Sunday, July 17, 2011
Updated: July 18, 5:08 PM ET
Nancy Lieberman named assistant GM
By Marc Stein
After a groundbreaking season coaching NBA hopefuls, Nancy Lieberman is moving to the Texas Legends' front office.
The women's basketball pioneer told ESPNDallas.com on Sunday that she would be switching to the personnel side of the D-League team's operations starting next season, after taking the expansion Legends to the playoffs as the first female to coach a men's team under the NBA's umbrella. On Monday, Lieberman was named assistant general manager.
"I truly believe that every woman can attain both their personal and professional goals," Lieberman told The Associated Press. "My position as assistant general manager allows me to balance my schedule while maintaining my professional goals."
Lieberman said Sunday night that she debated the switch for weeks after the Legends' season ended in April, ultimately deciding that her long-held goal of "making it normal" for a woman to coach men at the game's highest level would have to be temporarily placed on hold for family reasons.
"I have one son and he has one senior year," Lieberman said, referring to son T.J. Cline, who plays basketball at Plano West. "It's not to say I'll never coach again, because T.J. goes to college in a year, but I felt like this was the right thing to do right now. I don't want to have any regrets as a mom. I want him to look up and see me in the stands."
Coaches in the D-League generally work on one-year contracts, but Lieberman, 52, had been promised the option when she took the job of choosing whether to stay on as Legends coach or move into management after the 2010-11 season.
In her new role, Lieberman will work alongside Legends president of basketball operations Spud Webb and general manager Del Harris. Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson heads the management team as Legends co-owner.
Sources said Lieberman will also have a strong voice in the Legends' search for a successor, which will begin immediately because the D-League will continue to operate starting in October even if the NBA lockout has not been lifted. Assistant coaches David Wesley and Scott Flemming will be the first candidates considered, Nelson said.
"It was a magnificent year," Lieberman said. "I made a lot of new friends for life. I'm in airports and people come up wanting to the talk about the D-League. I was poolside the other day in Hawaii (on vacation) and I run into (comedian) Tracy Morgan. And Tracy Morgan is talking about the Legends.
"It might not be in my lifetime, but there will be a woman coaching in the NBA and being a significant part of a team. Maybe it will happen in my lifetime. But it will happen, because we're qualified."
Lieberman added that working in a front-office capacity "might even be a quicker path trying to make it."
Dallas has been the home base for the New York native going back to the 1980s. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996, Lieberman made her WNBA debut as a player with the Phoenix Mercury at age 39 and later made a brief comeback with the Detroit Shock at 50 after coaching the Shock years earlier.
Nelson hired her to coach the Legends in November 2009 after a chance meeting at a Starbucks. Looking for someone with local ties and some name recognition in addition to the requisite basketball qualifications, Nelson has often said that he left the coffee-house chat with Lieberman convinced "that the best man for a job was a woman."
"Nancy took on a tremendous challenge in becoming our head coach, and she embraced that challenge like she has throughout her life," Nelson told The Associated Press. "I have no doubt that Nancy will be successful in her new capacity. Her experience as a coach will only make her a stronger asset in the front office."
The presence of Lieberman and several players on the roster with an NBA pedigree -- Antonio Daniels, Joe Alexander, Sean Williams and, briefly, Rashad McCants -- established the Legends as the closest thing to a glamour franchise in the D-League last season. The highlight of a 24-26 campaign: Texas erased an eight-point deficit in the final 42 seconds of its regular-season finale against the Austin Toros on the road and eventually got the win in double overtime it needed to clinch a playoff berth.
"It was Reggie Miller stuff," Lieberman said.
Daniels, though, was called up to the Philadelphia 76ers just before the playoffs started and the Legends, with McCants hobbled by a foot injury, were swept by the Tulsa 66ers in the best-of-three first round of the D-League playoffs.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.