Old Dominion unveiled a statue of Naismith Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman on Saturday, the first time the school has honored a former athlete.
Lieberman played for the ODU from 1976 to 1980, and helped lead the Monarchs to the AIAW National Championships in the 1979 and 1980. The statue is located between the school’s Mitchum Basketball Performance Center and Chartway Arena.
ODU hopes that eventually other statues of former sports stars, such as the late Anne Donovan in women’s basketball and Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, captain of the Kings of Kings career strike, will join the Lieberman statue.
The school also named part of a street on its campus in Norfolk, Virginia, “Nancy Lieberman Pass” to honor the player considered one of the greatest point guards in ring history.
The Naismith Hall of Fame point guard award given annually in women’s college basketball bears Lieberman’s name.
“I’m close to Old Dominion and will be king for life, for everything they did for me when I grew up there,” Lieberman told ESPN. “Anyone who sees this statue may see my accomplishments, but I hope it goes beyond just winning trophies and being a good teammate.
“You have your biological family, then you have your chosen family. Old Dominion has become my chosen family.”
As Lieberman and Pepsi Stronger together set up a court in a Norfolk recreation center, the third court opened in that area and the 116th donated by Nancy Lieberman’s charities in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the United States.
Lieberman, 64, coached women’s and men’s professional basketball. She now works for the Oklahoma City Thunder broadcast. She was a member of the US silver medalist team at the 1976 Montreal Games, the first time that women’s basketball had competed in the Olympics. Lieberman had turned 18 two weeks before the start of the 1976 Olympics and had formed the 1980 team that would have taken part in the Moscow Games if the Americans had not boycotted them.
Lieberman averaged 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists on ODU. Professionally, in the 1980s I played in two professional short-lived women’s leagues, WBL and WABA, and the men’s league, USBL. She also played with the Washington Generals, who toured with the Harlem Globetrotters.
And at the age of 38, she played in the first season of the WNBA in 1997 for Phoenix Mercury. She returned for one game in the 2008 WNBA season, appearing at the Detroit Shock at age 50.
She was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1996 and was inducted into the inaugural Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. Lieberman credits the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali with helping her become self-confident.
“I needed the sport…it gave me direction,” she said. “I was shaped and brought out a lot by Muhammad Ali and my friendship with him. At first, I didn’t understand when he said, ‘You have to be a hero every day.’ He was teaching me how to be that person, a giver and not a taker. I did my job in court, but I care. More with what I do off the field for the people.”
Lieberman, a native of New York City, was asked about the progress women’s basketball has made in her life and the importance of honoring players with things like on-campus performances. Las Vegas Aces statue Aja WilsonThe 2017 NCAA Champion who won her second WNBA title and MVP award this year, was inaugurated outside the Colonial Life Arena at the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2021, three years after her graduation.
Lieberman’s statue was unveiled 42 years after her college career ended.
“We are still fighting on many different levels,” Lieberman said. “Am I happy [a statue] In 2022? yes. Could it have gone up earlier? Sure, but as women athletes we weren’t a priority. And I’m not saying this about Old Dominion, but in the consciousness of most people. Old Dominion has been great for me.
“As women, we have strengths in terms of numbers, sure. Economic strength. And we will be able to continue translating that into sports because sports is work. But there are still jobs that I can’t get as a woman. It’s hard to believe because I think I’ve broken through enough levels. But If you are a strong woman, it is scary for some people. You still have to be who you are. And you have to use the strength that God has given you to help others.”
Lieberman said that as much as she loved to play the WNBA during her presidency, she was proud to be part of the esports generation that launched in the 1970s modern women’s collegiate basketball as we know it.
“What we did was perfect timing,” Lieberman said. “We’re part of setting the pace, the mission, and paving the way for the next generation. Someone had to do it. We were the right people at the right time. I have no regrets.”