Perhaps it’s because of the NBA’s deep affection for the WNBA, a league it has enthusiastically buttressed since its inception. But the fact of the matter is, NBA executives and coaches have always understood basketball is basketball and that it’s ridiculous to believe only men can play it, think it or coach it.
The Cleveland Cavaliers became the latest team to prove it by naming University of California coach Lindsay Gottlieb to head coach John Beilein’s staff.
“The Cavs put forth something that I hadn’t heard anyone else thinking about doing – wanting a sitting college coach to add value to their staff,” Gottlieb said during a conference call on Wednesday. “The idea that in Cleveland the notion is to win by building culture, developing players and growing together as a unit, all of those things really spoke to me. It’s an incredibly forward-thinking way of saying ‘For us to be as good as we can be we need different people with different thought processes.’ They really value what I’m going to be able to bring to the table.”
NBA teams have now hired eight female assistants – Becky Hammon (Spurs), Jenny Boucek (Mavericks), Chasity Melvin (Hornets), Kristi Toliver (Wizards), Karen Stack Umlauf (Bulls), Natalie Nakase (Clippers) and Nancy Lieberman (Kings).
And earlier this week, the Pelicans invited Swin Cash to join its front office.
What makes Gottlieb, 41, different is she’s the first women’s collegiate head coach named to a coaching staff. Gottlieb was a seven-time NCAA tournament head coach in her eight seasons with the Golden Bears. She also has coached in one Final Four.
“I also want to thank Cal for what has been an amazing job, and really my home and family, for the better part of 15 years,” Gottlieb said. “It is very difficult to say goodbye. The university leadership, the athletic department, my fellow coaches, staff and, most of all, our players have been wonderful and inspiring to work with. The program is in great shape and I have no doubt it will continue to have a high level of success.”
She is expected to sign a four-year contract, further evidence commissioner Adam Silver’s initiative for bringing women into his family is working.
“The vision for the Cavs’ future is compelling and I look forward to helping make it a reality,” Gottlieb said. “At the same time, on a personal level, I am honored to hopefully impact young girls and women to be empowered to pursue their own visions and to be inspired to turn them into reality as well.”
After naming Beilein as coach, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman began recruiting women’s basketball for someone to join his staff.
“The more we researched and got to know Lindsay, the more we came to understand that she would be an impactful part of where we want to go as a team,” Altman said in a statement.
After meeting Gottlieb, Beilein, the former Michigan head coach, became convinced she could help him and he joined forces with Altman to bring her to Cleveland.
“I am excited to have a coach with Lindsay’s experience as a part of the new coaching staff with the Cavaliers,” Beilein said in a statement. “Lindsay truly values and embraces player development and a culture of winning basketball habits.
“After sitting with her, it was easy to see how she will connect quickly with our staff and our players, and we all benefit because of that connection. I’m looking forward to merging all of her years of experience and vision for the game with our current and future coaching staff.”
Gottlieb already has friends in the NBA. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr has invited her to a number of practices over the years.
“I’m a transplanted Cal fan since I’ve had two kids there,” Kerr said Wednesday. “I’m disappointed for Cal that they’re losing such a dynamic person and a great coach, but I’m thrilled for Lindsay. What a great opportunity and a great hire by the Cavaliers. She’s a wonderful person and a hell of a coach.”
Now in its second offseason following the second departure of Lebron James, the Cavaliers are continuing to prove they believe there is another path to success. In Beilein and Gottlieb, they’ve now shown the NBA there is also another way to think.
“It’s fate that it circles back and I get to be around him (Beilein),” she said. “John Beilein is one of the five best minds, an unbelievable teacher or the game. The collective pull is always more impressive than the sum of the parts. You can’t find one person in the basketball world that has a negative thing to say about the guy.”
During her conference call, Gottlieb admitted she’d always been one to dream big. She once wanted to be the Yankees shortstop or a U.S. Senator. She said when she was 12, she made her family watch the NBA Draft lottery believing she’d be a general manager when she grew up.
“If your dreams don’t scare you then they probably aren’t crazy enough,” Gottlieb said.