Val Ackerman’s trip to China for the 2008 Olympics will be memorable for several reasons.
For one, both the men’s and women’s teams won gold medals, which was gratifying for Ackerman (Col ’81) in her role as president of USA Basketball.
For another, she learned she had been tapped to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“It was a huge surprise,” Ackerman recalls. “The night of the award, I was not even going to be in the country.”
She changed her travel plans and was on hand in September to receive the 2008 John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It was something I’m very humbled about. For me, just being able to work in basketball for the past 20 years has been its own reward,” Ackerman says.
Those two decades include being the founding president of the WNBA, a league that has grown from eight to 14 teams since starting in 1996. She also became the first woman president of USA Basketball in 2005.
She credits her time at the University, where she was a two-time Academic All-American, with laying the groundwork for her success. “I had a rigorous academic program,” she says. “The educational and social experience was amazing, and to be a student-athlete there was a unique experience.”
Now, in addition to fostering the growth of a sport that is becoming increasingly global, Ackerman is watching developments in her own family. Sally, the younger of her two daughters, is keeping the hoops tradition alive.
“It’s great just to see her out there,” Ackerman says. “She’s got a great shot.”