The Real Reason USC’s Lindsay Gottlieb Left The NBA

The Real Reason USC's Lindsay Gottlieb Left The NBA 1

USC women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb is having a full “Hamilton” moment. The first female NCAA women’s basketball coach to make the leap from college to the NBA, spending two seasons as an integral part of J. B. Bickerstaff’s coaching team with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Gottlieb is on the movie again – this time taking on the challenge of reinvigorating USC’s neglected women’s basketball program. Gottlieb’s reason for leaving the NBA for college ball is simple, there has never been a bigger spotlight on women’s basketball and she wants to be among the thought leaders elevating the game. Lindsay Gottlieb wants to be in the room where it happens.

I first interviewed Lindsay shortly after the 2020 NBA season had been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A truncated-season into her NBA coaching career, becoming a head coach again was not on her mind. But a year later, contemplating her next move, Gottlieb knew she’d want to be at the helm once again. “If I could have controlled time I would have liked another year or two,” she said. “I didn’t know how I was going to feel about the NBA. Would I love it? Would I hate it? But my feeling was, ‘I think I’m going to want to be a head coach again before I do something else like front office or TV.” 


Gottlieb has made a career of big opportunities coming to her while tasking herself with being ready. Known for her detailed scouts of opposing teams Lindsay Gottlieb was right at home with the Cavs, mentoring young players and furthering growth of veterans. But Gottlieb, who spent eight seasons as Cal Berkley’s head coach, couldn’t pass up the prestige and promise of USC stating, “I was in no immediate rush. But when this opportunity came up, I realized you don’t always get to control time. When something so good comes you have to be ready to do it.”


Lindsay Gottlieb may not have been thinking about leaving the NBA, but USC’s storied history and deep commitment to sports beckoned her. “USC has it all,” she noted. “No. 1, USC has its unbelievable history. National champs ’83 and 84.  Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper,  the McGee twins. Then, the Lisa Leslie-era.” Gottlieb smiles as she says with awe, “You’re talking about the Mt. Rushmore of women’s basketball.”


But more than the school’s prestigious past, Gottlieb is focused on what she can do to dictate the program’s future as well as the path of the student-athletes she’ll be coaching. She explained, “They said to me, ‘This is your opportunity to make women’s basketball what you really want it to be.” Gottlieb calls that a “special” opportunity noting, “Whether you’re in the NBA, WNBA, women’s college, men’s college-that’s what you’re looking for.  That’s what we do. We build teams and we build programs.  To be able to do that at a great place with support is once in a lifetime.”


In speaking to Gottlieb again it’s clear that her ambition and drive are motivations, but the opportunity to mentor student-athletes is what she delights in most. Reflecting on the opportunity to shape the future of those she coaches Gottlieb said, “The NBA is about basketball and how you get people to be their best.  College is about that except it’s in this world where you are with them for all their development, from what they eat to the way they see the world. That is meaningful to me.”


There has never been a bigger spotlight on women’s basketball and Gottlieb is keenly aware that sidestepping the NBA for a return to college puts her at the heart of a movement. In fact she welcomes the opportunity saying, “It’s a critical time and I’m excited about being a part of the platform for women.  To be at this point, where there’s a push toward equity, I want to be in that fight.”

Image: Sportify It/Icon Sportswire

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