Photo Credit: ESPN
Nancy Lieberman appearing in ESPN's 2019 Body Issue.  Click to see the full 2019 gallery!

"Basketball is the greatest love story of my life. I fell in love with it at 10, and I'm still involved at 61. I've played on cement, I've played in the streets. I played in the WNBA at 39 and then came back and played in the WNBA at 50. I have eked out everything I can from this body."

Photo Credit: ESPN
Playing in the streets, I was called Fire because of my red hair and my fiery personality on the court. And I got to Old Dominion and I'd been throwing -- boom, boom, boom -- these passes for two years. My junior year, Magic Johnson was at Michigan State and he played in our men's ODU Classic. The headline in the Dallas Morning News after the tournament was, "Magic passes the ball like Nancy Lieberman. If he's Magic, she must be Lady Magic." And that's how it started.

In 1976, my freshman year at ODU, we won the silver medal in Montreal. It was the first time women's basketball was an Olympic sport. The fun part that not a lot of people know is that America couldn't get its medals unless I peed. I was selected for the drug test in Montreal. I was sitting in there and they're like, "Nancy, you've got to go to the bathroom." The woman from FIBA was sitting in the stall with me. I said, "I can't go to the bathroom with her sitting here." And Pat Summitt said, "Pee." All my teammates were like, "Pee, we want our medal." They were like, "Drink a beer." "I don't drink." "We'll get you something." "I don't want that." "Drink the apple juice and pee!" I was like, "I feel like you people are pressuring me." [Laughs] Finally I ended up doing my drug test, and America got its silver medals. They should thank me for peeing. [Laughs]

When I was growing up, I was a poor kid with no food, no father, no heat, no electricity. I ate fast food. But I was so athletic that you can just play through that. And it wasn't until I was training with Martina [Navratilova] in the early '80s that we started hitting nutritional routines and disciplines. And it really changed her career. It changed women's tennis. And from that time on, I always just thought, "This is how I want to live my life."

But by 1986 I was sitting in my house in Dallas crying because I thought, "Here I am, I'm one of the best basketball players in the world, and I have no place to play." There was no women's professional league, there was nothing for me. And then I got a phone call from a guy: "I'm with the Springfield Fame, and we would like you to come play for us." I was like, "The men's league?" Within days, I was in a uniform with my name on the back playing in an arena at the birthplace of basketball.

There's nothing like the game saying thank you. I can remember the day. My husband, Tim, kept saying, "Did they call yet? Did they call? Because they're going to call you by 11 to say if you've been inducted." I was so nervous. I was staring at the phone, praying it would ring, and it finally did. And they were like, "Nancy, congratulations. You're going to be in the Class of '96." It took my breath away that the game could honor a woman. We only had a handful of women in the Hall of Fame at the time. I didn't see myself up there with Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, because they were my heroes. And now I'm in the same Hall and they know who I am.

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