As I was sitting inside of the fluorescent-lit conference room in the depths of the Barclays Center, I couldn’t help but notice that there was both an eager yet reserved atmosphere. The BIG3 champion was just crowned and they were in the midst of showering each other with champagne in the locker room. On the court, there was joy, relief, and pride amongst team Power. Once back in the locker room, that started to turn to tears, reflection, and the realization that barriers have been broken.
Glen “Big Baby” Davis led the charge into the room where the press sat waiting to talk to the champs of the Big3’s second season in existence. He came in with the exuberance of a child on Christmas Day while going back and forth with Sway from the radio show Sway in the Morning. The rest of the team followed with the same level of excitement. Then, they finally sat in front of the microphones and a lot of emotions and opinions were spilled all over.
Corey Maggette was the first to speak about returning from a torn Achilles and becoming the MVP of the league while winning a championship with a group that he was very close with. Maggette and Quentin Richardson were both friends for years, even before high school, and then Cuttino Mobley joined them when they were all a part of the Los Angeles Clippers. Add in Chris “Birdman” Andersen, Davis, Ryan Gomes, and Nancy Lieberman, and this team became so tight-knit that they even took care of each other’s kids as Lieberman said.
They didn’t just stop at complimenting each other and talking about their stories together. Being the family that this team is, they even brought the team trainer to the podium so that they could recognize her as well. Then, the question that started all of the emotions and passionate speeches was asked.
Amy Trask, Chairwoman of the Board of the BIG3, asked an obviously sarcastic question to the entire team.
She asked, “So does this mean women are finally allowed in sports?”
Now, if you don’t know Amy Trask, she served as an executive and eventually a CEO of the Oakland Raiders for almost 30 years. You can start to understand the sarcasm now.
Quentin Richardson took the question seriously even though he knew she was joking. Richardson went on to give some of the highest praise a player could ever give a coach. To start his speech, Richardson said:
“I’ve played for some great coaches. I know Larry Brown, Stan Van Gundy, and she’s[Nancy Lieberman] right there with ’em!”
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) August 25, 2018
This isn’t even close to Lieberman’s first rodeo. She’s had stints in the WNBA, NBA G-League, and the NBA. Richardson described how other teams may not have taken practice seriously in this league, but Lieberman always had a practice plan, a game plan, and was ready to always give information on how to beat the other teams in the league.
She wasn’t only making her team better, but she was putting together thorough scouting reports. The way that every player spoke of Lieberman makes it easy to see her working with a professional team of any gender.
While she was asked plenty of times about breaking those barriers being a woman coaching a men’s team, she was as humble as they come. Gender was something she didn’t even want to talk about, she wanted to praise her team and give all the respect to those around her.
Gender barriers weren’t the only barrier or social norm to be broken. On the coattails of players in the NBA speaking on mental health, Davis had his own story about his own depression. Exiting the league the way he did took a mental toll, and this league and this team helped him through that. Many people dismiss these kinds of mental illnesses with athletes just because they make tons of money. If a teary-eyed person who just won the championship of a professional sports league doesn’t show you that these kinds of things are real, then I’m not sure what will.
On top of that, most of the guys on this team are not big social media users. I know, you probably read that making a face like “who cares?!” Well, in today’s world, that’s a rare occurrence. They’re not listening to the hundreds of thousands of basketball fans that think this is some joke league that doesn’t deserve anyone’s true attention. Instead, they’re all focused on the competition and beating the team in front of them like every athlete is programmed to do. After winning the championship, Richardson even said that the feeling was similar to winning a ring in the NBA. Yes, the NBA is the pinnacle of any basketball player’s career, but that doesn’t mean the excitement and love of the game ends there for any of these guys.
Finally, there was a realization by a lot of people online when pictures were snapped of Cuttino Mobley while at the podium. Something as simple as his fingernails being painted caused many people to question his sexuality and in turn, they tried to discredit his body of work just because of it. Nancy Lieberman came swooping in to defend her player with a truly inspirational comment:
“I will enlighten you. Stop judging people. His beautiful daughter Sam loves to paint daddy’s nails before a game and daddy is so self confident and loving of his daughter he will do anything to make her happy. I will lineup with that man any day of the week. Let me further break it down for you. He do what he do in the name of love. Try it!”
Go ahead and preach that great word, Nancy! All in all, if this team didn’t entertain you on the court, I hope a peek at their stories inspired or touched you. This was a fantastic group of professionals coming together to achieve one goal. They are now champions and no one can take that away from them!