Val Ackerman ’85 is a recognized and highly respected leader in the sports industry. She has devoted her career to the sport of basketball and is best known as the founding President of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the first woman to serve as President of USA Basketball, which oversees the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic basketball program. She is currently an adjunct professor in the graduate sports management program at Columbia University and serves as the U.S. representative to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the sport’s world governing body.
Val grew up in New Jersey and attended the University of Virginia, where she was among the school’s first female student-athlete scholarship recipients. She was a four-year starter, three-time captain and two-time Academic All-American for the Cavaliers and earned a degree in political and social thought in 1981. She played one year of professional basketball in France and went on to earn a law degree from UCLA in 1985. She worked as an associate at the New York law firm of Simpson Thacher and Bartlett before joining the National Basketball Association as a staff attorney in 1988.
Val was as an executive at the NBA for eight years, serving as Special Assistant to NBA Commissioner David Stern and Director (and later) Vice President of Business Affairs before being named the WNBA’s first President in 1996. She guided the league to a much-heralded launch in 1997 and oversaw its day-to-day operations for its first eight seasons. The league, which will play its 15th season in 2011, is the longest-running women’s professional team sports league in the U.S. and one of the premier women’s sports organizations in the world.
In 2005, Val was elected President of USA Basketball for the 2005-08 term, leading the organization to an overall competitive 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. A USA Basketball Board member since 1989, Val has played a key role in the long-standing success of the U.S. women’s national basketball team program, which enjoyed gold medal performances at the 1998 , 2002 and 2010 World Championships and 1996, 2000 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.
Val’s efforts in the sports business have earned her many awards over the years, including the Brandweek Co-Marketer of the Year, the U. Va. Distinguished Alumna Award, induction into the GTE Academic All-America Hall of Fame and International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame, the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, the Girls Scouts of America National Women of Distinction Award, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund Equal Opportunity Award, the International Olympic Committee Women and Sport Achievement Diploma, and the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, where she serves as a member of the Board of Governors and Chair of the Governance Committee.