Nancy Lieberman was the first high school student, male or female, to make a U.S. Olympic basketball team, the first woman to play in a men's professional league, and the first woman to tour with the Washington Generals (foils for the Harlem Globetrotters).
She led her college team to back-to-back national championships, set collegiate records for steals and assists -- her nickname was "Lady Magic" -- and helped reshape women's basketball into a more physical and entertaining game.
Born July 1, 1958, in Brooklyn, Lieberman plunged into sports despite objections from her mother, first playing football with boys before choosing basketball as her favorite. She learned to dribble left-handed -- just like her idol, Willis Reed -- and
In 1975, while only 16 years old, she went to the U.S. national tryouts and elbowed her way onto the team. Her silver medal in Montreal two years later made her the youngest basketball medalist in Olympic history.
That fall, Lieberman enrolled at Old Dominion University, where she played four seasons and averaged 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 3.9 steals. She was named an All-American three years running and the national Player of the Year twice. Lieberman drove the Lady Monarchs to national titles in 1979 and 1980.
Lieberman later played in two women's leagues -- the Women's Professional Basketball League in 1980, earning $100,000 from the Dallas Diamonds, and a new league of the same name in 1984, until it folded because of financial problems.
During respites from playing, she promoted women's basketball and pursued other interests, including working as a trainer for tennis great Martina Navratilova.
In 1986, Lieberman joined the Springfield Fame of the United States Basketball League and played one season against men. She said that her playing in the USBL helped "stretch the horizon for women in the future."
Lieberman married basketball player Tim Cline in 1988 and began a broadcasting career. She was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996 and currently is one of the most respected women's basketball commentator's for ESPN.
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