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Lindsay Gottlieb grew up surrounded by lawyers but decided sports would be her thing.
“I pretty much just wanted to be playing ball all the time,” she said.
Gottlieb, 41, is a native of Scarsdale, N.Y., and used her love of the game to make history. More accurately, history chose Gottlieb, as she was named an assistant on John Beilein’s coaching staff with the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Before that, she was the women’s coach at California for eight years.
So that makes Gottlieb the first woman to jump from a college to an NBA bench.
Beilein will also be coaching in the NBA for the first time after 12 years at Michigan. The addition of Gottlieb only makes the Cavs’ staff more diverse. Along with Beilein and Gottleib, former Memphis Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff was hired as lead assistant. His father, Bernie Bickerstaff, is a longtime coach and now the Cavs’ senior advisor.
All report to general manager Koby Altman, who has been aggressive and intriguing in shaping the Cavs in the post-LeBron James era.
It was Altman, Bickerstaff and Beilein who met with Gottlieb and sold her on the job. All three men had admired her work from afar — as Cal finished 25-10 in her first season. That made Gottlieb the first Cal women’s coach to compile at least 20 wins in her debut.
“She has an extensive track record of success and growth with her teams and players and has also been a strong culture-driver as a core part of that,” Altman said. “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.”
GRASPING THE GAME
Most of Gottlieb’s family members are Ivy Leaguers and lawyers. Her father was a New York state judge. But Gottlieb stuck to sports, and an easy road it was not.
She suffered an ACL injury and had to sit out her senior year of high school. She attended an Ivy League school of her own, recovering from her knee injury to play for Brown as a freshman.
But her mother died after her sophomore year, and Gottlieb decided to spend a year away and take her studies to Australia. It was there that she fell in love with the idea of coaching.
“I knew that it was the perfect thing for me because it combined kind of my nerdiness and love of the X’s and O’s with the ability to impact 18- to 22-year-olds in a really significant way,” she once told Cal Sports Quarterly. “To be able to do what I love, basketball, and have this intense impact on people, I felt that was it.”
Gottlieb returned to Brown for her senior season and served in the remarkably rare role of player/assistant coach. That was 1998-99, when her Brown teammates honored her with Team Heart and Soul Award.
After graduating with a degree in political science, Gottlieb took a job as an assistant coach at Syracuse. She went from there to the top assistant role at Richmond. In 2008, she took her first head-coaching job at UC Santa Barabara.
Her teams were viewed as overachievers that relied on each other in lieu of big-time star recruits. Three years later, she took the job at Cal.
As Altman pointed out, Gottlieb has always been a “culture” coach. In other words, her teams exhibited the type of fight and togetherness the Cavs are determined to instill in their own program.
That made Gottlieb and the Cavs an ideal fit.
“After meeting with Koby Altman, Coach Beilein and Coach Bickerstaff, I knew this was an organization I wanted to be a part of and a team I wanted to dedicate myself to,” Gottlieb said in a statement.
Now, she will go from coaching women in college to men who play the game for millions of dollars. But for Gottlieb, it’s still all about basketball, the game she has always loved, the game she clearly understands well.
“You may change roles. You may change schools. You may even change your role but go back to the same school you came from,” she once said. “But no matter what, this coaching profession is about people.”