Like many others, basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman registered her shock and sadness on social media in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death on Jan. 26. But Lieberman had a more personal connection with Bryant and his family than most people. Just two days earlier, she wrote on Twitter, Bryant had asked her to come out to his Mamba Sports Academy in California to help him coach his daughter Gianna’s team.
In fact, Lieberman said Monday night, had she not had a previously scheduled conference the weekend of Bryant’s death, she might have been on the helicopter that went down with Bryant, Gianna and seven others on board, killing all of them.
“If [Bryant] had called me Saturday and I’m sitting around Dallas [with no plans], and he goes, ‘Come to Los Angeles, come watch Gianna play,’ I would’ve gone, there’s no doubt,” she said in New York, per the New York Post. “I couldn’t breathe [when I heard the news]. I didn’t know if I was going to go to the hospital.
“It’s so sad. I’m just heartbroken and devastated. I don’t know if I’ve cried this much in years, just because of the proximity I had to him.”
In a sadly ironic twist, Lieberman was speaking as one of the honorees at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, named for the star Yankees catcher who died in a plane crash at age 32 in 1979.
“I know what Kobe was doing was exactly what Thurman was doing. He loved his wife and he loved his kids,” Lieberman said. “[Bryant] was very well aware of Thurman Munson and his legacy. They were cut from the same cloth. They were tough. They could be tough on their teammates. They would push you to a different level. I get it. Greatness is not for the meek.”
Lieberman was the first woman to coach a men’s professional team — the D League’s Texas Legends in 2009 — and the second woman to be named an NBA assistant coach, with the Sacramento Kings in 2015. She posted a photo of her with Bryant just before her first preseason game with the Kings.
She also used a locker next to Bryant’s when the Kings played the Clippers at Staples Center.
View this post on Instagram
Kobe and I had fun with this picture. Coaching w/Sac I used the @Lakers lockeroom as mine when we played the @Clippers I took this pix and shared it w/him I said "Kobe u wear heels?" Nancy are u going to put this on social media. No, Never, Lol Here it is. Love that man! @nba