July 27, 2017

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last week announced NBRPA board member Nancy Lieberman as a recipient of the 2017 Mannie Jackson – Basketball’s Human Spirit Award. Bob Hurley and Dwyane Wade were also named recipients of the prestigious award which recognizes exceptional humanitarians who have used basketball as a platform to improve the world around them, while creating opportunities for the next generation of leaders.

Lieberman is a basketball trailblazer who has stamped her name throughout the history books. She currently serves as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings in addition to her NBRPA duties.

Through Nancy Lieberman Charities, she is committed to promoting healthy lifestyles and developing educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth. Since its inception, Nancy Lieberman Charities has served over 3 million children through a variety of programs including college scholarships, laptop and school supply giveaways, and basketball court and playground installations. Over the past 36 years, an additional 4 million children have participated in Nancy Lieberman basketball camps and clinics as well. In 2016, Lieberman developed Kids & Cops Dream Courts, as a means to foster positive relationships between youth and Police Departments across the country, starting with 12 courts and clinics in the Dallas area. Nancy Lieberman Charities continues to be a catalyst for the development of young girls and boys throughout the country by using basketball as a motivational tool.

We sat down with Nancy to discuss the prestigious award, and her impact on and off the basketball court.

What does it mean to be recognized with the Mannie Jackson award?

It is an honor. It is very humbling because Mannie is not only an amazing humanitarian, he is a dear friend of mine. With the list of all of the amazing athletes, I was like “Oh my God!” It is amazing what people are doing and how they care about other people from LeBron [James] to Michael Jordan. They are so selfless. To think that you can be a part of something so special, it’s really exciting. Mannie sets the tone for everyone and he makes you want to live your life a different way.

Undeniably, you were a force on the court. What inspires you to make such an impact off of the court?

What inspires me is my love for children and for giving them a better view of what life can be because I was that kid. I was that poor kid with no father and no food and no heat, and one grandparent away from food stamps. That was me growing up in Far Rockaway [Queens, New York]. I didn’t like it. Basketball and people changed it for me. They changed the narrative of what I didn’t have to what I did have. I feel people’s pain and embarrassment. I know what it’s like. It’s not fun. We want to be an agent for change. We want to do something really special. That’s all I know. I’m generation now and we have a chance to effect generation next.

How do you see the NBRPA effecting change for athletes off the court?

It's scary to retire. We’ve been coddled. We’ve been told how great we are. People have honored us for what we’ve done on the court. It is a scary thing to retire because you lose that insulation. You’re never by yourself on a team. There is always somebody there that is willing to help and to be a part of who and what you are. When you retire and all of a sudden a lot of that is not around you, you can really get lost. You don’t have to lose that team because you have the NBRPA who is going to be there for you no matter what you’re doing in your career. Whether you need help, whether you want to send your kids to college with the Dave DeBusschere Scholarship, whether you need help financially, or whether you need to pick up another vocation. There it is. There is something special about being a part of a team. From our event at Mohegan Sun, that’s pretty cool stuff to say that we could be in a room together with legendary athletes and people that are just a very important part of the game.

What is one thing all athletes should know as they prepare for their next career?

You're not alone. You have a brotherhood and a sisterhood of people all around you that would be there for you. Bernard King and I never played against or with each other but… we are teammates in life. We are not just loving friends who grew up in New York. We are doing life together. Mike Glenn and I are doing life together. Dwight Davis and I are doing life together. Jerome Junkyard Dog and I are doing life together. I miss these guys that we lost. We are so blessed to have each other. And women too! We are learning that our brothers care about us.