One night, as I was aimlessly searching the internet, I came across a segment on Nancy Lieberman, commonly known as “the first lady of hoops.” I had never thought that a woman could lead a men’s basketball team, simply because it’s considered a “man’s” job. But as I read into her story, I became enthralled by what she was doing and what she stood for.
Lieberman’s journey began in the streets of Harlem, New York, where she played ball with the boys. While attending Far Rockaway High School, she established herself as one of the top women’s basketball players in the country at 18 years old, becoming the youngest basketball player in Olympic history, male or female.
As one of the greatest players in the WNBA, Lieberman was given the nickname “Lady Magic.”
But while her performance as a player was noteworthy, her career afterwards was what was most inspiring.
After a lifetime full of experience in the sports world, Lieberman was approached by the new owner and founder of the Texas Legends of the D-League, Donnie Nelson, and was offered a coaching job.
Nelson believed that Lieberman had everything the team needed and explained, “The next great basketball player may be born into a female body, and we will never know if we don’t give people like Nancy a chance.”
Antonio Daniels of the Texas Legends, explains, “When [Lieberman] came in, nobody saw her as a woman; everybody saw her as coach. The fact of the matter is, she knows what she’s talking about, and when she talks, we listen.”
Although Lieberman made the cut, many people are still not very fond of the fact that there is a woman coaching men. Comments on online articles regarding the situation express a mixture of opinions about how she will pull through and how the players will react and take orders from a woman. Derogatory female words are used multiple times.
At Milken, there is a wide variety of teachers and coaches who are women. Coaches Barbara Iversen, girls’ varsity basketball coach and Lisa Steenport, girls’ varsity volleyball coach, both coach girls, not boys. Out of all of the sports teams at Milken, ranging from basketball to tennis, there have been women coaching women and men coaching women, but only every once in a while is there a woman coaching a men’s team. Is this just a coincidence, or is it because people believe that a woman is not fit to coach at a higher level?
As a female in the sports world, Steenport reflected on the challenges of being a female athlete and coach.
“Respect can be an issue, if you are not confident in your abilities as a [female] coach,” Steenport explained.
To this day, women are still minorities in society. However, throughout history, there have been actions that have moved towards equality. Women themselves helped to form this movement away from sexism.
We must applaud Nelson for recognizing true leadership, regardless of gender, and Lieberman for accepting the challenge. The world lacks people willing to step outside societal normality and to take chances that inevitably enrich society as a whole.
Commendably, in a world filled with hatred and racism, greatness has succumbed. Whether it be electing our first African American president, or having a woman lead a men’s sports team, it has become evident that our world is changing.
Nelson told Lieberman, “This is what Martin Luther King marched and died for: for equality.”
Now, years later, while everyone wonders how a woman is going to succeed in coaching a men’s team, Lieberman defies the odds. Thus, Lieberman has slowly become an inspiration to myself, and woman everywhere.