Category: News

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Spencer Haywood on the passing of Kobe Bryant:

"The NBRPA is devastated over the sudden passing of NBA Legends, Kobe Bryant, and his daughter, Gianna. Kobe was a global icon who made an everlasting impact in our league and in professional sports around the world.

We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Vanessa, and their family, the Lakers organization, and the entire NBA community. We've lost a beloved Legend."

NEW YORK, Jan. 1, 2020 NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern passed away this afternoon as a result of the brain hemorrhage he suffered approximately three weeks ago.  His wife, Dianne, and their family were with him at his bedside.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued the following statement:

“For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action.  He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends.  We spent countless hours in the office, at arenas and on planes wherever the game would take us.  Like every NBA legend, David had extraordinary talents, but with him it was always about the fundamentals – preparation, attention to detail, and hard work.

“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads.  But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA.  He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world.  Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand – making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.

“Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration.  Our deepest condolences go out to David’s wife, Dianne, their sons, Andrew and Eric, and their extended family, and we share our grief with everyone whose life was touched by him.”

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CHICAGO, Jan. 1, 2020 - The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) mourns the loss of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David J. Stern. During his 30-year tenure as commissioner, Stern transformed the NBA into a global brand becoming the first American sports league to thrive internationally.

NBRPA Chairman of the Board Spencer Haywood released the following statement:

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern. He made a tremendous impact in the world of sports, beginning in the 1980s when he led us out of the wilderness and into a global brand.  His vision has given players around the world the opportunity to showcase their talents in the NBA, WNBA and G League."

"In 1992, he helped create the National Basketball Retired Players Association with our founders Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens, Dave DeBusschere and Oscar Robertson. He truly loved each and every one of the retired players and was proud of the Association because he viewed it as an extension of the NBA and NBPA."

"David helped me in countless ways personally and professionally. He has graciously allowed me to travel the world to participate in global initiatives as an NBA Legend. I was fortunate to spend time with him in early-September and felt honored when he recently committed to writing the foreword in my new book."

"My deepest condolences go out to his wife, Dianne, their family and the entire basketball world. We are in mourning. Rest in heaven for the legacy you created on earth."

by Caleb Friedman

Juwan Howard stands at the podium, taking a deep breath as those in the room applaud and cheer. About to speak, he stops. He bows his head and covers his eyes before they begin to swell with tears – tears that embody the emotion Howard feels in this punctuating moment for what has been a crazy few days.

He turns around with his back facing the wall, taking a few final deep breaths to compose himself.

“Tears of joy,” he says.

You will understand the tears if you understand the place. Juwan Howard is back in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan, where he once captivated the country as a player. This time around, Howard is donning a block “M” pin on his lapel – he’s just been introduced as the head men’s basketball coach.

You can tell Howard is reflecting back to the journey that led him to this defining moment in his career. He mentions the last time he had a press conference at Michigan, where he was declaring for the 1994 NBA Draft. Howard touched on his late grandmother and best friend and what they meant to him, before speaking to the tradition and pride he has to coach his new players – his new family.

Howard calls this his “dream job,” and tells the origin story of his path to Ann Arbor more than two decades ago. Howard is raw and genuine, his words impassioned. It’s clear just how much this all means to him. 

Juwan Howard is home.

Juwan Howard sits at a table during Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, and he sticks out like a sore thumb.

Howard is the only head coach without previous college coaching experience. The other 13 coaches in the Big Ten Conference average 24.5 years of college coaching experience, and 12 of them have 15 or more years of college coaching under their belts.

Then there is Howard who took the Michigan head coaching job after he spent his entire coaching career in the NBA from 2013-2019. After six seasons on the Miami Heat bench under head coach Erik Spoelstra, Howard jumped at the opportunity to return to his alma mater, despite frequently being a candidate for NBA head coaching vacancies. 

“I’ve always been asked the question, ‘Will I ever want to coach college basketball?’” Howard tells Legends Magazine. “My answer was always ‘One job, if it became available. The University of Michigan.’”

At its core, the main part of Howard’s new job is comfortable to him. He has been around the sport professionally for the past 25 years and around youth basketball and AAU circuits through his sons. From a coaching and teaching standpoint, Howard is confident his NBA experience will translate to the college level.

It is all the other stuff that is new and will take some getting used to, chiefly recruiting. Howard is getting used to being on the phone a lot more to talk to recruits, and that relationship-building isn’t something foreign to him. After all, he was once at the other end of those calls as the recruited player.

“The NCAA rules and regulations will take some time to learn and understand,” Howard says. In the NBA, for example, there is no limit on how often a coach can work with players. At the college level, Howard can only work with players for a set number of hours per day and week.

In addition to his basketball duties of coaching and recruiting, Howard serves as a face and ambassador for the school, which means meetings with alumni and donors are also a major part of his job.

“Being a head coach in college, I’m not only coaching the players, but I’m helping run an institution,” Howard says. “I have to choose my staff, hire those guys, make sure I balance a budget. I’m like an Erik Spoelstra, a Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg all in one.”

Still, Howard makes the leap at a time when former NBA players are coming to college seemingly in droves, with names like Penny Hardaway and Patrick Ewing also returning to coach their alma maters. Success has been difficult to come by for many of the former NBA players coaching in college, but there has been a clear advantage in recruiting, particularly for Hardaway.

“There’s been a changing of the guard with coaches that have been around a long time,” former NBA player and current Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse tells Legends Magazine. “There’s a new wave of coaching. I think athletic directors are thinking outside the box, just trying to find guys that can relate to this generation of players…a lot of those guys are one-and-dones now coming into the NBA.”

Speaking to that trend, Howard’s college teammate and current ESPN personality Jalen Rose voiced his support on ESPN for Howard getting the Michigan job early in the process, in part because of his ability as a recruiter.

“He would be a terrific head coach,” Rose said. “He would be terrific at developing young talent. He would own the Michigan market.”

New Michigan Men’s Basketball head coach Juwan Howard is introduced at a press conference at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, MI on May 30, 2019.

If Juwan Howard’s opening press conference at Michigan signified a symbolic beginning, his first day of summer workouts was the real start.

It was then, when Howard walked into a gym with players to coach and a team to prepare, that Howard finally felt he arrived.

“It was that day, the first day of workouts, when it hit and sunk in. I’m the head coach at the University of Michigan,” Howard says. “That was my epic moment, an epic time of sinking in that ‘this is real now.’”

This upcoming season will bring a number of firsts and milestones for Howard, who’s ready to embark on his first season as a head coach. Now, as the season gets going, and the initial emotions fade, everything turns to actual basketball.

As Howard prepares to lead a team for the first time as head coach, he thinks back to the years he’s spent in and around the game, giving him a lifetime of experience to fall back on. He knows he can do this.

“I played this game before for many years, I’ve had a lot of success doing it at all levels, high school, college and pro,” Howard says. “I’ve learned a lot, and I know the game and I know I can coach the game.”

by Martin Kaufmann

Even before he played his first NBA game, Jim Jackson realized that he had to begin preparing for life after basketball.

Jackson was the fourth pick in the 1992 NBA draft after an All-American career at Ohio State. But he only played 28 games his first season with the Dallas Mavericks because of a contract dispute.

“I had already started a (long-term) game plan,” Jackson said. “It really started my first year when I had to sit out. That gave me insight into the way the business works. And then in my third year when I sprained my ankle really bad, (I realized) this thing can be over in a heartbeat, so you have to prepare yourself.”

Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Through his first four seasons, Jackson was a fixture in the Mavericks’ starting lineup and a reliable scorer, peaking at 25.7 points per game in that injury-plagued third season. During the 1996-97 season, however, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, beginning an odyssey that came to define his career. Over 14 seasons, he played for an NBA-record 12 teams. Only three other players have played for as many teams.

That’s a mixed blessing for an athlete. Jackson lamented never being able “to establish a camaraderie, a legacy with one team. That’s what you search for when you’re a player.” He would have loved to have become a Dallas institution, such as Dirk Nowitzki, who just retired after 21 seasons. But there might have been some benefits to his itinerant career. He lived all around the country, developing friendships he never would have made had he stayed in one city. “That can benefit you later in life,” he said.

After 14 seasons, and his playing time dwindling with the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson knew it was time to move on.

“I just wasn’t the type who wanted to be the 12th man on the bench,” Jackson said. “After the 2006 season, I said, ‘I’m just tired of it. I just want to move on with my life.’”

He already had interests in real estate and restaurants through business partners in Dallas, but he balked when his agent, Mark Termini, suggested that he consider moving into broadcasting. Termini finally convinced Jackson to meet with broadcasting agent Maury Gostfrand, who in 2007 steered him toward the Big Ten Network. Jackson spent eight years there, overlapping with son Traevon’s playing career at Wisconsin.

(Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jackson attacked broadcasting much the way he used to game-plan for an opponent during his playing career. He leaned on his Ohio State network, seeking advice from CBS’ Clark Kellogg and ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit. He also hired a coach and pored over video of his on-air appearances.

“You’ve got to work. It’s just like watching game tapes,” he said. “You break it down and point out things I’ve done wrong — maybe eye contact, verbiage, maybe slowing down my cadence. It’s a lot of stuff that you might not be aware of ... You have to be honest with yourself. You also have to watch the ones who do it the best. I think that’s the best teaching tool.”

His workload has mushroomed since 2015, when he jumped to Fox Sports 1, where he maintains a busy schedule calling college games. During March Madness, he called televised games for Turner Sports during the early rounds, then moved over to the radio side for Westwood One at the Final Four.

“I love the live games the best,” he said. “There’s nothing like being in the action.”

When he’s not on the road, you often can find him in Fox Sports’ studios, swapping hot takes on LeBron James and NBA life on shows such as “Speak for Yourself” and “Undisputed.” Occasionally some of those contacts he made during his playing career float back into his life.

Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

In December, John Calipari, who coached Jackson when he played for the New Jersey Nets in the mid-1990s, asked his former player to speak to his Kentucky Wildcats when they visited New York. (Jackson joked that when college coaches ask him to talk to their players, “they have to prep the team, because they don’t know who I am.”)

 Jackson urged the players to spend more time focusing on their defense and rebounding rather than obsessing over their offense; if they did that, he said, the points would flow naturally.

“Ride the wave,” he told the Wildcats. “I was fortunate to play 14 years. You’re going to go through this (moving his hand through the air like waves on an ocean). It’s a microcosm of life. But how you handle it, what your outlook is, how you choose to deal with it, is going to determine how you get through it.”

Jackson has practiced what he preaches over the past 12 years. Broadcasting became his new passion, and he never took it for granted. To this day, he said, he still seeks advice from experts to help him improve.

“The same tools you used to become a successful basketball player — the work ethic, the studying, the attention to detail, listening, taking advice — are the same tools you’ll need when you move to that third phase (post-NBA) of your life,” Jackson said.

Jerome Williams, known to many as the Junk Yard Dog, earned his nickname during his stint with the Detroit Pistons. His teammates coined him ‘JYD’ for his hard work ethic and willingness to do a lot of the “garbage” jobs, such as rebounding, playing defense, setting strong screens and the other basic fundamentals. Since the conclusion of his playing career, Jerome has used that same mentality to promote the importance of education to the country’s youth via his Shooting for Peace program.

(Photo by Tim Warner/BIG3/Getty Images)

Williams, who initially began his own service project called Jerome’s Youth Development (JYD) Project, has long been an advocate for helping young people reach their highest potential. After starting the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) Las Vegas chapter and outreach to the local community, Williams immediately saw the parallels between the NBRPA’s community initiatives and those of the JYD Project, and decided to pair the two together. Today, that marriage is known as Shooting for Peace.

“The efforts on both sides were focused on professional and retired athletes going out and serving the community,” said Williams. “Because doing so really requires a brigade of players, I knew it was the perfect time to bridge the two initiatives. The result is a program that serves a multitude of young people in a significant way.”

Shooting for Peace has since grown into a nationwide tour and includes several different facets that aid students. Benefits include digital education services, scholarships from notable HBCUs, and school visits from the Legends themselves, which include a Q&A panel, poetry and essay contest, and a game pitting the Legends against the school team. Last year, NBA Legends made stops in various chapter cities, including Las Vegas, Boston, Harlem, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Toronto, Miami, Oakland, and more.

It is no secret that students who go on to earn a college degree are more likely to lead productive lives in society. Jerome Williams is no stranger to this fact. He has worked harder than most to achieve his dreams. In fact, Jerome paid his own tuition at a junior college to earn his Associate’s degree. He went on to receive a full scholarship from Georgetown University, as well as several other certifications in his professional life. His passion for this work is clear and reflective of his own personal values.

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

“I believe that kids today need their education now more than ever,” says Williams. “We take great pride in showing them how the Legends of the game and a good education work hand-in-hand.”

Local chapters encourage all members — from the NBA to WNBA to the Harlem Globetrotters — to get involved with Shooting for Peace. No matter what their professional playing careers looked like, each and every one of them started at the same place: school. All of these stories, especially those that include hardship, are necessary for students to hear.

“By hearing directly from Legends, these young people learn that while they can be an athlete, it is being a student-athlete that is really most important for lifelong success.”

A special thanks to all of the chapter presidents for their leadership with Shooting for Peace. This program would not be what it is today without them.

by Sean Deveney

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – It was a night for the overlooked, the underrated and the trailblazers whose contributions to the game have been too obscured by history.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame held its induction night this weekend and welcomed a field of new members that included center Vlade Divac, a pioneer of international basketball who was drafted from Yugoslavia by the Lakers in 1989 and went on to become the first player born and trained outside the U.S. to appear in 1,000 NBA games.

The group also included one of the WNBA’s first stars, Teresa Weatherspoon, as well as defensive stalwarts Sidney Moncrief and Bobby Jones, unique face-up center Jack Sikma, championship coach Bill Fitch and five-time NBA All-Star Paul Westphal.

Divac opened the night with a speech that set the tone for the entire collection of inductees, speaking about his love for the game and emphasis the game puts on selflessness.

“I believe love gives you the power to share your best self and to inspire others,” Divac said. “Love liberates you the power to make the impossible possible. Just like in life, when you play basketball you have to give in order to receive. On the court you are not just making moves alone, you are also giving your physical and mental strength, your passion, your talent, your trust in your teammates. This way, the power can multiply and the whole team wins. Basketball is the opposite of selfishness.”

That resonated throughout Symphony Hall. Also inducted on Friday were Al Attles, who has been the face of the Warriors franchise for six decades—as a player, a coach and a franchise ambassador. Attles, chosen as a contributor, witnessed Golden State’s most recent dynasty, but was also on the floor as a point guard back when the team was based in Philadelphia in 1962, when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game.

But, asked about the game earlier in the week, Attles was quick to point out that even Chamberlain’s dominating individual achievement had a team feel to it. “Well, I always remind people that we won the game, that’s the first thing,” Attles said. “The other thing is that Wilt tried to come out of the game. He did not want to score 100.”

Also inducted were Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA team; Carl Braun, a five-time NBA All-Star who played 13 seasons from 1947-62 and coached the Knicks briefly; the all-black Tennessee A&I teams (now Tennessee State) of 1957-59, which traveled to national tournaments, challenged segregation and were the first team to win three straight championships at any collegiate level; and the women’s teams of Wayland Baptist University (1948-82), who won 10 AAU championships and once won 131 consecutive games.

The honor was probably overdue for both Moncrief, who made five All-Star teams and won the first two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, and Sikma, who made seven All-Star teams and averaged 15.6 points with 9.8 rebounds. Sikma was also instrumental in bringing the 1979 NBA title to Seattle in his second NBA season.

But Sikma was best known for developing a step-back, face-up shot that became known as the “Sikma move.” It has regained popularity in the modern NBA, with fewer back-to-the-basket centers, but Sikma said it started mostly out of necessity—he grew 10 inches in his final two years of high school and arrived at tiny Illinois Wesleyan, as he described it, as a, “6-11, 195-pound specimen.”

Sikma recalled that, in his first Summer League game after being drafted by Lenny Wilkens and the Sonics in 1977, he had the misfortune of going against Moses Malone, who as already established as a star center. Because players can’t foul out in Summer League, Sikma said Malone wound up with 30-something points while Sikma had 10 fouls.

“The owner was there,” Sikma said, “and asked Lenny, ‘Is that our first-round draft pick?’”

The night was highlighted by the speech from Weatherspoon, whose passion for the game remains palpable even 15 years after her retirement. Weatherspoon won a gold medal with Team USA in 1988 and played overseas for 10 years before the advent of the WNBA. She created one of the great moments in league history when, playing for the New York Liberty in the 1999 Finals, she launched a buzzer-beater from beyond halfcourt that went in for a Game 2 win.

Speaking to her two brothers and three sisters seated nearby, Weatherspoon said, “I never had to look outside my family for my heroes. … I was well-protected, well-watched over and I hope that you know that everything about you, I watched. I took it from you, I took your perseverance, I took your consistency, I took your dedication, I took your determination, I took it and I ran with it. And I hope that I made you tremendously proud.

“We’ve gone through a lot together, we’ve done a lot together, we fought together. Tonight, we go in together.”

She went in, indeed, with a well-rounded group that finally got their due. It was a celebration of the hard-working stars, the players and coaches who often gave up the notoriety and big headlines to sacrifice for winning.

As Moncrief put it, “I take great pride being inducted into this Hall. But as I was trying to think of, what do you talk about? It’s not really about me. It’s not about a speech. It’s about the game of basketball. The game of basketball that has changed everyone’s life in this room.”

Have you heard of Chasity Melvin? If not, wake up!

Melvin is the epitome of what it means to dream big. Her saying, “you can’t dream big enough” has carried her through a career spanning more than 20 years, 12 as a professional in the WNBA. Originally from Roseboro, North Carolina, Melvin attended North Carolina State University, where she led the program to its first Final Four appearance during her senior season in 1998. Following graduation, she was selected 11th overall in the 1999 WNBA draft and spent time with the Cleveland Rockers, Washington Mystics and Chicago Sky.

Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

“I was reminded of that growing up in a small town,” Melvin said of her ‘dream big’ saying. “I know what it’s like to set a goal, achieve it and realize my dream.”

Melvin retired from professional basketball in 2010 and was faced with a crossroad. Her desire to return to the game in a coaching role was initially faced with some resistance. Her lack of true coaching experience and available positions in the WNBA made it hard for Melvin to make a seamless transition to the coaching ranks upon graduation.

Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

“When I initially retired, people didn’t want to hire me because I didn’t have enough coaching experience,” Melvin said. “For me, I played for eight different coaches in my 12-year WNBA career. I played for a lot of different systems and NBA coaches. I felt like I had enough experience that should’ve given me that first opportunity.”

Enter the NBA Assistant Coaches Program (ACP). Through the NBA ACP, former NBA and WNBA players interested in coaching at the collegiate and professional levels can gain real experience and mentorship from the game’s best coaches.

“It was a great avenue for me to get in front of people who could get me to where I needed to be,” Melvin said. “I needed that experience to get an opportunity and the NBA ACP gave that to me.”

Through her participation in the NBA ACP, Melvin realized that there might be more opportunities outside of coaching women. “It gave me the idea that maybe I could coach on the men’s side,” Melvin said. “With the limited opportunities on the women’s side, this just made sense.”

Within two months of completing the program, Melvin landed her first full-time coaching role with the Greensboro Swarm in the NBA G League. As an assistant coach, Melvin was able to use her personal experiences during her professional career to relate to the players. “I’ve been part of the professional game. I was in their spot at one time,” she said.

Copyright 2007 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

“It meant everything to get this opportunity,” Melvin said. “For me, it was both challenging and rewarding at the same time. To be part of helping these guys realize their dreams was special. I know what it’s like to set a goal, to play pro and achieve that dream.”

Melvin found immediate success by leveraging her unique journey and playing experiences. Her insightful perspective and first-hand view of the game allowed her to gain the most out of her first season with the Swarm.

“At the end of the day, I learned that basketball is just basketball. Same plays, special situations, scouting. It’s all the same,” Melvin said. “I know the level of confidence you need to have to succeed at this level. I’ve done it. I’ve experienced it. And it gave me great pride that I could share those experiences and help these guys further their careers.”

The opportunity also gave Melvin a new perspective on the G League and the opportunities it can create for players. While she continues to dream big herself, she is now able to share that message with others.

“It’s not just about moving up to the NBA,” Melvin said. “It’s also just as much about securing a great opportunity overseas to support themselves and their families. There are so many opportunities these guys can get from playing in the G League and so many awesome memories to be made. Outside of the basketball court, I could relate to these guys more on a personal level. That is where I’ve succeeded the most.”

Husband. Father. Mentor. Investor. These are just some of the many words that describe eight-year NBA veteran Eddie Gill. But before his basketball career took him all across the globe, he was just a kid from Aurora, Colorado who went on to overcome immense odds to realize his dream of playing in the NBA.

After high school, Gill enrolled at the College of Eastern Utah, where he played minimal minutes and was given few opportunities. The decision to transfer the following season to Salt Lake Community College proved to be a game-changer for Gill. He would go on to average more than 16 points and six assists per game.

After a standout season, Gill tested his skills at the D-1 level. He transferred to Weber State in 1998 and went on to play two full seasons for the Wildcats. MVP of the 1999 Big Sky Conference Tournament and named to the First-Team All-Big Sky Conference, Gill leveraged his college successes into a career in the NBA G League and eight seasons in the NBA, and spent significant time overseas for teams in the Greek Leagues and Continental Basketball Association. But, after a career spanning the globe, he still felt most at home in Indiana.

2006 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

“When I knew retirement was a real possibility, I asked myself ‘what’s next?’” Gill said.

Gill turned in his jersey in 2011 but couldn’t stay away from the game for long. He started a youth skills development program in Indianapolis called, “All Out Training”. Through the program, he led after-school initiatives for kids that focused primarily on exercise and training.

“The NBA has a number of youth initiatives. Working in camps, clinics and schools,” Gill explains. “Through all these initiatives, I developed a passion for working with kids, especially on the court, regardless of their skillsets. Not everyone wants to go to the NBA — some kids just want to be able to play better on the playground! That’s why I started ‘All Out Training’.”

What Gill didn’t know at the time was that his youth training program would be an avenue for another career option. One afternoon, Gill began talking with a father of one of the boys in the program. The man had a successful career in wealth management and Gill was intrigued. Fast forward to today and Gill has been active in the financial management and investing industries for years.

Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Networking is tremendous in any business,” Gill says while reflecting on his past. “It doesn’t mean you’re trying to get something out of someone, you’re just building a relationship. You never know what you could do for someone or what doors they can open for you. That’s what happened to me.”

Gill began hiring more coaches to run All Out Training while he pursued his new goal of becoming a financial advisor. He also knew that, through his time playing professional basketball, he could be a great resource for other athletes looking to do the same thing. But it wasn’t as easy as asking his new friend for a job.

“I had to do some serious studying to get certified and licensed,” he says. “To be 34 and studying ... that was a different experience than the first time around. It was hard!”

Gill worked for it and turned into an incredible success story in the process. He has moved up in the ranks as a financial advisor, while simultaneously juggling All Out Training and pregame/postgame analyst work for the Indiana Pacers.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Gill’s life is helping younger players through the process. The biggest piece of advice he offers to current players is that basketball won’t last forever. Even if you have a great playing career, 15 years or so is still a short amount of time to make a lot of money. And then what? If you stop playing at 35 years old, then you still have 65 years of life left.

Copyright 2007 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Plan for your future,” he says. “Don’t just save, but think about what you want the rest of your life to look like. Your community involvement. Your next career. Think about it now.”

Gill’s final piece of advice? Get out of your comfort zone, and never be the smartest person in the room. “When we’re comfortable, we’re not making progress. In order to be a better basketball player, we had to be uncomfortable; the same holds true beyond the court. Surround yourself with high achievers, and don’t be the smartest person

by John Fawaz

Haywood v. NBA. 1971. For a time it seemed more like Spencer Haywood against the world.

Booed in every arena but his own in Seattle. Protests filed by numerous NBA teams, including one by a franchise that had tried to sign Haywood. Sued by the ABA. Injunctions served during warmups. The Cincinnati Royals kicked him out of the arena, and into the snow. Opposing players delivering elbows to Haywood’s jaw. And those were the polite objections.

“There were some serious threats,” Haywood says. “Booing was ‘nice.’ People would try to entice me to fight because if I punched somebody, the whole case would blow over.”

The controversy entered the realm of farce when Chicago, after losing to Seattle, demanded $600,000 for the diminution of the Bulls’ playoff chances and for the injury to All-Star Chet Walker. Imagine how much money the Bulls would have asked for if Haywood had actually checked into the game.

Haywood’s offense? He wanted to play in the NBA, and he didn’t want to wait until he was 22 years old, as the League required.

Copyright NBAE 2002 (Photo by NBA Photos/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

“The NBA was not accepting of the idea,” Haywood says, putting it mildly. “They said you have to wait two years [or] you can go play in Belgium.”

An unstoppable 6-foot-8 forward with a unique skill set, Haywood led the U.S. team to the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics at the age of 19, and then averaged 32 points and 22 rebounds per game in the 1968-69 season while playing for the University of Detroit. For Haywood, the youngest of 10 children of a single mother worn down from a lifetime working in the Mississippi cotton fields, college was a luxury he just couldn’t afford.

Haywood went to the ABA, which enacted a hardship exception in its bylaws that allowed its teams to sign players who hadn’t completed their college eligibility. Hysteria ensued. The end of civilization was near, so it was said, or at the very least the end of college athletics. All censure, of course, was couched in terms of concern for Haywood and other student-athletes.

The ABA proved to be no friend, either. After Haywood won the 1969-70 ABA MVP Award as a rookie, the Denver Rockets gave him a new contract worth $1.9 million. Or so they said.

“I signed it without legal counsel,” Haywood says. “I got a raise from $50,000 to $75,000, and they would put $10,000 a year into the stock market, and when I get to age 55, I start drawing from that money if it’s there.

“And the agreement inside the agreement said that I would have to be employed by the truck line that owned the Rockets until I was 70 years old.”

Haywood hired an agent (Al Ross), and when he and Ross tried to renegotiate a clearly unfair contract, the Rockets’ owner told them to get out (peppered with a racial slur). Play for Denver or don’t play at all because the NBA won’t touch you.

Enter Sam Schulman, a lawyer and the outspoken managing partner of the Seattle SuperSonics. NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy warned Schulman to steer clear of Haywood. But he couldn’t. Schulman wound up signing Haywood in December of 1970.

Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Mike LeBrecht via Getty Images)

“Sam said, ‘I will give you the same contract you signed in Denver, but all in cash,’” Haywood says. “I got money, and I can play. I will do whatever Sam wants.”

The courts agreed. U.S. District Judge Warren Ferguson issued a preliminary injunction allowing Haywood to play for the Sonics. The NBA appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the injunction in a 7-2 decision on March 1, 1971. Fewer than two weeks later, Ferguson granted Haywood’s motion for a summary judgment declaring the NBA rule invalid because it violated antitrust law.

As Schulman said later, “It was a matter of principle. I couldn’t see any logical reason for keeping a man from making a living.”

And the sky did not fall. In the decades that followed, veteran players did not lose their jobs to younger, cheaper players. The opposite occurred, as the influx of talent allowed the NBA to expand. College basketball became bigger than ever. In the NBA, revenue soared. All those extra years created tremendous wealth for NBA players and, more importantly, gave them more control over their lives and careers. Haywood v. NBA ended a system that benefited everyone but the players.

Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Haywood, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, is proud of his role as a Pioneer. But as he said in his induction speech, “Now remember guys, I had game. It’s not like I just did this Supreme Court thing. I had some serious game.”

by Sam Smith

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

—— Abigail Adams’ letter and reminder to John Adams of the Continental Congress on eve of American Revolution, 1776.

It was certainly revolutionary in 1997 when the National Basketball Association committed to advancing the women’s game. Sure, there had been basketball leagues for women, and the college space was vibrant with famous programs like Immaculata and Delta State. Women played in the Olympics as an official sport in 1976 after the Title IX law in 1972, and many found participation outlets in Europe and Asia. But there seemed no sustainability in the United States, the birthplace of basketball, the land of the free and the home of the brave and where all men — and women — were supposedly created equal.

Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images)

David Stern and the NBA were determined to finally remedy the great inequality with a commitment that today makes the Women’s National Basketball Association the most stable and successful women’s professional sports league in the United States. The fact that the change comes under the aegis of the National Basketball Association is both predictable and appropriate. As many will recall, it was the NBA that first introduced all-African-American starting lineups to professional sports along with African-American management and ownership, easily making it the most progressive sports league in the world.

“The WNBA has been a change agent,” agrees Carol Blazejowski, basketball Hall of Famer and former NBA official. “It’s changed a lot of societal views. It has become a platform for women to feel a sense of pride and upward mobility, and to feel that they can achieve bigger and better things in the sports community, to be viewed as athletes and not separated as women or men. It has allowed us as individuals who are very capable of playing the game of basketball to serve as role models, and to offer all we can to the sports landscape.”

 “There have been some bumps, some successes and failures,” continues Blazejowski. “It’s still going to take some time and patience. Society always accepted the male athlete, and it was a struggle [to be accepted] when I played. But that stigma has changed and it’s a rite of passage now, understanding that opportunities in sports are as important to your daughter as much as to your son for so many reasons — the chance to earn a scholarship, boosting self-esteem, and everything else that comes with playing sports.”

Tamika Catchings, a 15-year WNBA veteran who is now an Indiana Fever executive, figured she would follow her father and play in the NBA.

Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Watching my father play (for four NBA teams) sparked interest in me being a professional basketball player and wanting to play in the NBA,” Catchings admitted. “We didn’t have the WNBA at that time. This is the generation that has grown up having an opportunity to be a part of something that is so much bigger than them, a league designed specifically for us. My goal was to be in the NBA, to follow in his footsteps. That really was the only thing I knew about. I didn’t even really understand the fact that women didn’t play. We had Annie Meyers and Lynette Woodard and the Harlem Globetrotters. I felt my dad did it, so I could do what my dad did.”

There are three- and four-sport athletes, and then there’s Ann Meyers, a seven-sport athlete in high school and the first female scholarship athlete at UCLA. Meyers actually did play in the NBA, albeit in preseason with the Indiana Pacers.

“I wouldn’t have done it if they were not serious,” Meyers says. “Yes, publicity was involved. But my whole intention in life was why was this any different? I like to think (I got close).”

Forget the glass ceiling; what needed to be shattered was the barrier to that glass backboard.

Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

“We had actually commissioned a study some years earlier about what might be possible with respect to women’s basketball,” Stern said in an interview for the Retired Players’ Association. “I thought the time to do it would be in 1992 coming out of the Olympics, especially if the Americans won the gold. But they didn’t. They finished third and got bronze and it sort of went on the back burner.”

“Val Ackerman was working in our office and was a fiery advocate, as was Carol Blazejowski, and gradually (with Adam Silver) we began to develop a plan and we said, ‘OK, we could do this. We’ll do it coming out of the Olympics in ’96.”

Thanks to advocates like Ackerman and Blazejowski, the setback didn’t stop the birth of the new league.

“Val was totally intent on making it a dignified and authentic basketball experience,” Stern recalled. “The only thing I remember putting my foot down on was the ball. We agreed generally it would be smaller, but went back and forth on the color. I said if you never want to sell a WNBA ball, make it the same color as the NBA ball. We went with the oatmeal and orange, which has become a symbol of the league.”

Though the league is still not where it needs to be economically, there is no denying the quality of play is far better than anywhere in the world. It’s difficult to watch a WNBA game and then wonder why NBA players don’t consistently compete as intensely.

(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

“Watching it is quite extraordinary,” says Stern, who still is active on several major U.S. boards and business ventures. “I remember when we started off and said this is the best women’s basketball in the world. But I would say the game is a factor of three times better.”

“We didn’t even know that some of these women existed because they were playing in countries you didn’t even know had basketball,” Stern added. “And so as it continues to grow, there will be increased revenues, salaries will be increased and from outside I would love to see these salaries and the revenue supporting a salary structure that allows WNBA players to play only for their team and not have to go to a foreign country to earn a maximum amount of money. But they only go there to earn that because they are WNBA players. They get their fame, reputation and celebrity from playing in the WNBA.”

WNBA players make about 20 percent of the NBA minimum salary in a league, of course, that generates substantially less revenue. Almost two thirds of WNBA players play during the winter outside the United States. It makes for a long year and creates heightened risk of injury. Seattle Storm star and league MVP Breanna Stewart suffered a torn achilles in Russia last April just before the start of the 2019 WNBA season. There are no one-and-dones as there is a four-year college rule for eligibility with a maximum salary slightly above $100,000 with some bonuses. WNBA players opted out of their collective bargaining agreement to negotiate additional economic terms after the 2019 season.

“The reality is people misconstrue this message,” she says. “It’s not about making the exact same amount of money NBA players make, or men make in general. We simply need to open people’s eyes to the fact we spend more than half of the year thousands of miles away and we don’t want to do that. We want to be able to play in our home country, in front of our friends, in front of our family and fans and be able to make a salary that will allow us to sustain an offseason. The reality for a lot of women is it would make sense to not play in the WNBA and just have the summer off and play overseas. But then we completely eliminate the idea of having a league here if all the best players aren’t playing in it. So we have to fight and give our all and our best to try to grow this league and stay committed to what Nancy Lieberman and Carol Blazejowski and all the players who came before us did and not let that die. They worked so hard for this thing to get going. We all love this game of basketball and we would be doing them, and honestly us, a disservice.”

(Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Comparatively speaking, the WNBA is in its infancy. Twenty-two years into the NBA, boxing and track were still more popular and lucrative sports.

 “It’s not going anyplace. It’s a smaller league and an unusual season. But as the game improved we learned a few things and that it isn’t just about mom and daughter. It is about dad and daughter and dad and son and mom and son going to enjoy a good basketball game. I’m not going to say the WNBA would have had an easy time without the NBA support because that’s not so. So it is something about which I am very proud. I think we did the right thing and we made the choices we had to make. In retrospect some might not have been the best choices, but they were the best choices made with a purpose and desire to provide a place for women to go after they finished college to move onto the next level of a great sport.”

 “Now kids are going to NBA games and seeing female referees, female executives, and they will grow up thinking it was always that way, but it wasn’t,” says Stern. “We came from a more humble place. If you want to engage the world in a single conversation, sports is the way to catalyze that conversation.”

The WNBA has come a long way, and has a long way to go, but they’ve got game.

by Sarah Mellema

25 years ago. Vin Baker, the highly prized prospect out of Hartford, was picked eighth overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. Today, the league is celebrating the legacy of this great man, his incredible career and most importantly, his rise back to the Bucks after finding himself in a low place that many wouldn’t have expected him to bounce back from.

The 6-foot-11 power forward averaged 28.3 points per game at the University of Hartford, fourth in the country, and finished with 2,238 points, a school record that still stands. During his final year, Sports Illustrated named Baker “America’s Best-Kept Secret.”

Copyright 1998 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

In 1993, Baker was drafted to the Bucks, and he continued to dominate. He played in four All-Star games, earned an Olympic gold medal and nearly $100 million over the course of his NBA career. But he masked one dark secret: a dependency on drugs and alcohol that eventually cost him his basketball career, his fortune and almost his life.

At first, Baker never let the alcohol interfere with his game. That lasted until around 1996 when he recorded his best game ever as a pro after smoking marijuana before the game, and he quickly convinced himself that he played better under the influence.

He was soon traded to the Seattle SuperSonics where he averaged just under 20 points per game. Not bad considering that while playing for the Sonics, Baker was drinking before, after and sometimes during games. Eventually, he was almost always drunk or hungover during games. Baker was traded to Boston, then to the Knicks, the Rockets and the Clippers. His bank account hit zero, his properties foreclosed, and by 2006, Baker was out of the NBA.

Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Noren Trotman/NBAE via Getty Images)

“We all eventually have that moment of truth, when it physically leaves us,” says Baker. “The fans stop cheering. The game goes away. Then we have a moment of reality about what comes next. It eventually goes away for every player. For me, that moment came abruptly. It was ‘what’s next’ before I was ready to be finished.”

His substance abuse continued after retirement as he tried to forget what might have been. Baker’s first few attempts at sobriety centered on the hope of becoming an All-Star again. He’ll tell you now that those attempts failed because he still needed to humble himself. He needed to start over from the beginning and rediscover himself, not just in his career, but in every facet of life.

“Life dealt me a hand, and I had to reinvent myself with it,” Baker says. “I went to Seminary for a few years in New York, and I was able to find comfort in religion. It was interesting being back in school. I had to sit in class and really think about who I wanted to become.”

With a newfound humility, Baker was able to put his pride aside and make a phone call that would change the direction of his life once again. His former boss, Howard Schultz, who had owned the Sonics when Baker played in Seattle, not only took his call, but he helped Baker come up with a plan. Part of that plan was for Baker to serve coffee at another business Schultz managed: Starbucks.

“From school, to seminary, to Starbucks, I was slowly reinventing who I was,” Baker explains. “My identity from college and more than a decade after was all about the game of basketball. I was forced into a place where I had to think about my life as opposed to just basketball because it was taken away from me. At some point, we all will have that. Life will deal us something, big or small, where it’s not just about basketball, and the priorities in our lives will test us. The priority for me became life, and focusing on things that I needed to improve on as a human being.

What really got him through that time was humility. Baker didn’t have any real agenda other than working on himself. He went into the management training program at Starbucks, which not only forced him to show up to work dependably, but it also meant — just like with his job in basketball — that he put on a uniform.

He was forced into a life outside of basketball, and he’ll tell you now, it was the best thing that could have happened to him.

Humbling himself enough to serve coffee to his former teammates and fans was just the beginning for Baker. He also had to regain his financial freedom, and watch every dime he spent.

“Working at Starbucks, my paychecks looked very different than with the NBA,” Baker says. “The interesting part is, I didn’t really watch my paychecks with the Sonics, but as soon as I got a $900 check a week working full-time at Starbucks, I started paying attention. I was starting over in all aspects of life, and watching every dime I spent was part of that. A $100 million lesson was a hard one to learn. But the awesome part about it? It was a lesson!”

Baker’s path back to the Bucks didn’t just end there. The NBA didn’t just “let” him back in. Even as a former All-Star and Olympian, he had to work for it, which humbled him even more. That path for him included working for FOX Sports Wisconsin, volunteer coaching, then assistant coaching with the Texas Legends of the NBA G League.

“I had to get to a humble place and find myself, and once I experienced that humility, getting back around other players was the easy part,” reflects Baker.

While he was working for the G League, Baker started to notice a different style of basketball. The game had changed in just a handful of years, but his newfound humility helped him continue to move forward.

“I had to learn the game through a different lens,” Baker explains. “Not only was the game different from my playing days, but I also had to see basketball from the perspective of a coach. I had to work hard to get to where I knew I could be, and it wasn’t easy.”

This meant setting aside his pride day after day, in big ways and small. In coaches meetings, he pays close attention because a lot has changed, and he’s ready and willing to learn from the other coaches. If a player Googles his story, he sees it as a beacon of light.

“They know the struggle I’ve overcome,” Baker says. “They see that I was an All-Star, but they also find out what I’ve been through. It’s important for me to lead by example and be the best person I can be. If I see a player struggling, it’s my duty to help him through it and tell him exactly what he needs to do on or off the court. If I’ve overcome what I’ve overcome, someone else can certainly overcome his free-throw slump. We can consistently have hope in any aspect of life.”

Baker considers it a miracle that he’s back in the NBA. He’ll tell you now that when he was serving Grandes, Talls and Ventis, he was not expecting to ever make it back. He was there to make a living. And it made him appreciate every step.

(Photo by Jamie Squire /Getty Images)

“I’m better as a person now than I was when I played in the NBA,” Baker says. “Obviously I’m not the athlete, like the kids remind me every day, but I’m better as a person. I have tremendous opportunity here. It’s incredible. Being a coach happened as soon as I realized and accepted that basketball was over for me.”

Baker has shared his story across different platforms, including writing his own book titled, “God and Starbucks.” He now lives to inspire people who may have lost a bit of life along the way.

“Life is all about lessons,” Baker shares. “Some of them are about ethics, some are big, some are large. My big life lesson hurt. It was expensive, but I learned it. Now I want to share it with other players so they don’t go down the same path. The problem isn’t when people make mistakes — it’s when we make mistakes and we don’t share our lessons. Or when we see other people making mistakes, and we’re too embarrassed to reach out and help them.

“At first, I said ‘why me?’ Now I say, ‘why not me?’ It’s my story, and it’s my duty to share it.”

by Ben Ladner

For many young National Basketball Association (NBA) players, a rookie contract represents an immediate flow of cash into bank accounts that might once have been empty. The allure of a second contract, and a third, opens up a theoretical wellspring of disposable income to be spent, lent and flaunted. But if not managed properly, that wellspring can dry up — often faster than players could have ever anticipated.

Some, however, like Caron Butler, saw those contracts as investments from day one. While many of his peers blew money on cars and clubs, he took a longer view of his career and the rest of his life. Having come into the league with two young children and a family to consider, Butler mostly eschewed night life and frivolous spending in order to take care of more important matters. “My perspective on life was just so much different,” Butler said. “Whereas guys went out and did certain things, I wasn’t trying to spend that type of capital on having fun because I was already thinking about, ‘I’ve got two mouths to feed forever, and I have to make sure they attend college.’”

During his youth in Racine, Wisconsin, Butler experienced firsthand the consequences of hanging with the wrong crowd. He began selling drugs as a teenager, had the first of five kids at the age of 14 and was arrested more than a dozen times before being incarcerated at 16. “I embraced the wrong things,” Butler said [on the Ballers With Babies podcast] in 2018. “But I was what I was exposed to.”

To position himself for a more stable future, Butler surrounded himself with people who could help him make responsible financial decisions and plan for the future when he came into the league. “I just had really smart people around me,” Butler said. “People that just exposed me to the right things and the right people.”

Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

That group included Butler’s agent and lawyer, Raymond Brothers, his financial adviser and his business partner. They helped him maximize his earning power in the NBA and protect his money throughout his career. As a player, Butler attended financial literacy classes offered by the NBA Players Association and took advantage of relationships with active and retired players alike. Today, he’s reaping the rewards. Butler has curated a wide range of investments, including stakes in Graduate Hotels and Juice Budz, which have a combined 18 locations. Additionally, he and fellow NBA players Anthony Tolliver and Steve Blake were among the first high-profile people to invest in the social media app Arbit, and Butler invested in DeltaHawk Engines, an aircraft engine manufacturer based in Racine, last year.

Butler also remains active in both his home community in Racine and the NBA fraternity. He, Grant Hill and Jerome Williams were recently named to the NBA Retired Players Association’s Board of Directors, where Butler helps empower current players and assists them in planning for their post-playing careers. As a recently-retired, former NBA All-Star who transitioned smoothly from the court to the media, Butler is a recognizable model for players on how to remain active after retiring and a resource for players like Bradley Beal, Eric Bledsoe and Spencer Dinwiddie, who have reached out to him for advice on managing careers and their wealth after retirement. “The NBA is an amazing platform to be on,” Butler said. “But at some point, everyone will be a retired player, or an ex-player. And you have to have some type of strategic plan about how you want to exit and go on to the next phase of your life, because you will say goodbye to the game at some point.”

Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

In today’s age of heightened player agency and athlete-controlled media endeavors, many of the NBA’s brightest stars aren’t waiting to retire before entering the media field. Players have begun exerting more influence over their perception among fans, often via independent entities that give them complete autonomy over their message. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry all have their own media companies, while an increasing number of players are speaking through The Players’ Tribune or Uninterrupted. “Guys are starting to try to control their content as much as possible and tell their own stories,” Butler said. “I think that’s the new wave.”

Butler has joined that wave, too, getting involved in a variety of platforms and mediums to share his perspective on topics inside and outside the realm of basketball. He has worked as a sideline reporter and studio host for Turner Sports for the last two years while regularly co-hosting a radio show and a podcast. Mark Wahlberg is soon to produce a movie based on Butler’s memoir, while Butler himself is heading up a documentary titled “The Green Dream” on racial inequality in the cannabis industry and justice system. He has taken full advantage of his platform and his voice, and like so many NBA players in 2019, he’s doing it from a perspective only he has. “I think it’s important that if you’re going to tell a story,” Butler said, “you should be able to tell your story the way you want to.”

by Brad Shulkin

A true pioneer in women’s basketball, no one has had more of an impact on the women’s game than Sheryl Swoopes. Her accolades are undeniable. A dominating force throughout her entire career, Swoopes would go on to become the first woman signed to the WNBA, a three-time WNBA MVP, an Olympic gold medalist, and an NCAA and WNBA Champion.

 “When I look back on my playing career and I look at where I am today, I just remember saying, ‘Is this really happening? Is this real? Is this true?’ And as much as I was excited about it, there was a part of me that said, ‘This is going to be a challenge because now there is a lot of pressure.’”

These accomplishments for Swoopes, which helped elevate her status among the league’s best, didn’t come without incredible pressure.

“I take a lot of pride in who I am and what the WNBA represents. To be a part of the league back in 1997 and to be the first player to sign was a lot of pressure for me. But it was pressure that I welcomed because I looked at it as an opportunity to go out and really market the league and try to show people that women can really play this game.”

Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Shane Bevel/NBAE via Getty Images)

Since the age of seven, Swoopes’ love of basketball was overly apparent. A rising recruit out of Brownfield High School, Swoopes initially decided to attend in-state behemoth, The University of Texas. But apprehension quickly set in and Swoopes made the decision to leave the school and enroll at South Plains Community College to be closer to home. She went on to become a two-time All-American and All-Region selection at South Plains. After two successful seasons, Swoopes transferred to Texas Tech, where she went on to win an NCAA Championship in 1993. She is one of only three Lady Raiders to have her jersey retired by the team. Still to this day, Swoopes holds many school and national records, including the single game and single season scoring records. A culmination of her tremendous season at Texas Tech, Swoopes went on to be named the 1993 Naismith College Player of the Year.

After college, Swoopes turned to USA Basketball in 1994 before joining the WNBA in 1997. During the WNBA’s inaugural season, Swoopes was recruited to play for the Houston Comets. Swoopes was the first woman to be signed to a WNBA contract and right out of the gate, made her impact known. During her tenure with the team, Swoopes accumulated over 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and more than 200 steals. Her play made her the first three-time WNBA MVP and the first three-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. 

“When I first started playing basketball at the age of seven, I set goals for myself and said, ‘Yes, I want to play in the Olympics. Yes, I want to meet Michael Jordan.’ And all of those things happened. And when I started playing in the WNBA, honestly I never went into the league saying I want to be MVP this many years. I want to win four championships. All I said was I wanted to be successful and, at the time, I didn’t really know what that looked like or what that meant.”

Since Swoopes joined the WNBA back in 1997, the league’s growth has been undeniable. This past season, the WNBA saw a 36-percent increase in viewership in adults age 18-49, a 29-percent jump in men in that age group and a 50 percent increase in women. But more than the growth of the viewership has been the growth of the women who play the game. What has excited Swoopes the most is seeing the current generation of players use this growing platform to influence the greater good.

“It’s so incredible to see how far the league has come. I know there is still a lot of work to do, but to see the talent level and how much these women are embracing the challenge of continuing to compete and putting the women’s game on the map. It says a lot about who they are and what they represent. I love the fact that you have younger players today that are in the league that are stepping up, not just on the court, but they are using their voices for a lot of very positive things.”

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As she sits here today and reflects on what has been a truly historic career, Swoopes is left with no regrets. She put everything she had into the game she loved and is left with nothing but pride and a sense of relief when discussing her accomplishments.

“I can honestly sit here today and say I accomplished everything I ever thought I could accomplish and then some. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would have so much success on the court with basketball and that basketball would allow me to go to so many different places and meet so many incredible people and really change my life. That’s exactly what the game did for me.”