Without a scheduled conference, Nancy Lieberman could have witnessed the tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people.
The Hall of Fame women's basketball player and coaching pioneer had planned to fly to Los Angeles, take his helicopter to the Mamba Sports Academy, and work with Gianna a week after her death and speak to Bryant the night before the crash , While attending this conference, her son T.J. Cline called out in tears and informed her of the news. She considered before answering the call that she might have had on board.
"If [Bryant] had called me on Saturday and I'm sitting near Dallas [with no plans]and he says, "Come to Los Angeles, watch Gianna play. I would go, there is no doubt about it," she said in Chelsea Piers on Tuesday night. "I couldn't breathe [when I heard the news], I didn't know if I would go to the hospital.
"It's so sad. I'm just broken and devastated. I don't know if I've cried so much for years just because of the closeness I had to him."
Lieberman and Bryant had come very close over the years because Bryant had supported women's basketball. She was the first woman to coach a professional men's basketball team in November 2009 when she took over the Texas Legends, then the NBA Developmental League.
Lieberman later became the second woman to work as an NBA assistant at the Mavericks. Lieberman, now acting as a television analyst for the pelicans, sat with Bryant and his daughter in the women's final four last year. They last saw each other at the US Open this summer.
"He felt so comfortable in retirement," she said. "I always told him that he had the Mamba mentality on the court, but he had the Mamba mentality of love, kindness, intention and passion outside the court. I loved both Kobe Bryants. "
Lieberman was one of the winners at the 40th Thurman Munson Awards Dinner on Tuesday evening. She couldn't help but find similarities between Munson and Bryant, great athletes who died too soon. Munson died at the age of 32 in a plane crash on a day off in the baseball program. After two World Series titles and seven All Star games, his career was cut short.
"I know what Kobe did was exactly what Thurman did. He loved his wife and he loved his children, ”said Lieberman. "[Bryant] Thurman Munsons and his legacy were well aware. They were cut from the same fabric. You were tough. They could be tough on their teammates. They would take you to another level. I get it. Size is not for the gentle. "