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Nancy Lieberman

Made Brief Comeback

Just a few months after her Hall of Fame induction, word spread that Lieberman was considering coming out of retirement to play in the WNBA. American sports fans, it seemed, were beginning to take women's basketball seriously; the WNBA, with its partnership with the deep-pocketed NBA, seemed poised for growth. Lieberman started training seriously and in February, 1997, the 38-year-old player was the next-to-last draft pick of the Phoenix Mercury. "I feel like I'm a cat that has nine lives," she told Tom Flaherty of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I mean, how many chances do you get to do what you love at this level?"

Lieberman played with the Mercury for one year. Turning 39 during the season, she was the oldest player on the WNBA. Phoenix led the league in attendance and won the Western Conference title before losing to the New York Liberty in the playoff semifinals.

From 1998 to 2000, Lieberman was general manager and coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock. In her first year, while leading the Shock to a 17-13 winning record and a WNBA playoff; players regarded her as highly critical. According to the Associated Press, player Korie Hlede was "abusive and manipulative, playing mind games." Lieberman, who traded Hlede to Utah, downplayed any controversy. "Korie had a very good rookie season, and she really did a lot to jump-start our program," she said. "Korie, her self-esteem was tied to her minutes and starting, and that's why I'm not mad at Korie because I went through that as a young player, too."

Awards and Accomplishments

1975 Member of gold-medal-winning USA Team, Pan American Games and World Championships
1976 Member of silver-medal-winning USA Women's Olympic Basketball Team, Montreal Olympic Games
1978–80 Kodak All-American
1979 Member of gold-medal-winning USA Team, World Championships
1979 Member of silver-medal-winning USA Team, Pan American Games
1979 Jewish Athlete of the Year
1979–80 Two-time Wade Trophy winner
1980 Broderick Award (top women's basketball player in America)
1984 Most Valuable Player, Women's American Basketball Association
1986 First woman ever to play in a men's professional basketball league, the United States Basketball League
1993 New York City Basketball Hall of Fame
1996 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1997 Oldest player, at age 38, in Women's National Basketball Association

Where Is She Now?

Lieberman lives in Dallas, her hometown of more than 20 years. She is chief executive officer of Nancy Lieberman Enterprises, a business launched in the 1980s to run Nancy Lieberman basketball camps for girls. She is also a basketball analyst for ESPN, calling WNBA games and men's and women's college games for the television network. An active public speaker at Fortune 500 companies and high school banquets, Lieberman promotes the benefits of sports for young women. "Research shows that girls who are involved in sports have fewer unwanted pregnancies, are less likely to drop out of school, and have higher self-esteem," she told Brian D. Sweany of Texas Monthly. Lieberman, in February, 2003, expressed interest in the coaching job for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun (the former Orlando Miracle).

Before she left coaching in 2000, Lieberman received her degree from Old Dominion, having gone back to school to complete a marketing degree. Also during her coaching tenure, Lieberman served as president of the Women's Sports Foundation, an advocacy organization founded by tennis legend Billie Jean King, from 1999 through 2000.

Retired from playing but still highly visible in basketball as an ESPN commentator and columnist on its Web site, Lieberman, as a pioneer of the game, remains a source of inspiration to female athletes of all ages.

"I think I've always played with sort of a chip on my shoulder," she said at her Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. "It seems like there has always been someone there at every step of the way to say, 'You can't,' or 'You shouldn't,' or 'You won't.' I've always felt driven to prove those people wrong. If you tell me I can't, my reaction is: 'Yes, I can-watch, and I'll prove it.'"

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBasketballNancy Lieberman Biography - Dubbed "lady Magic", Chronology, Played In Men's League, Made Brief Comeback