With all that’s going on as Week 7 of the BIG3 officially launches us into the season’s stretch run, it’ll be easy to miss something pretty special that will happen when Power plays Tri State on Saturday at 2:00 EST.
Nancy Lieberman will obviously be coaching Power. In addition, Lisa Byington will be handling play-by-play duties, and the officiating crew will be entirely female.
Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was one of the best female basketball players during her playing days, and also spent a summer as a member of the Lakers’ Summer Pro League team in 1981.
Since her playing days ended, Lieberman has served as a head coach in the WNBA, was the first-ever female head coach of a G-League team when she took over as the head coach of the Texas Legends, and later became an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings.
She was the first-ever female head coach in the BIG3, and promptly became the first woman to ever win a championship coaching an all-male team when Power won the BIG3 Championship in 2018.
To say Coach Lieberman belongs on the sidelines is an understatement – during games, she never sits down, she’s always talking at full volume during the run of play or having a quick sidebar with a player if he needs one, and makes sure her team sticks to her gameplan with the help of her trusty whiteboard, which must get as much use as any in the BIG3.
Lisa Byington, who will be doing play-by-play, has opened a fair number of doors in her own career. She has broadcast for nearly every network you can think of, and in 2017 became the first female play-by-play announcer to call a college football game on the BIG Ten Network.
In 2021, she became the first female play-by-play announcer to call NCAA Tournament games for CBS and Turner Sports. That same year, she became the first woman to become a full-time play-by-play announcer for a major professional sports team when she became the primary play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Bucks. She played two years of soccer and four years of basketball at Northwestern and made the NCAA Tournament in both sports.
The officiating crew will be comprised of three women:
Gerta Gatling has served as an official in both professional leagues and 10 different women’s College Basketball conferences. She was a member of the inaugural class of the NBA Referee Development Program, and in the summer of 2021 became the first female referee hired by the BIG3. Gatling played D-1 basketball at Stony Brook University and works as a software engineer off the court.
Stephanie Barksdale has refereed games in the G League as well as several top NCAA Conferences. She also spent seven years as a referee for FIBA, and recently completed her first season as an official with the BAL (Basketball Africa League.)
Kristyne Esparza got her start in officiating in 2012 while completing her Master’s degree in Coaching & Athletic Administration. She referees Division I basketball, working in over 9 different Conferences. In addition to her work with the BIG3, she also officiates games for the G-League. In the off season, she spends her time as a high school substitute teacher.
When asked for comment, Coach Lieberman replied that “Me being Head Coach of Power, Lisa doing TV and having a female officiating crew is normal in the BIG3!”
Obviously, having a female coach, broadcaster, and officiating crew doesn’t happen every day, but Coach Lieberman’s point was well taken. This is the legacy of Title IX, which turned 25 years old last month.
It’s also the budding legacy of the BIG3, which is in its fifth season. The league was founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz. The League Commissioner is Hall-of-Famer Clyde Drexler. The Chairman of the Board is Amy Trask, the former CEO of the Oakland Raiders. To say diversity is a goal for the BIG3 would be misstating things just a bit – in the BIG3, diversity is simply a fact of life.
The best person, regardless of race or gender, gets the job, and that’s becoming more normal with the passing of each year thanks to legislation like Title IX and forward-thinking leagues like the BIG3.