Each time that phone rang, she answered with a familiar response: Thanks, but no thanks. That was until Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman reached out this offseason, stunning her with an offer she simply couldn’t get out of her head.
It wasn’t just about making her NBA dream a reality. It wasn’t solely about being a trailblazer, creating a path for women who may have the same goal.
To leave Cal, a place Gottlieb loved, a place she calls home, a program that will always hold special meaning, it needed to be the right opportunity, with the right people.
For her, that was Cleveland.
“The Cavs put forth something that I hadn’t heard anyone else thinking about doing — wanting a sitting college coach to add value to their staff,” Gottlieb said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening. “The idea that in Cleveland the notion is to win by building culture, developing players and growing together as a unit, all of those things really spoke to me. It’s an Incredibly forward-thinking way of saying ‘For us to be as good as we can be we need different people with different thought processes.’ They really value what I’m going to be able to bring to the table.”
Before agreeing to become a Cavaliers assistant, Gottlieb wanted to make sure she bonded well with other members of the organization, especially head coach John Beilein. After all, it was Altman who spearheaded this process initially. Each time he discussed possible coaches with his most trusted confidants and pointed out the traits that mattered most, Gottlieb’s name kept coming up.
Shortly after hiring Beilein, Altman sent an introductory text to Gottlieb before meeting face-to-face with her while both were in Chicago. Altman was there for the lottery and combine. Gottlieb was speaking at the Junior NBA conference. The timing worked out well.
Still, it wasn’t easy to pry her away from Cal. Then a dinner in Cleveland helped the decision.
“It was Koby and Coach Beilien and J.B. Bickerstaff that made me feel like, ‘This is it. I have to do this.’ I called my husband and said, ‘I’m not sure there are three people in the NBA I can have dinner with that I could have enjoyed more.’ Who they are as people is really a big part of this," Gottlieb said. "The mission, vision and values of the Cavs and what they are trying to do really appealed to me.”
The 41-year-old Gottlieb, who guided the Golden Bears to seven NCAA Tournament appearances and a Final Four, nearly worked in close proximity to Beilein once before. But two weeks after she was hired as an assistant for the Richmond women’s basketball team, Beilein left Richmond for West Virginia.
“It’s fate that it circles back and I get to be around him,” she said. “John Beilein is one of the five best minds, an unbelievable teacher or the game. The collective pull is always more impressive than the sum of the parts. You can’t find one person in the basketball world that has a negative thing to say about the guy.”
Gottlieb is expected to arrive in Cleveland on Monday. She’s eager to start working. Film sessions and draft talk sit atop her to-do list. The Cavs are knee-deep in draft homework, trying to figure out how to separate the numerous candidates for the fifth-overall pick in next Thursday’s draft. Gottlieb will help with that.
After that, she’s eager to help put in an offense ahead of summer league, which begins with practice in Salt Lake City on June 28. She’s also giddy thinking about the many responsibilities that come with being an assistant, trying to find her place, asking the tough questions and figuring out where she can add the most value. Her college background, which required constant communication with young athletes, should help the rebuilding Cavs.
But Gottlieb’s importance goes far beyond that. She’s now the sixth female NBA assistant, joining San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek, Chasity Melvin of the Charlotte Hornets, Washington’s Kristi Toliver and Los Angeles Clippers Natalie Nakase. Swin Cash was hired recently by the New Orleans Pelicans as member of their revamped front office.
Gottlieb is the first to leave a college head coaching position for the NBA — and she understands the pressure that comes with that.
“I need to be good,” she admitted. “I need to do it right so eventually you’re looking at a high-level college coach and saying, ‘Well, why can’t she be the head coach at an NBA team if she’s the right fit and it feels like the right thing for her?’”
Gottlieb credits her family for allowing her to dream big. They never put limits on who — or what — she could become. When she was six, Gottlieb wanted to be the Yankees shortstop. Or a U.S. Senator. When she was 12, she made her family watch the NBA Draft lottery because she believed she was going to be an NBA general manager one day.
Gottlieb laughs about that now. She doesn’t even remember saying it. But her cousin hasn’t forgotten. That future GM job will have to wait. That’s much further down the road. But who is to say it wouldn’t be possible someday? Gottlieb won’t stop believing. At Cal, she made sure to put an NBA out in her contract. Just in case. It might’ve seemed silly at the time. Not anymore.
“If your dreams don’t scare you then they probably aren’t crazy enough,” Gottlieb said.