Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A new 'next game' for Hall of Fame basketball player Nancy Lieberman

Hall of Fame player Nancy Lieberman has traded her basketball sneakers for high heels, but she's no less determined as she coaches men in the NBA Development League. . . . There is more right here and right here.



How Good Is She? Well, She Has Her Own League

      The best basketball player in the world, inch for inch, pound for pound, is not necessarily in the backcourt in the NBA. The best basketball player in the world just might be a soprano who puts on high heels after the post-game shower, and even bracelets and eye shadow.
   Consider that this player is the only one in history to play on the U.S. Olympic team as a high schooler and get a silver medal. You think ‘Clyde’ Frazier, the Big O, Wilt, West, Russell, or even Causy could do that?
   The only thing that prevents this player from being the game's most famous jump-shooter is an accident of birth. This player is unmistakably female, a redhead whose nickname in high school was Fire, and who, but for the little mix-up of gender 24 years ago, would probably be a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers by now or certainly a playmaker for the New York Knicks.
   Sex is not a devastating handicap in a lot of sports. We are quite familiar with women tennis players, women golfers, bowlers, runners, jumpers, jockeys. Girl swimmers outdraw the men at most meets. But Nancy Lieberman has spent a lifetime of, "What's a nice Jewish girl like you doing in such a meshuganah game? Get out of those shorts and go marry a doctor."
   When some girls in the neighborhood were out playing with dolls, Nancy was out under the streetlights of Far Rockaway practicing one-handed jumpers. Her idea of a hot date was not an evening at a concert, it was an evening of slam-dunks.
   Her mother wanted her to be a nurse. Nancy wanted to be a Knick. Willis Reed, to be specific. Or, Dave DeBusschere. Her mother wanted her to be an opera singer. The mother's best friend was Beverly Sills. Nancy wanted to be a rebounder. Finally, at the end of her patience, Nancy's mother stuck scissors in the basketball and threw it away. Nancy played with it anyway.
   When she was only a junior in high school, Nancy used to take the subway to Harlem to play with an AAU team known as the New York Chuckles. They were all husky guys, but Nancy had problems playing with girls.
   "I must have had 1,000 turnovers, I just passed the ball too hard for those schoolgirls to catch."
   Nancy accepted a scholarship at Old Dominion, which she led to national championships in 1979 and 1980. Life looked like it might turn out to be a simple lay-up all the way from there when Nancy was drafted No. 1 by the Dallas Diamonds of the Women's Pro Basketball League. The league seemed soundly financed, but its trouble was it had one Nancy Lieberman instead of about 20. It finally fouled out.
   Nancy Lieberman was in town with her friend and financial advisor, the tennist, Martina Navratilova, last week to promote her new book "Basketball My Way" (Scribner's) and to reveal details of a new format for women's professional play she hopes to implement.
   To be the world's best at something and have no showcase for it, no outlet, Nancy finds frustrating and unfair. But Lieberman is not one to sulk or rail at the fates. She is bringing the ball up court as usual.
   "What we're going to do," she explains, "is copy the format from World Team Tennis. You play for prize money, not guaranteed contracts. We propose initially to start up modestly with four teams — L.A., San Francisco, Iowa and Dallas. We will award money for winning and we will award money for winning things like the MVP, the rebound title, the scoring title. You might say we'll make money the old-fashioned way, we'll earn it."
   There's another bonus. Even if Mama Lieberman can no longer hope to be able to say "My daughter, the opera singer," at least she doesn't have to choke on "My daughter, the basketball player," anymore. Now, she has a choice: "My daughter, the author," or "My daughter, the commissioner." It has a nice phone-in-the-car ring to it.

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

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