Lindsay Gottlieb isn’t just a great women’s basketball coach — she’s a great basketball mind that has earned the opportunity to coach the world’s best plays in the NBA
Pro sports’ newest pioneering female, hired as an assistant coach by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, is no stranger to the gender prejudice that she’s sure to face.
What was strange, however, was the source of the bias that first greeted Lindsay Gottlieb when she took over as head coach of the UCSB women’s basketball team 11 years ago.
It came from the Gauchos themselves.
After having played for Mark French, the retiring, professorial coach they reverently referred to as “Big Daddy,” the women of UCSB weren’t sure about playing for … a woman.
“All of our transfer players had come from basketball programs with women’s coaches,” veteran guard Sha’Rae Gibbons began, inferring unpleasant experiences.
She hesitated a moment, sensing the sexism that was tainting her words, before letting it all hang out:
“I don’t want to place a stereotype or a stigma on women coaches, but there is a sort of consensus about women and male coaches being able to separate certain emotions and connect the job to personal life and that sort of thing.”
Gibbons at least had the courage to say this right to Gottlieb’s face during a team meeting.
“I’m not an emotional person,” her new coach replied calmly. “I’m pretty steady and laid back.”
She then also chose her next words with care.
“Everyone looked at each other and started laughing,” Gibbons would recall later. “We obviously got someone great.”
Gottlieb will face many more naysayers who doubt her greatness as she goes boldly where no women’s collegiate coach has gone before – into the Star-Trekked, testosterone-torqued world of professional men’s basketball.
Few, however, have a higher basketball IQ than Lindsay Gottlieb. Few have a higher IQ, period, than the Ivy Leaguer from Brown University.
“She’s from a family of lawyers and judges,” said Kelly Barsky, UCSB’s deputy director of athletics. “She just wanted to take a completely different path.”
They met as young women on the basketball staff at New Hampshire – so young, that Gottlieb had to present a note from the athletic department every time she rented a car for a recruiting trip.
Her obsession with the X’s and O’s of her sport soon became the stuff of legend. When she returned from one Gaucho recruiting trip in 2010, she found that someone had removed the Mark Rothko painting from her kitchen wall.
“In its place, as my birthday present, was this giant erase board,” said Gottlieb, who coached at UCSB from 2008 to 2011. “I guess somebody knows me pretty well.”
That passion continued at Cal, where she led the Golden Bears to the NCAA Tournament seven times in eight seasons. Her 2013 team got all the way to the Final Four.
Gottlieb, who has often attended the practices of the Golden State Warriors, admitted to the Tribune News Service hat an NBA career has “been a lifelong dream.”
“I’m not surprised by this,” said Barsky, who came to UCSB as Gottlieb’s top assistant coach in 2008. “Lindsay has dedicated her life to the game, and serving the game, and serving the athletes that play it … and I’m excited for her.”
Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman actually offered the job to Gottlieb a month ago while they were at the NBA’s pre-draft camp in Chicago.
She recalled him saying, “We want to build an organization with the Cavaliers that’s about culture and bettering players and building through development … We want to put the best staff together, and we want you to be on that staff.”
“I was blown away,” she said.
Big Daddy himself vouches for Gottlieb’s credentials as a teacher of the game.
“Cori Close is another really good example of someone who not only can talk the talk and recruit really good players, but can also make them that much better,” French said, referring to the former Gaucho who is now the head women’s coach at UCLA. “Lindsay is the type of coach who can take a player and make their cross-over dribble better, and their jump shot better.
“I can’t speak for the coaches in the NBA, but certainly not all college coaches are that interested in doing that.”
Women referees broke through the NBA’s glass ceiling in 1997. League commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t understand why it took so much longer for women to break into the coaching ranks.
“It’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit of being a man, as opposed to a woman,” he said.
Silver said his goal is to someday have half of the league’s refereeing and coaching jobs staffed by women.
It makes good sense to professor French.
“If the NBA really wants the very best people,” he said, “how can eliminating half of the population from the pool of candidates be smart?”
The Ivy Leaguer from Brown is about to answer that.