Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Nancy Lieberman, Becky Hammon square off

Nancy Lieberman, Sacramento Kings assistant coach passes the ball to Marco Belinelli during training camp at UC San Diego's RIMAC Arena on Tuesday, Sept., 29, 2015.
Nancy Lieberman, Sacramento Kings assistant coach passes the ball to Marco Belinelli during training camp at UC San Diego's RIMAC Arena on Tuesday, Sept., 29, 2015. hamezcua@sacbee.com

During the opening week of the 2015-16 season, the Kings plan to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Monarchs WNBA Championship and the achievements of female athletes and acknowledge the recent (and overdue) trend of hiring women as coaches in the NBA and the NFL and in broadcasting.

Kings assistant coach Nancy Lieberman and the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, who became the league’s first female assistant coach a year ago, will be on opposing sidelines Thursday in the Kings’ preseason home opener against San Antonio. There is more to come.

After numerous conversations with Lieberman, a Hall of Famer, and a week with the Kings during training camp at UC San Diego, here are a few of the interesting leftovers, with a glimpse into the future.

▪ Lieberman’s credentials are unparalled within women’s basketball, and no woman has more varied experience than the Brooklyn, N.Y., native. A 5-foot-10 point guard, she was a standout at Old Dominion, a member of U.S. World and Olympics teams and men’s minor-league squads. She also played (Phoenix, Detroit) and coached (Detroit) in the WNBA and worked as an NBA TV analyst before Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson bumped into her at a Starbucks in 2009 and, well, saw stars; shortly thereafter, he hired her to coach the organization’s Texas Legends D-League squad.

▪ Shortly after taking the D-League job, Lieberman cold-called Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and asked for advice. “I remember watching his press conference after the Steelers won the Super Bowl and being impressed. I cold-called, and was hoping the person who answered the phone was over 20 years old. I got on the phone with the media director (Dave Lockett), and he knew about me. I said, ‘Thank you for being old.’ I explained why I wanted to speak to Mike – I have this new job, coaching men. … Mike calls me back and said, ‘I can’t believe you cold-called me, but I know all about you. I’m from Hampton, Va.’ So I went up there and spent a day with him.”

▪ Lieberman, 57, who is friends with Hammon, 38, lists Muhammad and Lonnie Ali among her closest friends and cites the following among her basketball influences: Jody Conradt, the late Sue Gunter, Billie Moore, Pat Summitt, Pat Riley, Dean Meminger, Bob Knight, Rick Carlisle and Tara VanDerveer (who would be a terrific NBA assistant, by the way).

▪ You can move Lieberman from league to league, from city to city, from coaching women to coaching men, but she’s not budging on the basics: The game can’t be played fast enough for her liking. She is a disciple of Riley’s Showtime Lakers. “(Kings coach) George (Karl) wants to play fast. He wants you to be free, he wants spacing, wants to attack, wants to make layups, wants to make threes, (generating) off your defense. And, of course, you have to rebound.”

▪ Kings assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a longtime presence in the community, said Lieberman reminded him of himself as a first-time NBA assistant. “She’s in learning mode,” he said, “trying to figure out George, the system. One of the things I really like about Nancy is that if she doesn’t understand something, she asks questions. She isn’t afraid. She seems very comfortable talking to us and talking to the players.”

▪ During a conversation a few weeks ago, the Mavericks’ Nelson – the inspiration behind the tie-dyed T-shirts that helped finance two of Lithuania’s Olympic appearances – offered one final thought on Lieberman: He predicts she will be an NBA head coach. “I’ll be very disappointed if she’s not,” he said.

Night for history

  • What: Female coaches will be on opposing NBA benches for the first time
  • Who: The Kings’ Nancy Lieberman and the Spurs’ Becky Hammon
  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Sleep Train Arena
  • TV: CSNCA
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