The Jewish Coaches Association’s Adam Rosenfield recentally sat down with WNBA great and current Texas Legends coach Nancy Lieberman to discuss her career and Jewish heritage.
Why did you get into coaching?
When you’ve done something for many years (playing basketball) it’s a natural progression. After I retired in 1997 (from playing with the WNBA Phoenix Mercury) Detroit offered me the chance to be a coach and general manager.
The opportunity and social significance to coach a men’s team is huge. However, I am used to being around men through my broadcasting years.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge so far is that we have a young, expansion team. We’ve been in practice less than a week, and we have to make sure we are evaluating talent effectively and helping them learn the offense and the defense. It’s a big part of player development … we have to trust them and they have to trust us.
What is the difference between WNBA and NBADL?
There is no different, only physically. The communication is the same. I played against men my whole life (played point guard for LA Lakers Summer League, two years in the USBL) so I know how good these guys are. I just have to communicate with them and explain what they need to do to be successful. It’s just as normal as you interviewing me right?
What was your Jewish background like?
I am 100% Jewish. My father’s parents were deeply religious, we had two sets of silverware when we went and ate over there. My mother’s side observed the major holidays. It was more relaxed. I went to Hebrew School as well.
The only thing I knew about being Jewish was being told how a Jewish girl acts. Playing ball wasn’t something Jewish girls did. People who didn’t understand would ask, “What are you doing playing with the black kids?”. I consider myself a progressive Jew. I don’t need anyone to take care of me and support me. If someone married me they would marry up.
I’m aware of all Jewish athletes. We have a proud tradition and a lot of things to be thankful for. I lost great-grandparents in the Holocaust. I’ve learned to not hate or dislike people, seeing the trauma that they went through. My father’s parents had numbers on their wrist.
I’m planning to go to Israel in April or May with my mother. I had planned to go a couple of years ago but the war broke out (2008 Lebanon War). Larry Fitzgerald and I were talking about going, and Shay Doron was going to join us. We were going to play some sports, put on some basketball camps. I’m very excited.
What do you think of the recent successes of Jewish coaches such as Josh Pastner, Bruce Pearl, Ben Jacobson and others?
In my day, there wasn’t much money in athletics and with people around me success was equated with financial gain. It was frowned upon for me to be an athlete because of the little money that was made.
It’s now cool to be an athlete. I think people should be happy and you should do things that you are passionate about and that make you happy.
Favorite Jewish food: Matzo ball soup
Favorite athlete: Adam sandler (Nancy: yes he was, Longest Yard), Sandy Koufax, Dara Torres
If you weren’t going to be a coach what would you be?: Broadcaster