As she stood on a pristine new basketball court in Oak Cliff, Nancy Lieberman had a lot of memories rushing back to her.
The hall of famer got to Dallas in 1980 and has made her home here for most of the last 40-odd years. Her first home was not far from the former Zumwalt school, which now is the Dr. Frederick Douglass Todd Sr. Middle School.
So when the Nancy Lieberman Charities partnered with the Dallas Wings and the Naismith Memorial basketball hall of fame to create the Dream Court at the school, it was like coming full circle.
And it couldn’t have happened on a better weekend as the women’s Final Four will be played at American Airlines Center and the hall of fame will announce its 2023 inductees – including Dirk Nowitzki – down the road in Houston at the men’s Final Four.
Texas is the hub of the basketball universe.
That made Thursday’s ribbon-cutting – done by kids from the school – at the outdoor court all the more meaningful for Lieberman, who will have a busy weekend attending events at both the Hall of Fame announcement and the women’s Final Four games Friday and Sunday.
“When I got here in 1980, Old Dominion had just won our second championship,” Lieberman said. “And I was drafted by the Dallas Diamonds. I asked a realtor where I should live. She said: Nancy, you want to go north.
“I said: What’s north? She said: Well, white people.”
Being a New Yorker, that didn’t sit well with Lieberman and she asked what’s south of downtown Dallas.
“She goes: Well, you don’t want to go south. It’s predominately black.
“I said, I would like to go south. And I bought a home in Oak Cliff and that’s kind of where I cut my teeth in Dallas, Texas. This court is really, really special to me because this is my community of choice – I’m not being forced to say it’s my community.”
The unveiling of the new court was timed to coincide with the Final Four. Dignitaries from the Wings, including CEO Greg Bibb and Natasha Howard, Dallas Police chief Eddie Garcia and numerous former college and pro players.
The new court is the 120th that Lieberman’s charitable foundation has built, many in the Metroplex, but others across the country.
“It’s an important chance to keep the kids in our city busy and active,” said Garcia. “It’s also important to build relationships between our youth and our police department. We can’t tell our kids not to do this, without giving them positive things that they can be doing.”
The Wings are playing a big role in this weekend in Dallas with the Final Four featuring South Carolina, Iowa, LSU and Virginia Tech. The semifinals are Friday and the championship game is on Sunday.
From the Wings’ point of view, the court opening was a nice compliment to a great weekend for women’s basketball.
“There’s tons of data out there that shows the link between children who are athletically involved to having success later in life,” Bibb said. “It’s our mission to keep balls in hands of kids for as long as possible. And in middle school, which is where we are, particularly, it’s a critical age where we see a significant drop-off in terms of athletic participation, specifically with young girls.
“So anytime we can help out to create the opportunity to keep that ball in the hands of kids, most notably young girls, we’re all for it.”
And anything that brings more attention to the women’s game is essential for growing the sport among young players.
“Dallas is the center of the basketball universe this weekend,” Bibb said. “I think the opportunity to platform about this good piece of news today is greater than it would be at any other time of the year.
“I would say that the NCAA women’s final four is one of the biggest weekends of the year for women’s basketball. Then when you think about it being here in Dallas, our collective hometown, that’s a second piece. And the third piece is there’s never been more energy and excitement around women’s basketball than right now. If you see some of the numbers that have been coming out – there’s a great piece of data out there about the Iowa vs. Louisville Elite Eight game that had a larger audience on ESPN than any NBA game has had this year.”
In addition, resale of tickets for the women’s Final Four is running hig than it is for the men’s Final Four in Houston.
Bibb also announced that all the kids involved in the ceremony on Thursday will receive free tickets to the Wings’ home opener.
Lieberman, 64, is perhaps the only person who can claim to have won two Final Four championships and coached in the NBA, the G League and the WNBA.
She said building courts like the one in Oak Cliff is an honor for her and stressed the importance of young people using it, but not abusing it.
“This is your court,” she told the kids. “It’s being gifted to you. You have a responsibility to protect it. Don’t let people write on it or tear it apart. You can just say, We want to have this for decades because once you finish playing here, another group of kids are going to play here. And that’s going to be your legacy. A legacy is not about who you are, it’s what you do for other people.”
And, of course, it’s a special weekend every year the Final Four is played as Lieberman is largely responsible for bringing women’s basketball into the new generation.
She said the things she’s seeing from the teams and players in the Final Four this year are heartwarming.
“The Final Four is everything,” Lieberman said. “It’s not just about the NCAA. The NCAA took it to another level. And I’m so proud of that. But Old Dominion was a two-time national champion. We were actually the first team ever to play on live TV, the championship game, in ’79 and ’80.
“I had my time. This is their time. I fan-girl over Dawn Staley and South Carolina. I’m so thrilled for Caitlin Clark, who just won the Leiberman Award again for point guard of the year, second year in a row. She’s amazing. All the young women in this tournament, I just think it’s amazing to see them play.”
And amazing to see the game continue to grow with women, as well as men.
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