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Nancy Lieberman Biography

Dubbed "lady Magic", Chronology, Played In Men's League, Made Brief Comeback


American basketball player

One of the greatest women's basketball players of all time, Nancy Lieberman had a lengthy, decorated career and logged a number of "firsts." At age 18 she was the youngest basketball player to win an Olympic medal as part of the 1976 U.S. team. Ten years later she became the first woman to play in a men's professional

Nancy Lieberman

league, the United States Basketball League. Lieberman was also the first woman to earn a million dollars as a basketball player. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996, "Lady Magic" came out of retirement less than a year later to play one season in the new Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA); at 38 she was the league's oldest player. Lieberman remains a presence in the sport as a television commentator and as an outspoken promoter of women's athletics.

Lieberman, born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in a Jewish family in Far Rockaway, Queens. As a 10-year-old tomboy, she spent her free time playing basketball with boys in the schoolyard. She scoffed when her mother said playing sports wasn't "ladylike." Lieberman, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch, recalled at her Hall of Fame induction: "I remember getting up and standing there with my hands on my hips and saying [to my mother], 'Yeah, well, I'll tell you something: That's how I'm going to make history one of these days'—and then turning around and walking out of the kitchen."

She quickly established herself as a star at Far Rockaway High School. As a 14-year-old All-American athlete, she would take the subway to Harlem to shoot hoops with the best players. There, she developed an aggressive, street-smart style new to women's basketball. By 1974, when Lieberman was a high school sophomore, she was invited to try out for the American Basketball Association's national team, which would train to compete in the 1975 Pan American Games and the 1976 Olympics. She became one of the 12 women selected for the USA Team.

Sketch by Wendy Kagan

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Famous Sports StarsBasketball