New York Liberty Director of Player Performance Laura Ramus has decided step down from her role with the team after spending 16 seasons in the WNBA, as she has accepted a position with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), allowing her to continue to work in women’s professional sports while also spending more time at home with her family.
Ramus started her WNBA career with the Detroit Shock in 1998, where she was a part of three WNBA Championship teams with Bill Laimbeer, and joined the Liberty organization prior to the 2012 season, spending the past four years playing a critical role in the team’s success.
Having been with the league nearly since its inception, Ramus looks back at what the WNBA has meant to her and its players through the years, and recalls some of the most memorable moments of her career. Liberty players sent well wishes from across the globe to a special member of the New York team who will certainly be missed.
Talk about when you first joined the WNBA, and what that opportunity meant to you.
I always wanted to be an athletic trainer and physical therapist at the professional level, that was always my dream, and when they announced that Detroit was going to get a WNBA team, for me it was perfect. It was two fold, it was an opportunity to work with professional athletes, and it was in basketball, which I played in high school and was my favorite sport.
It was kind of ironic that Nancy Lieberman was named the head coach because she was my idol growing up as a female basketball player in the era that I played. So to sit there, and be interviewed by Nancy Lieberman for my dream job, I was star struck.
I was fortunate that Mike Abdenour, who had been with the Pistons for a long time as their head trainer, kind of took me under his wing and taught me the lay of the land for professional basketball. For me, I think it was really important to have that NBA team tie early on in the league, to kind of help us set the foundation for the women’s league and to make sure it was the same caliber of the men’s league.
What makes working with WNBA players a unique experience?
I think the first thing that I recognized was how special the athletes really are. You watch the women’s game in college, and it’s a great game, but there is a large jump to go from the women’s game in college, even at the highest level, and then to be playing in the WNBA.
I had worked in professional sports with men’s teams, with NFL players and NHL players, and had great experiences, but one of the other differentiating factors with the WNBA is that the women share an extremely hard work ethic; they never take anything for granted, always working hard for the team and me. I always felt, and I said it to the players on my departure, it was kind of an honor for me to have the opportunity to train and work them as athletes. It is the pinnacle when you are training people who have that type of talent.
You have spent a lot of time with Head Coach Bill Laimbeer, what is your relationship like with Bill?
I’ll never forget the first time I met him. Back in 2000 we were on the road and had started 0-10 and came back from that 10th loss in Washington and our head coach had been let go. I was contacted and told to bring the team in as soon as we arrived, that we would be meeting our new head coach, Bill Laimbeer.
I was just kind of in shock, another opportunity to sit there and be with a childhood idol. Huge intimidation factor, even more so for me than being involved with Nancy Lieberman.
But the great thing that I will always tell people is that Bill Laimbeer is Bill Laimbeer. What you see is what you get, what everybody knows about Bill is what you get. But the x-factor is that if you are in his inner circle, if you are part of his team, he will be dedicated and has your back forever.
You came to the Liberty after spending a lot of time working in Detroit, how did you adjust to the transition?
When I first came to New York, I thought it was one of the few cities I never enjoyed coming to as a Detroiter. We had some battles in Madison Square Garden, to the point where I as the trainer would be heckled by the fans. What city does a trainer ever get badmouthed other than New York City!?
So that first year was a little tough, but this past year, I’ll tell you what, I don’t think anybody in my close circle would have ever believed I would say I’m going to miss New York City and miss being there.
Hospital for Special Surgery was incredible to work with, and I have total respect for the medical team there; they are fantastic. As Dr. Lisa Callahan (Chief Medical Officer and SVP of Player Care, MSG Sports) said, you will always be part of the Madison Square Garden family, and I really embraced that and feel it is important to me.
Entering its 20th season, the WNBA is primed to continue to grow, how would you assess the league’s current positioning?
I think the business model that the league has stuck with has been successful, from the time of the year, to being able to get the right sponsorships, which is so imperative to the growth of the league.
You have this group now of teams and cities that have been around to develop a relationship with their city, and it is so important to do that with any pro sports team whether it is men’s or women’s.
That is one of the X-factors with the women’s leagues that has always been an issue, the leagues are never given enough time to grow and really be embraced by a city or community. With a lot of these teams being around now for almost 20 years, that opportunity is there and those roots are set for a strong league.
Can you talk about how the WNBA has stood as a platform not just for basketball players but other women looking to work in professional sports as well?
One of the things I have always utilized the league for from a professional basis is it has been a great platform and foundation for females in medical fields to have the opportunity to work in professional sports. It is a difficult task for women as athletic trainers or physical therapists to work in the men’s professional league.
Before the WNBA, it was the same as for the players, if you were involved in sports medicine as a female, your only real opportunity to work with professional athletes was to go overseas the same way the players would go overseas. So most of the experience for a medical team as a female was strictly at the college level, and was limited to any degree at the professional level. That’s been huge for me, the opportunity it’s given the athletes, it’s given the same opportunity to females in the medical field. The league has set a precedent.
Are there one funny story or memorable moment that sticks out to you from your time in the WNBA?
This was in 2003, after we won the first championship in Detroit, which was an incredible experience. We were playing Los Angeles and had the final game at home, at the Palace, and it was sold out. I think to this date it was the biggest crowd to ever see a WNBA championship game. I remember hearing after the game that security had to arrest several people for scalping tickets in the parking lot.
After we won the game, we had a party post-game right there at the Palace. When it was all said and done and the party was over, Bill had the trophy, he handed it to me and in the true Bill Laimbeer way and he said, “Well, I’m out of here. Here’s the trophy, don’t lose it.”
So I took the trophy and I wasn’t planning on going home that night, and I had an office right there in the arena, so I went down to my office and slept on the couch. I remember waking up to vacuum cleaners around 5 o’clock in the morning and I was laying on the couch with that trophy in my arms hugging it. What a great moment, who else goes to bed the night of the championship and sleeps with the trophy. Bill, I didn’t lose the trophy.