Navigating professional sports for women has always been met with the unwarranted questions of if we are up to the skill and work ethic of our male counterparts. From the U.S. women’s soccer team to the WNBA, the fight for equal pay is also at the forefront of the conversation of why women are not given the same opportunities even when proven that we can perform and excel at exceptional levels.
According to CNBC, WNBA superstar players only earn 20% of an NBA player’s minimum salary. Similarly, women of the U.S. soccer team have not only strongly expressed the gender pay gap in their respective sport, but are currently wrapped in a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation as a result. Even in the realm of coaching, there are still more male head coaches than there are women, including coaching women’s sports.
But, one league has set out to raise the standard of gender equality in the professional sports arena and “change the game”. Ice Cube’s Big 3 basketball league includes 12 teams led by a legendary coaching staff that includes WNBA greats Nancy Lieberman and Lisa Leslie. Lieberman, a Hall-Of-Fame former pro-basketball player, broadcaster, and one of the greatest women in American sports is the head coach of The Big 3’s “Power” team. Known as “Lady Magic” as a nod to Ervin “Magic” Johnson, Lieberman was the first woman to ever coach a men’s pro-basketball team in the NBA Developmental League and also one of only nine women to assistant coach in the NBA.
Ice Cube told CBS Sports that he’s about hiring the best possible person for the job, no matter the gender. “It doesn’t take men to coach men. Women can coach men just like men can coach women.”
Lieberman declared just how strongly she believed in the sincerity of Ice Cube and co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz choice in adding her as a part of this organization.
“People always talk about inclusion and diversity, but let’s do something about it,” Nancy told ESSENCE. “Diversity is inviting me to the party. Inclusion is inviting me to dance. Ice Cube invited me to dance,” she continued.
As Lieberman spoke of the league’s Commissioner, former NBA great Clyde Drexler, calling to extend a welcome to her as a head coach in the league, the immediate thought was placed into how she would be compensated in comparison to the male coaches. But, without hesitation, she filled the gap and quickly dismantled any doubt if this league was really about changing the structure of how we see men and women working hand-in-hand in professional sports.
“They told me, ‘you will make whatever the men make’. No negotiation. It was offered. I don’t know any league that has ever done that,” Lieberman affirmed.
Replacing Clyde Drexler as the Power’s head coach, Lieberman not only led the team to a victorious championship season in 2018 but was also voted Coach of the Year–an honor bestowed through votes from all of the players and coaches within the league.
It was in that same season that supporting the league as a spectator, Lisa Leslie found herself coaching from the sideline due to how exciting and entertaining she found the games to be. This ultimately led The Big 3’s Chairman of the Board, the former NFL Oakland Raiders CEO, and fellow panelist of the first-ever all women’s sports talk show “We Need to Talk”, Amy Trask, to extend a head coaching opportunity to Leslie.
Leslie, a four-time Olympic gold-medalist, former WNBA league MVP, and soon-to-be first-ever female athlete to have a statue in front of the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles, was beyond an obvious choice for The Big 3.
“When Amy told me that Ice Cube wanted to talk to me about the league I said, ‘Great! Let me know if you need someone to do broadcasting’.” Leslie laughed as she continued explaining that she thought they were interested in her for commentary, but when the idea of coaching became apparent, it awakened a different skill set for her to tap into.
“Yea, I played ball, but I don’t want to be in a box. I love Ice Cube because he saw that in me. We believed and worked together,” Leslie continued.
This belief was the perfect fit for The Big 3’s Triplet’s squad who Leslie led to a first championship this past 2019 season and also bestowed her the Coach of the Year award. With her leadership, former Captain for the team, Joe Johnson was scouted and recruited for another shot at playing in the NBA.
“As a Black woman, we are always trying to find our place and our space so I have to show up better. I have to show up prepared. I have to believe that there ain’t nobody that’s going to be better than me. Smarter than me. And with all of this, people are still asking, `How did you do it?”
With The Big 3 providing a much-needed blueprint that can extend beyond sports, there is no doubt that when women show up, not only can they call the shots, but they hit nothing but net.