Nancy Lieberman earning respect coaching in BIG3 league, compared to NBA coaching legends

Ryan YoungYahoo Sports Contributor
After the Power's season opener in the BIG3 league on Saturday, several players praised coach Nancy Lieberman — and even compared her to multiple NBA coaching legends. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
After the Power's season opener in the BIG3 league on Saturday, several players praised coach Nancy Lieberman — and even compared her to multiple NBA coaching legends. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Naismith Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman kicked off her second season in the BIG3 league on Saturday night, leading the Power to a 50-38 win against 3’s Company at Little Ceasars Arena in Detroit.

While the BIG3 league doesn’t garner near as much respect or attention as the NBA, WNBA or the collegiate level does — the league, founded by Ice Cube, features retired professionals in a 3-on-3 setting — Lieberman’s job there is still historic. The former WNBA and D-League coach is one of just a handful of women coaching in men’s professional basketball in the United States.

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Quentin Richardson, who played in the league from 2000-2013 and worked as the director of player development for the Detroit Pistons, plays on Lieberman’s BIG3 team — and made sure she got the respect she deserved after their game on Saturday night.

“I just want to take this time to talk about our coach and why I think she’s the best,” Richardson said, via the Detroit Free Press. "She’s as prepared as any coach I’ve ever played for. I’ve played for Stan Van Gundy, Larry Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Alvin Gentry, some great coaches, and she’s right up there with any of them."

According to the Detroit Free Press, many in the media room at Little Ceasars Arena started clapping in agreement — something that actually made Lieberman a bit uncomfortable. She would have rather focused on the game.

“It’s almost embarrassing,” Lieberman said, via the Detroit Free Press. “But it hits my heart that these guys are just so kind to me. We work very hard together for their success and I’m really proud to be their coach. God blessed me amazing men.”

Richardson wasn’t alone, either. His teammate, Cuttino Mobley — who played in the league from 1998-2009, most notably with the Houston Rockets — had similar praise.

“We were raised by women,” Mobley said, via the Detroit Free Press. “Especially at a young age. A lot of us had our fathers around us, but the women were the backbone of us growing up. So, if you can’t listen to your mother, then something’s wrong with you. And Nancy is that leader for us.”

Richardson and Mobley’s comments, whether Lieberman was ready for them or not, again shined a light on a growing topic of conversation in the NBA — and whether it’s ready for a female head coach.

Most agree that it’s not only time, but that it’s long overdue. The NBA didn’t have a female assistant until Becky Hammond was hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. She even interviewed for the head job with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2017, though did not get the position.

Now, with the addition of former California coach Lindsay Gottlieb to the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this month, there are six female assistants across the league. Along with Hammond and Gottlieb, Natalie Nakase is with the Los Angeles Clippers, Jenny Boucek is with the Dallas Mavericks, Kristi Toliver is with the Washington Wizards and Chasity Melvin is with the Charlotte Hornets.

Only time will tell whether it’s Lieberman or someone else who finally breaks through that ceiling. Lieberman, though, knows one thing for sure: That time is coming.

“Adam Silver has said numerous times within the last five or six months that he would like to see a woman head coach in the NBA sooner than later,” Lieberman said, via the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t know when, but it will happen.”

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