Nancy does Dallas.
Nancy does commercials.
Nancy does it all for women's basketball.
Nancy Lieberman, the Dallas Diamond and the gem of the WBL, has been the coming attraction of women's basketball since she was 18 and went to Montreal as the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team. Now that she has top billing, she knows exactly what to do with it. This month, she will debut in her first national television commerical, for Johnson and Johnson. She appears in baby powder and a towel.
She does not think she is being sold as a sex object. "I'm being marketed as a woman athlete," she said. "It's nice to know that you can go out and play as hard as you want and still be a young lady."
Lieberman is a pro and she was one long before she signed her contract with the Diamonds. She says all the things a young lady should. The league is great. The league is good. The league will survive. But if it doesn't, she wouldn't mind getting into public relations. She's a natural.
Some athlets understand, intuitively, that telling the press to take a powder is not a smart thing to do. They know that nice things happen to those who look nice and talk nice, especially after 30-point losses. Cooperation can prolong marginal careers and open the proverbial "other doors."
Lieberman sized up the situation 22 years ago in the delivery room. She has been honing her delivery ever since. The kid from the "Rock" -- Far Rockaway, N.Y. -- went to the Garden to study Walt Frazier's cool. "I used to listen to who gave great quotes," she said. "Frazier: win or lose.
"If I have to lie, I'd rather not do it. A lot of people don't know what to say or when to say it. I don't like to say, 'No comment'.In fact, I never have said it."
She says that the only question she hasn't been asked is her bra size. Ask? She tells you. Groupies? They're there. Men and women? Uh-huh.
How does she handle the inevitable questions about sexual preference that all women athletes face? "I've been asked about it a lot, especially by male reporters," she says. "I tell them to ask my boy friend."
She was seeing a guy from SMU, but "things have gotten kind of hectic since the season started," she said. "Now, I just mix and match."
That and 26 points, nine rebounds, six assists a game is how you get to be the spokeswoman for your sport. Lieberman says, "You can identify a lot more with what I do than Darryl Dawkins tearing down a backboard. We're fresh. We're coachable. . . People are getting tired of watching NBA players who don't put out until the end of the game. And besides, we have a lot nicer legs than they do. . . I believe there is a great future in women's basketball." And if there isn't, well, there's a future in spokeswomen.
Which is what Lieberman became while leading Old Dominion University to national championships in her junior and senior years. When she first heard she was drafted by Dallas, she felt "sick to my stomach," she said. "I was going to the team that was the worst in the league. I felt I had paid my dues going to ODU, starting from nothing and building to the top."
But the Diamonds, who had the worst record in the WBL last year (7-28), are 21-9 now and leading the Coastal Division.
Lieberman says, "The biggest difference between college and the pros is the taxes." Those ought to be fairly high considering that she says she will. thave earned "probably a couple of hundred thousand dollars including endorsements" by the end of the year. A confidentiality clause in her three-year guaranteed contract with the Diamonds prevents her from disclosing its terms but Lieberman says she is the highest paid player in the league. A source close to Lieberman says she is receiving $100,000 a year for three years.
Lieberman incorporated herself last summer when she discovered "that Uncle Sam had decided to play basketball with me." She has a Nancy Lieberman-signature Spalding basketball, as well as contracts with Jordache jeans and with NBC to serve as a commentator for the AIAW basketball championships.
As Nancy Nichols, the general manager of the Diamonds, says, "She needs a vehicle for her performance or she wouldn't get the endorsements. She needs us as much as we need her."
Lieberman may never become the Billie Jean King of women's basketball, but she knows what it means to be a draw. The Diamonds' attendance has risen since her arrival (2,500 per game, compared with 1,600 per game throughout the league). "There is a lot of talent in the league," she says. "But somebody has to draw them in and let them know about the others. I'm going to be the a la , the savior of the league, like a la Dave Kingman."
Even Kong might have trouble supporting the WBL. Last year, two franchises, including the Washington Metros, folded during the season, and four other cut down their nets after the season. Sherwin Fischer, part owner of the Chicago Hustle, one of the remaining eight teams, and the new league commissioner, said, "I can honestly tell you that all the teams lost money last year." How much? "Between $250,000 and $450,000," he said.
The Minnesota Fillies have received only partial payments on their last three payroll checks.
It is indicative of how much Lieberman means to the league, as well as to the team, that when she missed a game last month due to a mixup in plane connections, it was bigger news than anything she could have done on the court.
The next game, the Diamonds drew the biggest crowd in their history, 6,300.
Unfavorable publicity is something Lieberman learned to live with long ago. Her first two years at ODU were hardly pastoral, particularly when a teammate publicly called her an "ornery little bitch."
Then she met Harry Lozon, who became a surrogate for Lieberman's father, who left the family when she was a child.
Lozon, the owner of a Norflok restaurant, was an assistant to Coach Pam Parsons during Lieberman's turbulent freshman year. He says she has changed 100 percent. "When Nancy first got here, she was, in my opinion, a very spoiled 18-year-old. She got everything she wanted because she was Nancy Lieberman the basketball player, Nancy Lieberman who played in the Olympics. She always had a gofer. She would say, 'Harry, I need a Coke.' I would say, 'I'm not going to get it for you. And while you're up, get me one.' And she'd get up."
When the transformation of Nancy was done, she stopped taping her good luck medal to her leg, the way she alway had before games, because, she said, "I didn't want to think I had to rely on it."
You don't need good luck or even a gofer when you can rely on yourself.