Sports Nut

The Case for Nancy Lieberman

If it were just a matter of résumé, she’d be an NBA head coach in no time.

Nancy Lieberman.
Nancy Lieberman appears at the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s So the World May Hear Awards Gala on July 28, 2013, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for Starkey Hearing Foundation

Rumors surfaced last week that the Sacramento Kings might be making another splashy run at University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari next season. While those rumors were quickly rebuffed by a different anonymously sourced report, current Kings head coach George Karl certainly looks like he may be in jeopardy of losing his job, with the team struggling at 5–9. While it’s never fun to speculate about someone losing his job, the recent talk of who might replace Karl is worth considering based on the Kings’ record of coaching turmoil in recent years. Below are the “résumés” of five current NBA assistant coaches who might be considered for such an NBA head coaching vacancy should one emerge at the right team.


The best way to objectively look at these candidates without the potential for injecting any personal biases into the equation is to compare them on paper. In other industries, a “Résumé Only Comparison,” or “ROC,” that lists only a person’s qualifications makes it easy to focus on which attributes and experiences would help make for a desirable candidate. Often, the name of the candidate is what gets him on the short list for an NBA coaching job to begin with, but I think it would behoove NBA teams like the Kings to try this approach.


Candidate A

  • 4-year collegiate player
  • 12-year professional playing career
  • 4-year head coaching experience
  • In 4th season as an NBA assistant coach


Candidate B

  • 4-year collegiate player
  • 14-year professional playing career
  • 1-year head coaching experience for a national team
  • In 8th season as an NBA assistant coach

Candidate C

  • 4-year collegiate player, All-American
  • 16-year professional playing career, 6-time All-Star, 2-time First Team All-League, 2-time Second Team All-League, led league in assists in one season
  • Medaled in the Olympics as a player
  • Won NBA Summer League title as a coach
  • In 2nd season as an NBA assistant coach

Candidate D

  • High School All-American player
  • 4-year collegiate player, 2-time Second Team All-America,
  • NCAA champion, NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player
  • 12-year professional playing career, 6th-Player award, league champion
  • 3-year collegiate volunteer assistant coach
  • 3-year collegiate head coach
  • In 3rd season as an NBA assistant coach


Candidate E

  • Earned a position on the USA national team as a senior in high school
  • Medaled in the Olympics as a player
  • 4-year collegiate player, 3-time All-American, 2-time National Player of the Year, 3-time national champion
  • Former professional player
  • Inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame
  • 4 years of professional head coaching and general manager/executive experience
  • Television studio and game analyst for professional basketball on regional and national networks
  • In 1st season as an NBA assistant coach


There are of course many other factors that would determine which candidate would be the best fit for a particular NBA team. If the Kings have a job vacancy any time soon—or any other team does for that matter—which one of these candidates would be the best choice based on résumés alone, though?


Although Candidates A and B have more professional coaching experience, the basketball pedigree of Candidates C, D, and E are much more extensive—legendary, in fact, in the case of Candidate E. While it’s hard to say who would be the right fit for the Kings or anyone else, Candidate E certainly appears to be the most qualified, with extensive playing, broadcasting, coaching, and executive experience, not to mention the industry validating induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame. Who are these candidates?

Candidate A is Boston Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga.

Candidate B is Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson.

Candidate C is San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon.

Candidate D is Sacramento Kings assistant coach Corliss Williamson.


Candidate E is Sacramento Kings assistant coach Nancy Lieberman.

Williamson and Lieberman are both Kings assistant coaches right now—with Williamson the purported favorite of Kings general manager Vlade Divac for any possible short-term opening and Lieberman the purported favorite of team owner Vivek Ranadivé. Both are qualified. And while this shouldn’t need saying, it unfortunately does: There would be so many reasons beyond gender to pick Lieberman. She has been committed to the game of basketball for decades. Her passion for the game and ability to convey its nuances are a gift. Lieberman has probably forgotten more about basketball than some coaches will ever know. The award that is bestowed upon the nation’s top women’s collegiate point guard annually has her name on it.


The above blind résumés offer an objective look at why it is time for more women to get opportunities in all of professional sports—they belong there and would have a chance to help teams. The myth that an NBA head coach had to actually have played in the NBA—one of the last arguments of opponents of female NBA coaches—has long ago been dispelled. Four of the above NBA assistant coaches never played in the NBA, and all are qualified to some degree or another for a head coaching job. Almost half of the current 30 head coaches in the NBA never played in a single game in the league. Two of those coaches—Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra—have won a combined seven NBA championships.


In today’s professional climate it has generally become accepted that an applicant for an open position will be judged on merit, experience, and ability to complete a job without facing discrimination based on race, gender, religious beliefs, or inclusion in any other protected class.

Discrimination obviously still occurs on a consistent basis to some degree with hiring across all industries. But when it comes to gender, pro sports has had a particular problem, one that it’s far past time to rectify.


Allowing candidates that apply for positions to truly get the “ROC” treatment should be best practice for all industries, including the NBA. The days for “firsts” are finally coming to an end as it relates to race and gender for occupational titles. This generation will hopefully grow up not limiting each other by dividing members of the human race into subgroups. Of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has always been at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. Now is the time for the league to take the next step and continue to lead the way by hiring a woman as a head coach. As shown above, the hire would be based on merit, not on a gimmick, and it would finally put one of sports’ biggest “firsts” to bed.