Born: November 7, 1959
Valerie B. Ackerman was born November 7, 1959 in Lakewood and grew up in the Mercer County town of Pennington. Val grew up in a sports-oriented family. Her grandfather was a high school and college athletic director, and coached her father on the Trenton State basketball team. Her father, in turn, became athletic director of Val’s high school—Hopewell Valley Central—where she excelled in field hockey, track, swimming and basketball. As a teenager, the posters on her wall weren’t David Cassidy and Peter Frampton, they were Jerry West and John Havlicek.
After setting the Bulldogs’ record for career points—by a boy or a girl—Val earned a scholarship to the University of Virginia in 1977. She was one of the school’s first female scholarship athletes. Val captained the team from her sophomore through junior years.
Val played a year of professional ball in France before returning to the U.S. to get her law degree at UCLA. She returned to New York and worked for Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett before taking a job with the NBA in 1988. As an NBA lawyer, Val rose to the rank of special assistant to commissioner David Stern, and director of business affairs for the league.
She focused much time and energy on building a viable women’s league. First, she had to convince Stern and potential sponsors that there was even a market for the product. She did so by putting the talent on display in the form of the USA Basketball women’s “Dream Team”—which went 52–0 in the run-up to a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Later that year, Val landed the ultimate athletic director’s job when she was named president of the newly formed WNBA. She served in that capacity until 2005.
After leaving the WNBA, Val joined the boards of FIBA, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and became the first female president of USA Basketball. In 2011, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. In the spring of 2013, she was named president of the Big East Conference.