know it.

“What we have done is perfect timing,” Lieberman said. “We’re part of setting the pace, the message and laying out the road for the next generation. Somebody had to do it. We were the right people at the right time. I don’t have any regrets.”