Get to Know: Nancy Lieberman

From holding her own against NBA players as far back as 1980 and becoming the first woman to play in a men’s professional basketball league to serving as the inaugural female head coach in the D-League, Nancy Lieberman has broken countless barriers in spearheading the women’s basketball movement throughout an esteemed career that spans five decades.

With the Sacramento Kings, the 1996 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has added a new milestone to her already illustrious résumé, owning the distinction of being only the second full-time female assistant coach in the NBA, joining Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs.

Nicknamed “Lady Magic” for her revolutionary passing prowess and flashy playmaking, the revered trailblazer carries a lengthy, decorated list of on-court accomplishments and basketball firsts. The initial two-time recipient of the prestigious Wade Trophy that recognizes the nation’s best women’s college basketball star, the three-time All-American became the youngest player – male or female – in Olympic annals to win a medal, bringing home the silver at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal at age 18.

On the heels of guiding the Old Dominion Lady Monarchs to back-to-back championships in 1979-80 and 1980-81 and nearly averaging a triple-double en route to leading the Dallas Diamonds to a title in the Women's American Basketball Association, the 5-foot-10 guard not only suited up for the L.A. Lakers Summer League squad, but commenced a pioneering, two-year stint in an all-men’s pro league – the United States Basketball League – where she was coached by Henry Bibby, the father of Kings legend and Sacramento-era assist leader Mike, in 1986.

The Brooklyn, N.Y. native continued to help shape the future landscape of female sports over the proceeding years, making history as the first woman to tour with the Washington Generals – the storied opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters – in 1988.

Coming out of retirement nearly a decade later, Lieberman averaged 8.3 points, 5.2 assists and 1.9 steals per 36 minutes in 25 contests with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in 1997, making the then-39-year-old the oldest woman to play in the league. After a three-year tenure as general manager and head coach of the Detroit Shock – during which she compiled the highest winning percentage of any expansion team in professional sports (.569) in 1998 – Lieberman broke her own record by staging an unprecedented comeback at age 50, dishing out two assists in nine minutes of action on July 24, 2008.

The following season, the groundbreaking legend returned to the sidelines as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA Development League affiliate – marking the first time a woman held the position on a men’s professional basketball team. Lieberman – who simultaneously competed in the NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game in 2009 and 2010 – guided the Texas Legends to a 24-26 record and a Playoff berth, prior to earning a promotion to the front office as an assistant general manager.

Widely respected and admired in basketball circles, the former ESPN-ABC basketball broadcaster and FOX Sports Oklahoma analyst on Thunder pre- and postgame shows emerged as a Kings assistant candidate and received an invite to accompany the team’s Summer League coaching staff.

Based on her extraordinary history in all facets of the game, remarkable wealth of knowledge and indicative testament of former NBA players during her D-League experience, the 57-year-old is indisputably qualified and perfectly suited for the position’s primary responsibilities, ranging from discussing strategy and game plans to preparing scouting reports to providing astute advice.

Having already spent considerable time with and making a strong impression on numerous Kings standouts – including No. 6 overall pick Willie Cauley-Stein in Las Vegas (video courtesy of News10.com), as well as veterans DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi – Lieberman will also serve a key role in fostering player development as a valuable motivator and teacher for younger players on the nuances of the game – all while continuing to pave the way for women’s progress in professional sports.

Next Up