2003-11-21 / Sports

Nancy Lieberman Returns To The Hardwood

By Elio Velez
Nancy Lieberman Returns To The Hardwood By Elio Velez

Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman has played basketball all over the world from the playgrounds of O’ Donahue Park in Far Rockaway and P.S. 104 and the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. She last played professionally with the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.

Receiving numerous awards for her involvement in the game, 45-year-old Nancy Lieberman doesn’t need to prove her abilities to anyone. But the chance to suit up to play women more than 20 years younger than her stoked her competitive fire.

Earlier this month, Lieberman, whose nickname is "Lady Magic", once again suited up to play with a Wisconsin based AAU team called the Velocity Vikings. Playing 4 games in seven days, Lieberman against some of the top college basketball programs in the country. Lieberman held her own against the younger talent.

"I played in a tournament earlier this year with Anna Deforge (of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. The tournament was in Las Vegas)", said Lieberman. "I wanted to go out there and have fun against these younger players".

She wasn’t expecting to play a lot of minutes but the 5’10 Lieberman averaged 9 points, 6 rebounds and 33 minutes a night, as the starting point guard. Though her team lost all four games, Lieberman was happy with her overall play. "We didn’t have any practices and I just showed up playing point guard", said Lieberman. She was also happy that her left knee, which has been troublesome due to a lack of cartilage, held up as well. "I’m tired. It’s nothing that Advil won’t take care of".

Originally a native of Far Rockaway and now residing in Dallas, Lieberman has reached numerous honors in her career. Moving from Brooklyn to Far Rockaway when she was 1 year old, Nancy quickly adopted to the game she loves. Starting off on the playgrounds of P.S. 104 and M.S.180, she tested her skills all over the peninsula against women and men from summer tournaments at St. Francis de Sales and intense games at nearby O’Donahue Park.

Her legend grew at Far Rockaway High School, where she became All-American from 1974-76 and led the Seahorses to the PSAL championship final against Fort Hamilton. Though her team lost, Lieberman averaged 27 points and 24 rebounds in her entire 4-year career. Her dominance at Far Rockaway led to the then 17 year old to get a very special invite from the United States women’s basketball team to compete in the 1976 Olympics. "A physical education teacher named Mildred Ashper in 1976 called the U.S. Olympic team and bragged how well I played against the boys and how I was a gym rat", Lieberman said. Lieberman was the youngest player ever to make the team. Winning the silver medal after her team lost to the Soviet Union, she continued her All-American play at Old Dominion where she won two college national championships in 1979 and 1980.

Regarded as a pioneer in women’s basketball, Lieberman was the first female player to compete in a men’s professional basketball league when she signed with the Springfield Fame of the United States Basketball League in 1986. After retiring from the Phoenix Mercury, Lieberman led the Detroit Shock to the playoffs in her first year as head coach and general manager in 1998. She has been inducted to numerous halls of fame, which include the women’s hall of fame and the pro basketball hall of fame. Lieberman’s intention wasn’t only to have fun playing on the hardwood again. As of one the lead analysts on ESPN college basketball, it was also a chance to battle against players she will analyze this season on basketball telecasts. Lieberman has been happy with the state of the college game. "The kids come into the games and they execute. They can shoot the hell out of the basketball and present a lot of confidence", said Lieberman.

She uses her role on ESPN to travel around the country in giving speeches and conducting camps for girls and boys who are interested in playing the game. She loves the opportunity to impart the knowledge that she has gained over the years. "The opportunity to pursue opportunities today is so much greater than when I played", Lieberman said. "There were so few scholarships that were available when I was their age. The exposure by ESPN, which is the home of the Women’s Final Four is showing 350 games this season. The WNBA is a chance for women to make a lot of money and gain exposure."

Lieberman was happy with the feedback that she received. "I received over 200 e-mails from men and women thanking me", Lieberman said. "I would do it again".

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