Another barrier is broken by woman

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DALLAS --- The first woman to play pro basketball with guys is also the first hired to coach them.

Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was introduced Thursday as the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks' affiliate in the NBA Development League, which will tip off next November.

The D-League team is partially owned by Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks' president of basketball operations. Hiring Lieberman was his idea, and he's confident young men won't have a problem taking orders from a woman -- at least, not this woman.

"She's got the skins, the experience -- she knows what she's doing -- so I certainly hope that we're well beyond those issues," Nelson said. "Besides, if you can't respect authority, no matter what form or color it comes in, I don't want you on my team."

Lieberman has been a basketball pioneer since she was 17 and made the U.S. Olympic team for the first women's tournament, at the 1976 Montreal Games. She starred at Old Dominion and in various women's pro leagues, then in 1986 played for the Springfield Fame of the United States Basketball League. When the WNBA started, she returned as a player, and later was a coach and general manager. She returned briefly as a player in July 2008, at age 50.

Kobe Bryant later told her that he and his daughters were watching during her latest comeback. He also asked, "Why would you put your reputation on the line like that?" She told him she did it because she had no fear -- and that's exactly why she's taking on this challenge.

"I feel like I'm the right person for the job," she said. "I know how these guys feel. I played in the minor leagues. I'm ultimately connected to that part of development in a player's life."

She's also proud to break another gender barrier.

"I kind of look at President Obama," she said. "Everybody knows it's historical because he's a man of color. But at the end of the day, regardless of his race, creed, color or gender, he has to be president. Everybody knows I'm a woman, but at the end of the day, regardless of my race, creed, color or gender, I have to win basketball games."


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