Earlier this week, Nancy Lieberman discussed how her improbable comeback became reality. Now, in part two of her conversation with Stephen Litel, Lieberman gives her thoughts on the WNBA season prior to the Olympic break, as well as her thoughts on what will occur going forward.
SLAM: First of all, let’s discuss your thoughts on the Western Conference this year. Coming into the year, did you think it would be as crazy as it has been?
Nancy Lieberman: Right now, every team in the Western Conference is a possible playoff team. I mean, that’s the beauty of the WNBA right now. Anybody can get on a hot streak even though there are only eight or nine games left before the playoffs and sneak into the bottom half of the playoffs.
NL: Everybody knew this was a highly-touted draft year. You knew the players selected in the second round would come in and have some sort of impact on their teams, whether it was making players work harder in practice or providing bench depth to coaches.
We all anticipated getting Lisa Leslie back, there was some free agent movement and, of course, you have Candace Parker, Wiggins, Charde Houston, Anosike and Sylvia Fowles. I mean, it was pretty much the year of the bigs in college basketball. It was really an incredible class.
SLAM: Of course, you can’t count out the East either with teams like Connecticut, Detroit and New York. At this point, who do you feel is the best of the East?
NL: Well, I mean, I don’t think the Eastern Conference is too shabby. Certainly, the surprise of the Conference is Connecticut. Katie Douglas is in the trade with Indiana, but you get Tamika Whitmore. They lost Nicole Willingham through free agency to the Phoenix Mercury, who is an honorable and serviceable reserve. Margo Dydek is pregnant. With all the overhaul of the roster that they’ve had, it’s amazing that at the break they’re in first place.
Detroit didn’t expect to get into a brawl and lose two or three games in a row. The New York Liberty are just very gritty. Washington already made a coaching change since they didn’t like the direction of their team. Chicago lost Fowles for a good amount of time and her presence makes them much more of a playoff contender.
Five of the seven teams in the East are still in the mix and seven of the teams in the West are still in the mix.
SLAM: Has this year’s rookie class already proven to be the best rookie crop in history?
NL: Well, I think they’re going to have to complete the season, but I think they have shown they are tremendous impact players. It’s safe to say if they’re not the best class, they’re right there to be one of the best.”
SLAM: With the skills the rookies have shown this season, do you feel as if the WNBA is about to go to an entirely new level?
NL: I think a lot of people saw these kids play in college for four years, so they have their fanbase. You’d like to think that if someone was a fan of Charde Houston at UConn or Parker at Tennessee of Fowles at LSU, then those fans would take some sort of an active interest in watching them play in the WNBA.
We’re growing our sport every day. Our ratings are up on ABC, our ratings are up on ESPN and our attendance is up. In year twelve, the WNBA is doing all the things it should do to grow as a league. We’re looking at expansion and the other thing is that the players are getting better. We only have five original players left from 1997.
SLAM: I have to try to make you go out on a limb here. At this point, any prediction as to which team will win the WNBA Championship this year?
NL: I think in the preseason I picked Detroit and Los Angeles, but I reserve the right to change that now that Cheryl Ford has torn her ACL. That’s very, very damaging to Detroit. I do think the winner is going to come out of the West.
It could be Seattle. It very well could be Seattle. Lauren Jackson is amazing and she’s my MVP because she can do anything she wants on any given night.
SLAM: Finally, what are your thoughts on the growth and importance of the league from the beginning to today…and what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
NL: I think the WNBA is in a terrific position. It’s a league that deeply cares about the level of play, it cares about it’s fanbase and the players are all over their communities, doing appearances. They know that they have to go a little bit deeper than the men’s leagues out there and we are very aware that we have to continue to be fan friendly and play at a very high level.
I look at the NCAA tournament. It took 25 years. It wasn’t until 1993–when Sheryl Swoopes played and had her miraculous performance when she scored 47-points–that we sold the Women’s Final Four out.
I’m hoping that time is our greatest ally that the rivalries become deeper, we start getting second-generation fans by turning our children on to the game. My dream is that our ratings and are fanbase grow, so the league can expand and the talent base can explode.