Valerie B. Ackerman

Professional basketball player; sports executive

Born: November 7, 1959, in Lakewood, New Jersey

Grew up in: Pennington, New Jersey

New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2021: Sports

Some professional basketball players have stood taller than Val Ackerman, but few have reached the heights she has achieved as an athlete and sports executive. Currently the commissioner of the Big East Conference, Ackerman was the founding President of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and is a past President of USA Basketball, which oversees the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic basketball program.

Ackerman grew up with sports in her veins. Her grandfather was athletic director at Trenton State College and her father the athletic director at her high school—Hopewell Valley Central. In high school, Ackerman set the varsity basketball record for career points scored (male or female), as well as the career scoring record in field hockey. She also ran track—and graduated second in her class.

Her high school performance earned Ackerman one of the first female athletic scholarships to the University of Virginia. She was a starter all four years on Virginia’s varsity basketball team (including captain for three seasons) and an Academic All-American twice. Ackerman received her bachelor’s degree in political and social thought, graduating with high distinction. She later earned a law degree at UCLA, but first, she played a single season of professional basketball in France.

Following her academic years, Ackerman started her legal career with a firm in New York, then joined the National Basketball Association as a staff attorney in 1988. She was as an executive at the NBA for eight years, serving as special assistant to NBA Commissioner David Stern and eventually VP of business affairs. In 1996, Ackerman was named first president of the new WNBA. She guided the league’s launch and helmed day-to-day operations for eight seasons. During her tenure, the league expanded from eight to sixteen teams.

In 2005, Ackerman was elected the first female president of USA Basketball. During her four-year term, she led the organization to a record of 222-23 and gold medal performances by the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In all, she served on the USA Basketball board of directors for 23 years.

Ackerman was named the fifth commissioner of the Big East Conference in June 2013. Upon taking the top spot, she guided the realignment of the Big East, with new schools, a new headquarters in New York City, and new partnerships with Fox Sports and Madison Square Garden.

Among her other achievements, Ackerman served two terms as the U.S. delegate to the Central Board of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), basketball’s worldwide governing body. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

Reflecting on her pioneering path as a female sports executive, she told New Jersey Monthly: “A number of women are in positions of leadership in sports. It’s not 50-50, and there’s work to do, but more women have become mentors and guiding lights. We’re moving in a good direction.”