It’s hard to miss the importance of Nancy Lieberman’s new job with the Sacramento Kings.
The two-time Olympian on Friday officially accepted the team’s offer to become an assistant coach. That makes her the second woman in history to join the coaching staff of an NBA team. Becky Hammon, who took the same job with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, is the first.
Lieberman is no token. And her ascension was no fluke. It was a slam dunk.
At 57 years old, she is a member of both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She has played and coached in the WNBA. She has worked in the front office of the Texas Legends, a Dallas Mavericks affiliate, and most recently she was an analyst for Fox Sports in Oklahoma.
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Although Lieberman has no roots in Sacramento, her presence along the Kings’ bench surely will be a source of inspiration to young women in our community. Proof that if they work hard and follow their dreams, they can indeed take their best shot and accomplish anything – even stand toe-to-toe with NBA players.
That’s how Lieberman sees Hammon.
As she told ESPN last week: “Becky opened up a lot of doors even for myself. ... It has an effect on a lot of people’s thinking and the acceptance. I believe a lot of people saw that and went: ‘Why can’t we do that? That’s something that’s really important, and there’s other people open-minded, why can’t it be us?’”
This kind of thinking is contagious. And that’s important at a time when young women still enter the U.S. workforce only to find that, in many quarters, it remains highly Balkanized.
Women, on average, make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men nationally, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. That’s despite the fact that women comprise almost half of the U.S. workforce and are the equal or main breadwinners in four out of 10 families.
Lieberman and other women have worked hard to break down that gender-imposed glass ceiling by entering fields dominated by men. But at this point, integration is at a near standstill and that persistent segregation in many fields, including professional sports, is one reason why a wage gap still exists.
Changing these longstanding disparities will take time. But most of all, it will take more strong women like Lieberman.