MARCH | APRIL 2019 63 “Helping the kids through the game that I love has been so fulfilling.” - TJ “Sports are the great connector. If you can play, you can be my teammate.” - Nancy For legendary basketball star Nancy Lieberman, “Basketball and sports have become for me the single most important part of my childhood.” Growing up in New York with a single mom who at times struggled to keep the lights on and food on the table, Nancy found her outlet in basketball; it was when she was happiest. For her son TJ Cline, the circumstances were much different. By the time he was born, his mom had been named national player of the year twice in college, com- peted and won an Olym- pic silver medal on the U.S. women’s team, and had been the first woman to play in a men’s professional league. As a child he saw her play in the WNBA, coach the Texas Legends, and become only the second woman to serve as an assistant coach in the NBA. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986, and now she’s the head coach of the all men’s team Power in the Big 3 League. They won the 2018 championship, reminding us all as Nancy says, “Women can coach men and win.” Nancy has learned a lot of lessons through basketball—re- sponsibility, accountability, how to compete—and she wanted TJ to participate in sports to learn the same. When asked if he felt pressure to play basketball, however, T.J. says, “Honestly never.” Since he was able to choose it for himself, he adds, “I think it helped me love the game even more.” It wasn’t until high school that he really got serious about playing but says that whether he scored 50 points or 0, she just told him she loved him. Now he can’t imagine himself doing anything else. He went on to play in college and is currently playing in the Is- raeli Premier League outside of Tel Aviv and traveling around the globe doing what he loves. Being the son of a basketball legend (his dad played professionally as well) has its advan- tages. “Sometimes I sit back and watch film with her, and she points out stuff I’d never even see,” TJ says. Sharing the love of basketball has given the mother and son “another level of relationship,” according to Nancy. She is extremely proud of TJ and grateful for his success, but she’s even more proud of the man he’s become. She says it’s his “quiet strength” that she admires. She’s had the opportu- nity to see his dedication to being a strong role model and a “real giver” through projects of his own as well as through her own non-profit Nancy Lieberman Charities. To date the charity has sent 54 high school seniors to col- lege, touched the lives of 3.1 mil- lion children through their Dream Courts in inner cities, and affect- ed countless children through her basketball camps that teach healthy living, the importance of education, and life skills within the context of learning the game she loves. TJ thinks the charity work he’s done with his mom is the real family business. “Helping the kids through the game that I love has been so fulfilling,” and he says “I’ll do this ‘til I die, and then my kids will.” Nancy realized herself early on that sports are “the great connector. If you can play, you can be my teammate,” regardless of age, gender, color, or religion. She’s overcome so many stereotypes herself as a Jew- ish woman in a male-dominated industry and wants to instill the confidence in kids that they can overcome their obstacles, too. “I sure as heck can get out there and change a kid’s life,” Nancy says. It’s a lesson she’s passed along to TJ, who says, “The biggest thing we share is the belief that if I can help even one kid, I’ve done my job.” Gratitude, mutual respect, understanding the value of work- ing hard, knowing the importance of making a difference— Nancy lives these principles every day and has obviously passed them along to her son. “I wanted to be my son’s hero,” Nancy says. She need not worry—she is, and now he’s certain- ly a worthy hero to others.