Nancy Lieberman loses historic debut
HIDALGO, Texas -- Even with all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding Nancy Lieberman's groundbreaking debut as coach of the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League, Thursday night's loss was all about basketball for her.
The Frisco-based Legends fell to the defending champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers 123-115 before a nationally televised audience. The fact that the Hall of Famer became the first female to coach an NBA-affiliated team was an afterthought.
"It was another game," Lieberman said. "I've been through thousands of them."
Lieberman's credentials as a women's basketball pioneer stand alone. But sticking her foot into what has been men's-only territory was unique.
The D-League moved up the game three days in order to carry it live on television. Lieberman, who was coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock for three seasons, wore a wireless microphone, and a cameraman followed her every move.
"It's an historic night," D-League president Dan Reed said before the game. "Nancy Lieberman is a Hall of Famer. She has an amazing amount of basketball experience. She's definitely qualified to be a coach in our league. We are thrilled to be a part of making history with her coaching NBA-caliber players."
Lieberman, a former ESPN analyst, gave dozens of interviews in anticipation of her debut, and she doesn't expect it to let up anytime soon.
"Every game is going to be like this," she said. "Every game, there's going to be curiosity. Every game is going to be special and unique. But our guys know it's not about me. It's about them."
Her team's loss was foremost on her mind after the game.
The Legends led 33-26 after the first quarter, but the Vipers picked up their intensity on defense midway though the second. The Vipers eventually took control, led by Richard Roby's 31 points. Roby is the half-brother of the Denver Nuggets' Kenyon Martin, a product of Dallas' Bryan Adams High School.
It was a performance that didn't go unnoticed by Lieberman.
"The difference for us was the second quarter," Lieberman said. "We had eight or nine turnovers. We had control of the game. The Vipers played really well, and Richard Roby came off the bench and had 31 points. He was in rhythm."
Justin Dentmon was the Legends' first high-scorer with 21 points. Keith Clark, Antonio Daniels and Dar Tucker pitched in with seven rebounds apiece in the loss.
And as far as how her players responded to the loss? Lieberman had no problems there.
"Our guys are absolutely fantastic," Lieberman said. "They are in the locker room right now, and they are not happy. That means it matters, and that means they care. They are not happy because they think they should have won. ... We're going to be all right."
David Hinojosa is a contributor to ESPNDallas.com. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.