Making the Leap
New Cavs Assistant Lindsay Gottlieb Prepares for the NBA Life
Cavaliers assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb can be considered many things: a pioneer, a groundbreaker, a role model.
But, above all, she considers herself a basketball coach.
Earlier this summer, the Wine & Gold made Gottlieb the first NCAA women’s head coach to be hired as an NBA assistant – joining the staff of another standout college coach, John Beilein.
Gottlieb spent eight years as the head coach of Cal-Berkeley, where she led the Golden Bears to seven NCAA Tournament appearances and compiled a .668 winning percentage over that span, leaving the university with the second-most wins (179) in school history. Under Gottlieb, Cal reached the Elite Eight and Final Four for the first time.
She’s been named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and was a Naismith National Coach of the Year finalist. During her tenure with the Golden Bears, she coached five Cal players to 10 total All-America seasons and saw six of her players drafted into the WNBA.
Overall, she’s spent 11 seasons as a D-I head coach – notching a 235-128 mark. Before beginning at Cal in 2012, she was the head coach of UC Santa Barbara – leading the Gauchos to a pair of Big West Championships and earning Big West Coach of the Year honors in 2009.
The daughter of a New York state judge and whose family consists of several Ivy League graduates, Gottlieb – who herself graduated with a political science degree from Brown – played point guard in college and has been coaching hoops ever since.
As the Cavaliers gear up for their Salt Lake City Summer League opener, Gottlieb sat down for a moment to talk with Cavs.com about her journey to the NBA and what she plans to do upon her arrival …
Lindsay Gottlieb led Cal to seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances -- including the school's first trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
You grew up around lawyers and judges, but eventually chose coaching. How did/does that experience translate to your current career?
Lindsay Gottlieb: Well, growing up, our dinner table conversations were either about somebody's case in the legal world – or sports.
And one thing that I'll forever be grateful for to my parents is that they allowed us to believe we could be anything we wanted to be. So, even though I studied political science while I was in college and I was a college basketball player, I decided that I didn't want to be in a courtroom or an office. I wanted to be on the basketball court. So, they totally supported me getting into coaching.
And I would say that just my upbringing and my education probably contributes to my analytical mind.
But, for me, on a day-to-day basis, I got my first coaching job the day after I graduated from Brown, and I’ve been literally saying every day since: 'I can't believe I get paid to do this.'
What you're looking for in life is a job that you love and one you would do it if you weren't paid. And I think that's what my parents wanted me to find, and I think they'd be extremely happy that it's in coaching.
Was there any hesitation about making the jump to the NBA?
Gottlieb: I don't know if 'hesitation' is the word. There was a lot of thought.
I had an amazing job at Cal; one that, up until that point, I thought was my dream job -- I wasn't interested in other women's college jobs.
But when this situation presented itself (in Cleveland), I would say there was a lot of thought. But the more that I delved into that process, there wasn't any hesitation after that. It was more of: How do I make this work? Can I really do this? There was a little bit of fear. And that's when I started to think: Gosh, that probably means I should do it.
And that's what it's been ever since.
How would you describe your coaching style?
Gottlieb: I would say that I'm very relational. I just believe, in an authentic way, that you have to care about human beings to be able to coach them well.
And I also think I'm able to take big-picture concepts and make them palatable to a young guy who's a great athlete with a great skillset. And I'm just trying to -- as I say -- give them the answers before they take the exam; make their job on the court easier.
So I think I have an ability to take film or concepts and make it a little bit cleaner for guys out there.
John Beilein is also known as a coach who values personal relationships with his players …
Gottlieb: I don't know that I would have felt as comfortable in this situation if John Beilein wasn't who he is as a person, first. And also what he is as a basketball coach. He's just so sharp; I think he's a basketball genius. But it's not without that relational piece, as well.
What can you bring from the women’s game into this situation with the Cavs?
Gottlieb: I think the first thing that struck me is that basketball really is just basketball. The spacing is a little different with guys, and you know, in drills we're lobbing it up for dunks -- something I wasn't doing too much in women's basketball.
But a lot of the basketball concepts are the same. In women's basketball, because we don't have as many breakdown one-on-one players, you need good actions to get open shots. But that's exactly what Coach Beilein has done as well.
So I think there's some synergy there. But I hope that if there's a way of looking at something or a different action that I can bring that I've seen from the women's game, then that's great.
What will be your biggest adjustment?
Gottlieb: The NBA schedule. It's so much different. And I think, actually, Coach Beilein's going through the same thing.
In college, we had 30 days of practice before our first game to where you're slowly and surely building concepts. And here we've got five practices before we play eight games.
So I think that's the biggest adjustment; learning about the travel and learning the NBA life.
And then there's some of the terminology. Again, the basketball concepts have been the same, but the terminology is a little different.
It's going to be different rhythm. I've done the same college rhythm for 20 years and, obviously, there are less games. But there's also recruiting days, and there's no off-season, it's year-round.
And so I think this will be an incredibly intense six months with a lot of travel. But then there's a little bit more time where you can actually be present with your family when you're not working and not be on the phone all the time.
And I hear that you also travel differently in the NBA. So there aren't going to be you know red-eyes to go recruiting and commercial flights.
"I think I have to be cognizant of the fact that when there are not a lot of people doing something, there's a little bit more on your shoulders in terms of representation and maybe there are more eyes on you."
Lindsay Gottlieb on Being a Role Model
Who were some of your idols or role models coming up?
Gottlieb: Well, I'm not someone who really idolizes people, but currently I would say that the person that I look at and say 'Wow!' is Michelle Obama.
I just read her book – Becoming – and it was actually quite inspirational to me in a sense of: You know, here I am at 41, where I was sort of comfortable. But the book focused on how you're constantly reinventing yourself.
And what an opportunity for me, at 41, to have a little bit of a career shift that I didn't see coming. And you just want to be ready to take on whatever life throws at you and do it well.
So I think I've been thinking about her and her book quite a bit recently.
And with respect to that, growing up I would say my father, because he just did a lot of interesting things in his career. But it was never: Let me get from point A to get to point B so I can get to point C. It was always: How can I be great at point A?
I think I've learned a lot from just having your feet planted where you are and being good at what you're doing right now – and not thinking about what comes next.
In terms of role models, are you comfortable knowing that you are now a role model for others?
Gottlieb: I think I have to be cognizant of the fact that when there are not a lot of people doing something, there's a little bit more on your shoulders in terms of representation and maybe there are more eyes on you.
But something I believe very strongly is that if I focus on just being good at this job every single day, then hopefully that has an impact on people rather than thinking about that I'm trying to be something to a lot of people.
In just these past few days in Utah, how have the players reacted to you?
Gottlieb: They're great; they've been awesome.
Like I've said before, I think it's a bigger deal to people outside – whether it's media or whatever – but these guys right here, I don't think they've batted an eye.
It's been good for me because I think I just can relate to them pretty easily; that's been sort of something that has come naturally to me as a coach. And I hope that continues.