Portage, in a roundabout way, has one of the most celebrated sports figures in the world to thank for a new basketball court at Collipp-Worden Park, according to another sports icon — Nancy Lieberman.
“Everything I do in charity is a reflection of Muhammad Ali and what he’s taught me since I was 19 years old,” said Lieberman, 57, a two-time Olympian, former professional basketball player, ESPN analyst and current assistant coach for the National Basketball Association’s Sacramento Kings.
Nancy Lieberman Charities partners with WorldVentures Foundations to provide basketball courts in communities across the U.S., for free, to encourage youth development. But the Madison-based Fairway Independent Mortgage — in a move Lieberman called “incredible” and “enthusiastic” — purchased a basketball court at a recent Dream Ball Gala of Lieberman’s, and the company wanted it for Portage.
“That’s how it started,” Lieberman said of a corporate bid placed by Fairway CEO and Pardeeville native Steve Jacobson. “In most cases we fund the court, but when we had Fairway want to purchase it, that was amazing.”
Portage’s Dream Court was installed Wednesday and will be dedicated in a ceremony at the park open to the public at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The first 100 children to arrive will receive free T-shirts, and Lieberman will be on hand for the ceremony and afterward to play basketball with interested youth “for as long as they want to,” Lieberman said.
Gregg Steinhaus of Fairway’s Portage branch and a 1982 Portage High School graduate said the opportunity to play with a Basketball Hall of Famer in Lieberman — “truly an icon,” he said — shouldn’t be missed. “That’s so cool. I can’t imagine — that would be like, when I grew up, having Larry Bird come and play with the kids.”
The Dream Court program Lieberman started in 2008 marks a cause she said wouldn’t have existed if Ali hadn’t shown her a “heart for giving.” Charitable acts, in a very natural way, connect people and lead to subsequent charitable acts, Lieberman explained, a process that ultimately brought Ali to Lieberman, Lieberman to “philanthropists” at Fairway, and from there, many more.