Nancy Lieberman had a friendship with Andre Emmett like no other. After Emmett’s passing, Lieberman has made it her mission to give back to the community in honor of him.
“I would do anything for him,” Lieberman said. “He was like a son to me and we became amazing friends in the last two years.”
Lieberman and Emmett were both a part of the BIG3 basketball league, founded by hip hop artist Ice Cube. Lieberman was the head coach of Power while Emmett played for 3’s Company. Despite being on separate teams, Emmett and Lieberman first met at an airport in 2018 when they both took one of the earliest flights possible as they were traveling for the BIG3.
This became something that was frequent, as both Lieberman and Emmett preferred to take the first flight when traveling. Through this, the two formed a bond that could not be matched. Lieberman and Emmett would ask passengers to switch seats so they could sit next to each other and would talk about everything ranging from family to sex – nothing was off-limits for the two.
“He was 37, I was 60. We were really great friends,” Lieberman said. “I didn’t go to clubs, but we got each other and people would go, ‘So how does that work?’ It works because our heart is red, we bleed red and it didn’t matter that I was white. It didn’t matter if he was African American.”
Emmett played basketball for Texas Tech from 2000-04, averaging 17.6 points and six rebounds a game, according to sports-reference.com. He remains the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,256 career points in his four seasons as a Red Raider.
Emmett’s time as a Red Raider was one of many connections Lieberman had with Tech. One connection that some may not know about involves Lieberman’s son, T.J. Cline. Cline played basketball for Richmond and was named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year after averaging 18.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, according to sports-reference.com. Two of the worst games of Cline’s career were played against Tech.
Along with Tech giving her son trouble in college, Lieberman also had connections with current head coach Chris Beard and former head coach Bob Knight. Lieberman met Beard in 2017 when her foundation opened a Dream Court in Lubbock and he was the MC of the event.
She has known Knight for a little longer. When Lieberman was 19-years-old, she was a member of the women’s Pan American Games team when he was the coach of the men’s team. Since first meeting him, Lieberman said she has kept in touch with Knight and his wife to this day.
“Bobby actually taught me how to start a sentence cursing and how to end a sentence cursing,” Lieberman said jokingly. “I wasn’t that proficient at that stage of my life.”
On one of their plane rides, Lieberman said Emmett told her he hated how hard Knight was on him in his time at Tech. As he reflected years later, Emmett told Lieberman that he was grateful and loved Knight for what he did for him.
“He loved Texas Tech like I loved Old Dominion University,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman had a decorated career at Old Dominion, averaging 18.1 points, 8.7 assists and 3.8 steals per game, according to odusports.com. She still leads the program all-time with 961 career assists and ranks second with 512 career steals. She also led the Lady Monarchs to back-to-back championships, posting a 72- record during the reign.
With Lieberman and Emmett both having successful careers in college, the two would joke with each other about their team’s accomplishments. When Emmett would talk about what he did at Tech, Lieberman would joke about the championship banners she helped her team achieve. This was just one of many instances of the duo’s humorous relationship.
Although Lieberman and Emmett’s relationship was full of jokes and sarcasm, the bond the two had was deeper than just the fun times.
“He was a giver, not a taker; he cared about people, he wanted to know your story, he was very curious,” Lieberman said.
In one of the memorable interactions Lieberman had with Emmett, he asked about her motivational posts on social media that she has been doing for over 10 years. On one of their plane rides, Emmett pulled up Lieberman’s social media and asked her what she was thinking when she posted each message for a deeper understanding. Lieberman said she admired the questions because not a lot of young people would reach out to find a deeper meaning.
“He had a heart of gold,” Lieberman said. “He was very deep. He was so intelligent.”
In 2018, Emmett and Lieberman’s teams played in the BIG3 Championship Game. A couple of minutes into the first half, a fight broke out between the teams. Lieberman said she was not going to let anyone hurt her guys, so she went in the middle of the scuffle, but Emmett grabbed her and pushed her to the side. She said Emmett told her he did not want her to get hurt.
Fast-forwarding to the Friday before Emmett’s death, he called Lieberman about getting his knee shot up with stem cells as she and her son had experience with it. She happened to be at Apex, the place where she gets it done, and they set his appointment up for the next Monday. Emmett then called her later asking if she would go with him to his treatment.
As Lieberman and Emmett had plans to go to the doctor Monday, she received a phone call around 7 a.m. The call was from someone in the BIG3 telling her that Emmett passed away. She added that the news was not processing at first, especially since the two had plans later that day.
“We lost a good human being,” Lieberman said. “I know people say he’s in a better place. I get that he’s with God, I love that he’s in heaven, but it hurts.”
Following the loss of Emmett, Lieberman sat with his mother to think of things they could do to honor him. On Feb. 17, Lieberman’s foundation ‘Nancy Lieberman Charities’ had its Dream Ball and started a scholarship which would send a kid from Carter High School, Emmett’s former high school, to college in his honor.
Emmett’s Foundation ‘Dreams Really Exist’ hosted an event over Christmas as well, and Lieberman and her foundation donated 420 bikes for young kids. The donations did not stop there, as Lieberman’s foundation will install a Dream Court in both Oak Cliff and Lubbock.
“All the young kids that are trying to create dreams like Dre did will have this court,” Lieberman said. “It will be a court of diversity, inclusion, opportunity, equity, teammates that don’t look like each other can get along because, you know, it’s a melting pot of humanity – basketball. It will embody everything Andre Emmett stood for in a place that was really impactful for him.”
Along with Lieberman’s contributions, the Tech community has done its share to honor the star guard. This season, the Red Raiders have worn a patch on their jerseys to honor the program’s all-team leading scorer. Tech also recognized Emmett at the Texas game on Feb. 29, framing his jersey as his family attended the game.
“He was my role model. He was my hero,” Lieberman said. “I wanted to be like him.”