It was quite the big deal back in '80, when the Dallas Diamonds of the fledgling Women's Professional Basketball League signed Old Dominion star and Olympic silver-medalist Nancy Lieberman to her first pro contract. I have a hazy memory of sitting among a few packed houses at Moody Coliseum, at least before the team vanished in '84 and Lieberman dribbled over to the United States Basketball League, where she was the only woman amongst a cast of NBA castoffs. Of course, that was but the beginning of the beginning of her pro career, which would extend all the way to the WNBA and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and, finally, the NBA's Development League, where she coaches the Dallas Mavericks' Texas Legends.
It's that gig -- given to her a year ago by the Mavs' Donnie Nelson -- that lands her in the sports pages of The New York Times this morning, where Harvey Araton writes that, yeah, sure, she's probably the first woman to ever head-coach in an all-male league. But that's just one chapter in one of the most intriguing stories in modern sports history, which the D-Leaguers are only just learning about:
[In the U.S.B.L.,] all of her male teammates had her back when an opponent was of the opinion that she did not belong in a man's world, dropped the B word on her and charged at her after she fired the ball into his face and said: "Oops. You got in the way of my pass."
Lieberman's players have grown up with women's basketball games in their high school and college gyms, with W.N.B.A. games in pro arenas. They have no idea what it was like for their new coach, pushing the limits with a chip on her shoulder the size of a basketball.
"I didn't know much about her and didn't know what to expect," said Joe Alexander, a forward and 2008 first-round draft pick of Milwaukee. "But I'm learning more about her history -- pretty impressive."
And would she like to assistant coach in the N.B.A.? Damn right she would.