NORFOLKVirginia — Most members of the Old Dominion University community know Nancy Lieberman as a confident, outgoing woman who speaks her mind. The former basketball star turned entrepreneur has been a coach, entertainer, businesswoman and a passionate, articulate voice for women’s sport.
But she wasn’t like that when she came to ODU in 1976 at the age of 18.
She was calm and hostile. She was so angry with her difficult childhood that during practices she “beat my teammates every day”.
On November 5, when she spoke before the ODU unveiled a statue of her, she admitted to a crowd of around 300 well-wishers “that when I arrived at Old Dominion, I was broken”. .
Thanks to her teammates, coach Marianne Stanley, a village of friends and three very special people who became her surrogate family, Lieberman was healed at ODU.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t have the life I have now, if I hadn’t come to Old Dominion University,” she said.
Nicknamed “Lady Magic” upon her arrival at ODU, she and her teammates did much to popularize the women’s game.
As a freshman, she led ODU to a 23-9 record, the best in school history at the time. In her last three seasons, she was paired with Stanley and their chemistry was electric. Teaming with Inge Nissen and later Anne Donovan, the Lady Monarchs won two national championships and one WNIT and 102 of 108 matches.
They put ODU on the national map.
“We were Team USA,” Lieberman said. “Everywhere we went, we had fans there.”
Debbie White, who ran ODU’s sports news staff for decades, said she took Lieberman, Nissen and Donovan to New York for appearances on talk shows including Good Morning America and the Today Show. “They were so hot. Everybody wanted to talk to them,” White said.
She became the first woman to play on a men’s professional basketball team, the first to coach a men’s team, and is something of a national celebrity.
Yet as a child, she struggled.
Lieberman grew up in a broken house in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, New York. His mother, Renee, was single and doing her best, but it was not uncommon for Lieberman to come home to a home with no electricity or food in the refrigerator.
His father was not a major factor in his life.
Her mother was a product of her time and tried to put Nancy in dresses and force her to play with dolls. Nancy would have nothing to do with it. Instead, one day, she made a helmet out of a New York Jets lamp and played football with the boys until the helmet broke.
When she turned to basketball, she took the subway and headed to Harlem to face much bigger and older men on the playgrounds. They were all African Americans who identified with a Jewish child with a chip on her shoulder and cared for her, often driving her back to Queens to make sure she was safe.
Lieberman didn’t realize it at the time, but she needed a surrogate family, people who would love and care for her. When she arrived at ODU, she met Harry Lozon and his wife, Pam, early in her freshman year.
They opened their house to him. They gave her a room, the keys to the house, and an open invitation to basically join their family.
“She had a tough life,” Pam said. “She didn’t have a bad life. She just didn’t come from much. She wanted a family. She wanted to be with Harry and me and the boys.”
Harry is an ODU Hall of Famer, a former men’s basketball star recruited by Sonny Allen who was initially put off by Lieberman’s attitude. But he soon realized that she needed to be fed.
“We loved him then and still love him,” said Harry.
This was evident when Lieberman spoke on Saturday morning just before the statue was unveiled.
She started crying when thanking the Lozons.
“In this life you can have a biological family and you have a chosen family,” she said. “They were my chosen family.”
At that time, she choked.
“They’re the only people who could make me do this,” she said of the tears. “I know most people think I’m a badass, which I am. But the fact is, Harry and Pam, you let me into your house. You took care of me. You took care of me. bought things.”
“You treated me like you treated Jason and Chad,” she added, referring to the Lozon kids. “You opened your home and your heart to me. I’m so grateful to you.”
She also found a surrogate sibling, albeit in an unusual way.
She was hanging out with ODU men’s basketball players at the Webb Center during a thunderstorm when she noticed a guy coming up the outside steps with an umbrella that only had spikes – the fabric had been torn.
He fell down the stairs twice and ran in the door, doing his best Jim Carey impression. He approached her, and she noticed that he had shoes on which the soles were not attached and had the initials TGIF written on the top. “I learned later that meant the toes had to go in first,” she said.
“He comes in and he pretends to snot me and do all this gross stuff, kind of roll me on the floor. I said, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ The guys are all laughing.”ew
“It’s Wes,” one of the players said. “He’s harmless.”
It was Wes Lockard, an ODU student and, she would learn, a prankster extraordinaire. Wes wore a Seagull outfit to basketball games to promote a local radio station and later became an award-winning mascot for a decade each with the New Jersey Nets and Miami Heat.
He handed out confetti and party noisemakers to the crowd the morning the statue was unveiled.
“Every time I see Charles Barkley he asks me if I’m still in touch with this guy who was this crazy mascot,” Lieberman said. “All these years later, Wes and I talk at least once a week.”
Lockard lives just north of Miami, not far from where Lieberman’s mother lived, and “he was nice to my mother,” she said. Renee Lieberman died this year
It seemed his unique sense of humor was just what she needed. Lockard spent almost as much time at the Lozon house as Lieberman.
“I was coming home and all my bras were in the freezer,” Pam said, shaking her head. “Wes was hiding my underwear in the stove.”
Pam remembers often coming home to find a mess after Nancy and Wes had a ketchup and mustard fight with the Lozons’ sons.
Pam said Lieberman yearned for Harry’s approval, for the love of a father figure.
“She wanted to hear Harry say she was fine,” she said. “She just didn’t want it. She needed it.”
Lieberman has not forgotten where she comes from. She did a lot for the kids who grew up in neighborhoods like Far Rockaway.
Nancy Lieberman Charities has raised millions of dollars for scholarships, running basketball camps and building outdoor basketball courts across the country. With the help of the Pepsi Stronger Together program, Lieberman has dedicated his 116e Dream Court at the East Ocean View Leisure Center on November 4. This is the third Dream Court in Hampton Roads.
ODU President, Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D; Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander; former athletic director Jim Jarrett and dozens of his old friends and former teammates were among those who gathered to witness the unveiling of the 6-foot-tall bronze statue of Lieberman just outside the Mitchum Basketball Performance Center .
Renowned sculptor Brian Hanlon designed the statue. When he met Lieberman at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame 20 years ago, he told her that “one day we’re going to put a statue of you on the ODU campus.”
“I thought he was crazy,” Lieberman said.
Hanlon and Lieberman praised President Hemphill and ODU Athletic Director Wood Selig for working with Hanlon and finding a prime location for the statue.
“They didn’t have to do that,” Lieberman said. “I’m so grateful to President Hemphill, Dr Selig and everyone who helped make this happen.”
Selig told the crowd that ODU had statues of lions, mermaids and Big Blue, “but this statue is the first on campus of a human.”
ODU and city officials also unveiled a street sign at the corner of Hampton Boulevard and 43rd Street where a portion of 43rd The street was renamed Nancy Lieberman Pass.
She thanked ODU graduate Alexander for renaming the street. “Our mayor is an ODU graduate,” she said. “He understands. He knows what a great university we have here.”
It shows how much Nancy is loved that ESPN sportscaster Jay Harris, an ODU alumnus and former member of the university’s Board of Visitors, traveled from Bristol, Connecticut, to host the event. Her mother, Ola Mae Harris, died the day before the ceremony.
“I told my other family I would be here,” Harris said. “Plus, I think my mom would have been crazy if I hadn’t done it.”
“Jay is my brother,” Nancy added. “For him to come here under these circumstances, it says a lot about the ODU family.”
“When I was 18, I didn’t know anything,” she added. “I knew I had to get out of my neighborhood. I needed to grow up. I needed another direction in my life.
“I didn’t have the confidence and self-esteem to be who I was really meant to be. Believe me, God doesn’t make mistakes. I was in the right person at the right time in the right job. of this life.
“I didn’t get it at 18. But I understand now.”
Largely because of his ODU family.