by Neil Johnson, NBA D-League.com
Nancy Lieberman, the basketball Hall of Famer who was recently named head coach of the NBA D-League’s Frisco team, received the Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award at the Third Annual All Stars Helping Kids Sports Business and Philanthropy Luncheon on Dec. 8 in New York City. All Stars Helping Kids, founded in 1989 by Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, promotes safe, healthy, and rigorous learning environments for disadvantaged children. Prior to the luncheon, Lieberman was kind enough to spend a few minutes speaking with us about receiving such an honor, as well as her thoughts on the NBA D-League season and how she’s preparing to lead Frisco in 2010-11.
Q: What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally?
Lieberman: “It’s an honor and a privilege. To know what Ronnie Lott has dedicated his life for, and it really is simple–All-Stars or athletes reaching out to people–it seems so simple. The fact that I’m from New York, I feel committed to Ronnie’s vision, because that’s what I’ve done with my foundation in trying to give underprivileged children opportunities and access that they probably haven’t had before. It feels good to give, not only of your time, energy, effort, and money, but it’s what we should do.”
Q: What are some of the most rewarding moments of your career when it comes to your charitable efforts?
Lieberman: “To see the kids that have come back or the letters that I get, they could bring you to tears and really choke you up. You’re this big, tough athlete that’s put it on the line in major moments, and then a grandparent or child will write you and tell you thank you for what you’ve done for me, or I’m now in my third year in college and thank you for helping me get a scholarship. I think those moments are incredible. My friend and my hero, Muhammad Ali, once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your time on earth.” It’s that simple–if you continue to serve other people, you’re going to have a very fulfilling life.”
Q: How involved will you be in the community with the NBA D-League Frisco team?
Lieberman: “We already are. I started in November, and we have watch parties in connection with the Dallas Mavericks almost every week, and we’re getting ready to start some house parties where we’ll go to fans’ homes and talk about the NBA D-League. We want our community to be integrated with us, we want our players to be integrated with the community, and we want fans to know about the league’s success and high points: who we are, what we are, and what our mission is for coaches, players, administrators, and officials. This is really a neat thing. I’ve been in minor leagues before–I didn’t play two games in the United States Basketball League (USBL), I played two years. I know what it’s like to grind it out to try to reach your dream, but there are Chris Andersens and Devin Browns–talent that just needs to find its niche.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the NBA D-League season so far? Who do you have your eye on?
Lieberman: “I know a lot of the guys. I’ve got my eye on Springfield, because of Dee Brown, he’s a friend of mine, and to see what Jay Humphries (Reno Bighorns) is going to do. I want to try to get down to Austin to see Quinn Snyder’s team. We’re actually game planning right now to find out what teams I can get in to see. When I get to the NBA D-League Showcase in January, that’s going to be a pretty unbelievable three or four days for me to see all the teams play and be around all the players. I’ll get a great handle on who’s playing well in the league now … it’s as genuine basketball as you can get.”
Q: What are you doing in the coming months to prepare yourself and the Frisco team for next season?
Lieberman: “We’re already scouting the teams. It’s easy to say this is going to be our style, but we don’t have any players yet. I think the most important thing for me is to understand the philosophy of the league. I’m talking to a lot of coaches. I’m on the phone almost every day with NBA guys, with NBA D-League or former NBA D-League coaches–Bryan Gates (current Sacramento Kings assistant coach, former Idaho Stampede head coach) has been a tremendous resource for me and I’ll continue to glean as much information as I can. I feel like you can’t get enough information, and once I have it all, I’ll definitely know our game plan. Right now it’s a little premature to say what we’re going to do because we need to see our personnel. I talk to Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks GM, all the time. I call him a basketball deity. We have a lot of resources available to each other. It’s been fun to have Del Harris pop into my kitchen and talk strategy and where our rotations will be. I love that, the chess and strategy part of the game.”
Q: How will you be involved in NBA All-Star 2010 in Dallas, which is just down the road from Frisco?
Lieberman: “I’m looking forward to some of the events the NBA will plug me in to. For the NBA D-League, already last week Donnie, Rolando Blackman, and myself went with Bob Lanier to Arlington for NBA Cares to plant trees. We’re trying to unify these communities all around Dallas and talk to kids and administrators. The NBA and NBA D-League really do care–the league really does infiltrate communities and impact childrens’ lives. We’ll be doing this all through Dallas leading up to a historic All-Star Game.”