Women is...: Val Ackerman, Hoop Dreamer

Val Ackerman, Hoop Dreamer

profession: President, Women's National Basketball Association.

annual budget: Not divulged.

the basic story: This former college starting forward was tapped in 1996 to head up the new eight-team professional women's basketball league. Ackerman had joined the NBA in 1988 as a staff attorney.

the new league: WNBA teams will play regular 28-game seasons starting in June 1997, with playoffs to follow. Marquee players include 1996 Olympic teammates Rebecca Lobo, Ruthie Bolton-Holifield and Sheryl Swoopes, who will be sitting out the first season to have a baby.

born: Nov. 7, 1959, in Pennington, NJ.

education: BA, Political and Social Thought, University of Virginia, 1981. JD, UCLA School of Law, 1985.

the way up: A four-year college ball player at UVA, she was a two-time academic all-American. Post-college, she played a year of basketball for Cosne-sur-Loire, a French team, before going on to law school.

from the basketball court to the court of law: "I was very interested intellectually in going on to law school. I really looked on my experience in Europe as a life experience, to see the world." Post-JD, she went into private practice in New York City.
then what: Jumped into the NBA as a special assistant to commissioner David Stern. She was subsequently promoted to director, then vice-president of NBA business affairs.

the courtside view: Although she enjoyed playing, she doesn't wish she could join one of the WNBA teams. "I don't sit around and say, 'Gosh, I wish I could be out there on the court.' I feel very comfortable with my role."

why a women's NBA now: The NBA's never tried to develop a women's league before, but others in the U.S. have tried and failed. The WNBA will be competing with the American Basketball League, another women's pro league just launched last year. "There's been a great deal of momentum building," Ackerman says. "The Connecticut successes in 1995. The efforts of the women's Olympic team, not only what they did in Atlanta, but also in traveling the country. I don't think there could be any better foundation. It's important that momentum be sustained."
how the WNBA hopes to distinguish itself from the competition: "We are going to be delivering to women's basketball an unprecedented level of TV coverage -- three games a week on network TV in prime time, live. The proven track records of NBA teams will help women's basketball. We don't have to worry about completely reinventing the wheel."

the long view: "We have a five-year business plan. The network commitments are multi-year," she says. "We have somewhat modest expectations, early on. We realize we're going to have to build over time."

her fave women's basketball moment: "If you wanted to take a video snapshot of women's basketball at its best, [you would take] the women's gold medal game, when the U.S. beat Brazil in front of 35,000 people. There was great shooting, great ball-handling, great coaching and intensely competitive playmaking."

what the league means for women's b-ball: "Women who can be the best have the opportunity to chase their dreams."

household: She lives in New York City with her husband and their two daughters.

how her life would be different if she were a man: "My life may not have been any different, because my interest in sports would likely have propelled me into a sports career. I can't imagine a better sports career than the one I have."