Thursday, May 26, 2022

Talking Sports with Texas Legends head coach Nancy Lieberman

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By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher Nancy Lieberman, the Texas Legends head coach – the first women’s head coach in a men’s professional sport – in the NBDL, recently took time to do a Q&A session with The Capital Sports Report. Her interview is about her sports career and views. She has also recently published “Playbook for Success,” which can be found in major bookstores. TCSR: who is your biggest role model outside of sports? NL: “Warren Buffet. His honor, his integrity, and his longevity, besides that he’s willing to share what he has. He wants everybody to win, not just him.” TCSR: favorite motto NL: “Never stop working, wanting, or dreaming.” TCSR: superstitions before games NL: “No. I used to when I was in college. I would put my Olympic medal on my calf and put take over it and put my sock over it. But now, I have no superstitions.” TCSR: how has sports impacted your life NL: “Sports has changed my life. It has taught me how to be fearless, how to compete, how to win, how to make people around me better, how to learn responsibility, how to learn accountability – it has taught me so much.” TCSR: what keeps you motivated in sports as a coach? NL: “To serve the young men that are in front of me. I want to inspire them and to make them better. I want to be their eyes to help them see what they can be in the future, not only as athletes, but as young men.” TCSR: having the nickname “Lady Magic” and being one of the greatest figures in women’s basketball history NL: “Well, Lady Magic is connected to Magic (Johnson). Ervin and I have been friends for 30-years. For people to liken me to the greatness of Magic Johnson on how we played – we were both point guards and we both made people around us better – we won championships and we were very competitive. I couldn’t have a better nickname than Lady Magic. To me, that symbolizes greatness.” TCSR: making the US National team roster at 17-years-old NL: “I feel very fortunate to have been (and I still am) the youngest basketball player on the US National team roster. What helped me, besides being on the 1975 Pan-Am team, was that I was a junior in high school. To have been on that team, it gave me a lot of experience to see what the next level was all about. It taught me how to be professional – not money wise, but how to prepare and compete at a higher level – so it was an honor for me to come in as a young person. “People forget that I was just 5’8’’ on the Pan-Am team and played like a boy – I was aggressive and physical. I played the game like a boy, I honestly, did. I changed the game, because of the style that I brought to the US team.” TCSR: being on the 1976 Montreal Olympics team and being the youngest person to win a silver medal NL: “That was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. When I was younger, I would watch the athletes once they won a medal – stand up on the podium and get the Olympic medal put around their neck. To know that was me standing up there gives you so much pride. You are playing for yourself and your teammates, but at the same time, you are also representing your country. “You don’t know how many people from other countries are cheering for you until you actually compete in an Olympic game. I would never forget the experience, my teammates, and what it felt like.” TCSR: why did you choose to attend Old Dominion University? NL: “Well, at the time, I had over a 100 scholarship offers. And I was a poor kid from a one-parent family growing up in New York. I knew I needed a scholarship, or I would never be on this call with you. I knew I just needed to get out of New York for a while, and I wanted to see what other people did. It was a wonderful experience, and Old Dominion was close enough that if I was home sick, I could drive home. But I could also mature as a young lady. And the other thing is that I didn’t want to go to a school that had already won championships. “I wanted to go to a school, where we could create our own dynasty. And we did that at Old Dominion. We went 30-4 my sophomore year, 37-1 my junior year, and 35-1 my senior year – that’s unbelievable now, because we lost only 6 games in three years. We were UCONN (Connecticut) and Tennessee before UCONN and Tennessee. We paved the road for what they’ve been able to do.” TCSR: winning the 1978 WNIT Championship and winning the 1979 and 1980 AIAW National Championship NL: “Those were very important to us. We had a goal our freshman year, and that was to be ranked in the Top 25 by the end of the year. And at the end of the year, we actually finished in the Top 10. That was a personal goal that we had, then the next year, we wanted more than a Top 10 ranking. We wanted to be champions. The WNIT had some very good teams such as Kansas, Mississippi State – there was a ton of good teams in there – and when we won it, it showed us that we could be ‘the team,’ so that WNIT championship gave us experience and great confidence. We took that into 1979 and we were just rolling until we lost a game at South Carolina. “We were undefeated up until that loss. We knew we were destined to win. Nobody in our circle thought we were going to lose that championship in Greensboro. You have to remember that we were down 12 points at halftime to Louisiana Tech, and we came back and won by 10. That shows how good of a second half we had. We also knew we would not lose the 1980 championship, either.” TCSR: winning numerous college accolades such as being the first two-time Wade Trophy winner, Broderick Award, among others NL: “The most important thing in my college career was winning the championships, because its one thing to have individual achievements, but nothing means more to me at Old Dominion University than being known as champions. Some people never experience that in their life. I have experienced that at every level from International, College, AAU, and High School. That means more to me, because that’s a team award.” TCSR: being inducted into the 1985 Old Dominion University Sports Hall of Fame NL: “It was very humbling. It made me think about all the teammates that I played with that made me better. You don’t become a great player without players willing to sacrifice their games for team success. So, while people think its an individual award; to me, it was a team award, because I couldn’t get there without my teammates.” TCSR: leaving Old Dominion University in 1988 for a professional career, but coming back in 2000 to graduate with a degree from ODU NL: “Well, I thought it was very important for me, because I had given a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to my University, which I love very much. I thought about it and the only thing I did not have was my degree, which is very important to me. And I didn’t have the time to come back and sit in the classroom – and at that time, there weren’t a lot of online courses – so it took me a while to find the courses that would transfer back for my Business degree. “But, like anything, I’m relentless in achieving things that are important to me. That degree is hanging very proudly in my home. I love Old Dominion and I’m very proud to say that I went there.” TCSR: playing for the Dallas Diamonds in the Women’s Pro Basketball League, playing in the men’s United States Basketball League, and with the Washington Generals, the famous team that always losses to the Harlem Globetrotters NL: “Well, the one that you missed, when I finished at Old Dominion that summer before I turned pro, I played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the Southern California Pro League. And my coach on that team, who was making his pro coaching debut, was Pat Riley. That was a huge, huge moment in my career – and as I would later find out – it was very important for him and his career. He once told me that I taught him how to be fearless, which was unbelievable by the way, so then going to play for the Dallas Diamonds, it was a realization of my dreams to be playing professionally. I came to a team that was very supportive of the team signing me. We lost in the championship game my first year, then my second year with the Diamonds in 1984, we won the championship. I was just so happy to be apart of that. There were a lot of great players that I played alongside.” “The reason why I played against the Harlem Globetrotters in 1988 was because I played two years in a men’s league in 1986 and 1987. As I tell people, I didn’t play two games in the men’s league, I played two years. I played with the Springfield Flame in 1986 and the Long Island Knights in 1987. I played in over 65 games each year, playing day-in and day-out. I learned a lot about myself and what the next level was all about. I thought if this is it, and I have no place to play, then the Globetrotters came to me and asked me if I would be interested in being on their tour. I’m an ambassador of basketball, and that’s exactly what the Globetrotters are. I want to make people happy with the game that I love. That’s when I went on the tour, and that’s where I met my ex-husband Tim (Cline) at the time. He was playing for the Washington Generals.” TCSR: being the oldest player in the history of the WNBA when you played with the Phoenix Mercury at 39-years-old NL: “Well, I can tell you that I have this great love story, and that’s with basketball. We have a great time with each other. When you love something so much, when the WNBA was about to happen, I was at the 1996 Olympics, I was watching one of the women’s basketball games with Magic Johnson and he looked at me and said, ‘Are you going to play in the WNBA?’ And I replied by saying, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about it.’ And I told my husband and my little boy that I was making a comeback to play in the WNBA. It was a really exciting time for me. People really didn’t know who these great women’s basketball players were until the WNBA gave them that spotlight.” TCSR: then breaking your own record by playing for the Detroit Pistons at 50-years-old in 2008 NL: “I was doing the WNBA All-Star game the year before in 2007. I was running through the skills competition that we were taping for TV. My time was nearly the same as the players, who were playing in the game. Bill Laimbeer (former Detroit Shock head coach; current Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach) asked me if I still play and I said, ‘Yes, I still mess around a little bit.’ I knew a year before that we were kicking this idea around. I was training on my own 3-4 months before I knew that we were going to play. I didn’t know when I was going to play, but I knew I was going to play since we had discussed it. He was looking for a window of opportunity for me to play. He had called me once the fight had happened and said, ‘Are you ready?’ I was supposed to do the TV that Thursday night for ESPN, but Bill called me two days before the game sand said, ‘Are you ready? We need you!’ and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ I knew I was going to play, but nobody else really knew, except for my bosses at ESPN. The 9 minutes that I played were really the greatest 9 minutes of my career. I had thousands and thousands of people from around the world send me emails, tweets, Facebook messages about how much it inspired them. I knew I had done the right thing. This was a blessing that Bill Laimbeer gave me and others.” TCSR: being a player, then Shock head coach/GM in 1998 NL: “No, not really. I have such close ties to the Shock. I always had my basketball camps there every time I had went there to do TV. I would always request to do the Shock games, because I was close to their ownership group. I still have my basketball camps in Detroit. Being the head coach of the Shock was very important to me. I have good memories and strong feelings for that franchise.” TCSR: being an ESPN basketball analyst NL: “Well, I have been doing TV for ESPN since 1980, so before I took this job with the Texas Legends, I had been at ESPN for 28 years. I had been calling games prior, but when I went to ESPN, I was doing it full-time. I was doing 50-60 games per year – men’s, women’s and studio – my role just increased.” TCSR: being the first women’s head coach in a men’s professional sport with the Texas Legends of the NBDL NL: “It means that Donnie Nelson and Evan Wyly, our owners, are making people change their perspective on how people think about women. Being able to be a head coach in an all men’s league, at the NBA level, I understand the history, but it tells people that women teaching men should be normal from now on. Barack Obama knew he was going to be the first black President of the United States, but he knew that he had a job to do. I know that I’m the first women’s head coach to coach a men’s team at the NBA level, but I’m just doing my job. I’m trying to make things normal for the players, which I have. ” TCSR: being inducted into numerous Sports Hall of Fame’s NL: “It’s an honor and a privilege. It’s people like you that tell me that I’ve been inducted into 6-8 different Hall of Fame’s. When I get a chance to sit down and think about it, the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘Wow! That’s pretty cool.’ It is cool, and I’ll never forget the genuine feeling of playing the game. When I grew up, sports were fun, and you’re supposed to play for the love of the game. I hope I never lose how I feel about the game. I didn’t play for the accolades; I played because of the love of the game.”

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Anthony Caruso III
Anthony Caruso IIIhttps://thecapitalsportsreport.com
Anthony Caruso III is the Publisher of The Capital Sports Report. He has been in the sports journalism field since 2002 and has covered numerous high-profile events, including 11 Heisman Trophy ceremonies.
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