Two-time judo Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison is still in the hunt for the $1 million championship prize in Professional Fighters League
There is no prescribed order for looking at these portraits of ESPY winners. No uniformity of theme to frame the athletes’ prodigious talents. No particular silhouette that conveys the significance of their achievements.
You might scroll through the images for long minutes before you find the entry point. It’s a truth about sports we hold to be self-evident — not all men and women are created equal.
Premier athletic accomplishment exists as a kind of off-ramp from normal human experience, and we are moved by the simple fact of it. Scrolling through this collection of photos, some from more than a decade ago, of some of the athletes honored, we try to establish a connection with people who do a thing that puts distance between themselves and the rest of the world. We are looking for something that gives us a way in.
A 2001 close-up of Shaquille O’Neal, fingers splayed, covering/not covering his face, invites us near. It plays with the idea that the Basketball Hall of Famer might have tried to hide something of himself if life had ever tempted him with the option. Instead, physiology became destiny, and one of the NBA’s most dominant players ever exercised his outsize personality, ambition and smarts to carry that 7-foot frame off the court and into the rest of his life.
Mia Hamm, of the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup team, plays soccer on a field of young girls in Washington, D.C., or turns her face to the sun, and reminds us of that singular American moment decades ago when she and her teammates nationalized young women’s athletic joy.
At times, it feels impossible to separate the athletes from the racial context in which they occur. A portrait of Venus Williams — serene, simple, lovely — feels like the best photo you’ve ever seen of her, which requires some sleight of mind because it’s not a shot of her dominating on the tennis court while helping redefine the sport. But it does show Venus Ebony Starr Williams, breaker of serves, first of her name, outside the context of what are often racist, tiresome feels about her face and body, and that alone feels beautiful.
Mostly, the images represent athletes in the existential act of asserting themselves over, but not limited to, the sports they’ve reimagined and changed. In 2006, a young LeBron James standing in a cavernous hallway with his legs hip-width apart doesn’t telegraph who he will become so much as clarify what he brought with him into the room. It’s a certainty about the space he took up in the world long before he reached beyond basketball to build schools, produce documentaries and marshal the culture.
In many of the photos, especially the older ones, we have the subjects at a disadvantage. We begin with the end in mind. We already know their stories, so now we look for the proof of their narratives.
Who else sees Shuri, “Wakanda Forever,” in a photo of a laughing Sheryl Swoopes, the first player signed by the WNBA and a three-time MVP? Swoopes, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, worked different magic in different arenas a generation before the teen tech genius in Black Panther. But she helped create and hold open the lane for black girls who wanted to be something that had never been before. These shots of Swoopes demand that you see her for who she is, even as she changed. It was all still pioneering work.
We can’t always see who they are, or were, in these photos that fix some of the world’s greatest sports figures at specific instances in time. We bring to this watch party the beliefs we already had. But we keep looking anyway, keep trying to take whatever they have to give. It is our way of trying to connect with those people fated to represent something that lies beyond the ordinary human grasp. We scour the images again and again, those of us on the outside, looking for clues.
Written by Lonnae O’Neal
At a certain point in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed like every suburban girl in America was interested in soccer, and that was most certainly due to the influence of Mia Hamm and her teammates on the U.S. national team.
She was called the most marketable female athlete of her generation, appearing on Wheaties boxes and in commercials opposite Michael Jordan. Even two years into retirement, as Hamm was when this photograph was taken, she remained an avatar for focused, joyful, ambitious girlhood. She wasn’t just good at one part of soccer, she was great at all of it: dribbling, striking, creating opportunities for her teammates to score and rallying them at low points. Hamm carved a path to exceptionalism in a team sport and, in doing so, was named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year for five straight seasons.
England had the Spice Girls. America had Hamm, Abby Wambach and Brandi Chastain. It must have been difficult to finally walk away from all of that at age 32, and it’s evident here. Hamm is crouched to tie her shoelace and appears, like many athletes shortly after they retire, as if she could jump back into her sport for just one more Women’s World Cup, just one more Olympic run.
It takes the viewer a minute to realize the only thing missing is shin guards. Like the All-American good girl she came to exemplify, Hamm, of course, is prepared. She’s making sure her laces don’t get caught in her cleats. A jaunty ponytail secures her hair. Perhaps this is a scrimmage or a clinic. No matter. The habits that build a champion are hard to shake.
The eyes are the table of contents to the soul’s story. For LeBron James, that story has been shaped for nearly 20 years by many voices, from fans to critics to the media and sponsors. But it’s been lived, every second of every day, by only one man.
Given the great American success story that followed, we sometimes overlook the young LeBron. But we all witnessed the debates over whether a teenage demigod dubbed “The Chosen One” a year before his senior prom was truly the heir apparent to Michael Jordan. We heard the barbershop banter about whether the Akron Hammer would dominate a league of grown men. Everyone had an opinion about King James. The last person it seemed to faze, though, was the one with the most to lose.
“Pressure been following me my whole life,” an 18-year-old James said after the 2003 NBA draft lottery, three years before this photograph was made.
Since his first professional game in Sacramento later that year, organized chaos has followed James like his own shadow. Which makes looking at this LeBron surreal. It’s a cue that youth, even for someone like James, is fleeting, even as we carry our emotional connection to it for the rest of our lives. No one knew the serious young man in this picture would evolve into the leader, activist, business tycoon and philanthropic force seen now. Some believed in the hype. Others didn’t. Even fewer believed he’d actually surpass the unrealistic expectations. Nothing about LeBron’s story has ever been normal.
Shaquille O’Neal’s hand could devour the average person’s head. He’d do it with a smile and his baritone laugh, of course. But there’s a deeper lesson in this 2001 photograph in which O’Neal obscures half of his own face. One that proves truer and truer as the years pass and his exploits in the NBA devolve into hand-me-down stories. Shaq’s still a pop culture dynamo and an MVP candidate for every room he steps into. But it’s getting harder and harder to see what once was. And to recognize that there was a time when maybe we, and even Shaq himself, treated the moment like a luxury rather than the gift it truly was.
Basketball may never see the second coming of Black Superman. He was a 7-foot tour de force who will likely remain the lone athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, MVP and NBA Finals MVP and release a platinum rap album. Good luck capturing that lightning in a bottle twice. In terms of the most dominant basketball player, Shaq is in the top two. Except he’s not No. 2. Like Shaq’s face here, we may see glimpses of his game again in others. There will be new athletes who blend Hollywood, the league and hip-hop. But never quite like The Diesel.
History may repeat itself. Halley’s Comet may come around every 75 years. But don’t expect to see anyone like Shaquille O’Neal again.
This is the body of the greatest swimmer of all time. It is not armored with muscle. It is not awesome. It looks naked, and a bit vulnerable. It looks quite human.
Michael Phelps delivered inhuman performances at four Olympics, collecting more medals than any athlete in any sport: 23 gold, three silver and two bronze. His eight golds in 2008 are the greatest haul in any single games. Three years after his retirement, he still holds three individual and three relay world records.
What’s not obvious in this photograph is the unique body construction that was the engine of Phelps’ dominance: long arms with double-jointed elbows, long torso attached to shorter legs, huge feet made flipper-like by flexible ankles. Most of that is hidden here. So we must look at Phelps, the human being.
Phelps grew up with a burning hole in his heart, left by his father after his parents’ divorce. Winning in the water filled the hole, and so did alcohol, but they always drained away to expose Phelps’ trauma. At age 19, two months after winning six gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence. In 2009, after his eight-gold triumph in Beijing, he was photographed smoking marijuana and suspended from competition.
A second DUI arrest in 2014 pushed Phelps into intensive therapy, where he reclaimed control of his life and rebuilt a relationship with his father. That propelled him into his final Olympics, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where he sealed his legacy with his final five gold medals.
This is the human fragility of Michael Phelps. It makes him look even more awesome.
Time is loyal only to its own clock. For Albert Pujols, now 39, his best playing days are in the rearview mirror. But in this 2006 portrait, the slugger once known as “The Machine” is eyeing the future and what it could possibly hold. Pujols would capture his first of two World Series titles with the St. Louis Cardinals that year. Even then, the Dominican superstar was fielding All Time comparisons.
Yet, then as now, the same question hangs in the air. What’s next? Before the start of the 2019 season, Pujols had said he intends to complete his contract, which ends in 2021. In this photo, Pujols bothers not with the camera but rather what the camera can’t see. The same holds true now. Cooperstown? Absolutely — he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, currently sixth all-time in career homers and fifth in RBIs. More time to focus on his diverse charitable efforts? “That’s part of the responsibility God has given me,” he said during his Anaheim Angels introduction in 2011. “Not just to perform on the field, but to give back off the field.”
Whatever’s next for Pujols is truly his pitch to make. But while he’s still manning first base for the Angels, let’s not lose sight of what’s right in front of us. He’s one of the greatest baseball players ever. We should never take a gift like that for granted.
She knew. Sheryl Swoopes knew who she was and what she could do.
We did not. When the WNBA launched in 1997, many of us who respected and valued women’s basketball didn’t know how good these women really were. We certainly didn’t know that Sheryl Denise Swoopes, born in 1971 in the West Texas town of Brownfield, was one of the greatest basketball players to ever step on a court.
Look into Swoopes’ eyes and you can see the experience of being slighted, plus the peace of being unbothered by the injustice. There is the calmness of knowing that she may miss a shot, but her scoring ability can never be stopped. Her gnarled knuckles testify to collecting thousands of steals, deflections, loose balls and rebounds. The discoloration on her right foot speaks to the thousands of court miles needed to secure this knowledge of self.
Such confidence comes from scoring 47 points in the 1993 NCAA championship game, setting a record that still stands for most points scored by any woman or man on college basketball’s biggest stage. It comes from suiting up for the Houston Comets six weeks after giving birth, then leading the team to the first of four straight WNBA championships. From having a son with her high school sweetheart, coming out as gay, enduring a breakup with her partner, then marrying another man. From winning three Olympic gold medals. From being the first woman to have her own Nike shoe.
Sheryl Swoopes knew. Now we do too.
Seeing Mike Trout look away from the camera neatly encapsulates the conundrum surrounding the Los Angeles Angels center fielder. Is it unfair or is it a precious gift that one of the most dominant athletes on the planet, and the recipient of the richest contract in American team sports history, is also one of its most unrecognizable? How should we understand the bizarre path to immortality the game’s best player trots?
Since his first full campaign in 2012, Trout has been named Rookie of the Year, finished in the top four of MVP voting every season and won the award twice, made the All-Star team seven times and earned All-Star Game MVP honors twice. There’s talk that he’s already the best baseball player ever. But the scrunched eyebrows on Trout’s face mirror the concern of fans emotionally invested in a career that has barely registered in much of the country. Baseball’s waning status in American culture is a complicating factor, of course. But so is the fact that the Angels have had only one postseason appearance during Trout’s tenure. Will team success ever align with individual sovereignty?
Only 27, with presumably hundreds of games to play and millions of dollars to be paid before he is immortalized in Cooperstown, there is still time for Trout and the Angels to break out. In the meantime, we see this stoic expression on an all-time dominating presence who is frustratingly unknown.
There’s a line in George C. Wolfe’s 1986 play The Colored Museum that states, “God created black people and black people created style.” Serena Williams was 24 when she sat for this portrait, and still in the early stages of articulating her personal style. But harbingers of what was to come — multiple covers of glossies such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar — peek through.
The frame is nearly overtaken by hair and lip gloss, and Williams gazes out hopefully, as if eyeing the future. But there’s also evidence of the conflict that has remained with Williams since she and her older sister Venus grabbed the tennis world as teens and shook it. Williams has long felt pressure to assert her femininity, especially as her skill, her physique and her boiling competitiveness made her a frequent target of sexist attacks. Accused of being mannish, Williams appears here as soft, romantic and sporting the sort of hair that every black girl who’s ever made a trip to the beauty supply store recognizes as “Wet ’N’ Wavy.”
Later, the “Wet ’N’ Wavy” locks would give way to billowing natural curls and more assertive declarations about gender and race-based inequities. Still, the raw ingredients were already present. Williams appeared as herself in the Memphis Bleek music video for “Do My…” in 2000, which not only took female athletic ability seriously but also treated it as something cool and desirable. “Throw a hand in the air if it’s the year of the woman,” Bleek instructs.
In this moment six years later, there’s a quietude about Williams. Her mouth is closed. She’s not wielding a racket or dripping with sweat, or selling a watch, or shoes, or athletic wear. Instead, Williams has continued forging ahead, making every year the year of the woman rather than settling for just one.
Venus Williams has never been known as especially talkative, so it makes sense that here she appears placid, almost sphinxlike, with a calm, understated regality. Her younger sister, Serena, issues fashion declarations that make her queenliness literal, but Venus, the first Williams sister to experience worldwide fame for her racket-based talents, is more reserved.
One of the most fascinating things about Venus and Serena Williams has been how they coexist on and off the court — they once shared a Palm Beach house together, and both are fierce, focused competitors. Their matches are fraught with an uncomfortable tension, so much so that the best thing about them tends to be their conclusions. Venus appears outwardly better at coping with loss, especially when it comes at the hands of her younger sister. She has learned to exhibit the gracious nobility of an older sibling, all the while knowing who is coming behind her.
In 2006, the year this photograph was taken, Williams wrote a letter to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club lobbying for the organization to award equal prize money to male and female Wimbledon competitors. The language was firm, its message unmistakable: “I feel so strongly that Wimbledon’s stance devalues the principle of meritocracy and diminishes the years of hard work that women on the tour have put into becoming professional tennis players,” she wrote. In 2007, Wimbledon announced a policy of gender parity in its prize money. A year after that, Venus beat Serena on Centre Court to take England’s Grand Slam title.
How fitting, then, to see her seated upon a throne of damask upholstery, secure, pleased and smiling into the distance, as if she knows what is to come.
Live in the moment. It’s a motto that many preach and few actually practice. But Dwyane Wade isn’t most people. His season-long #OneLastDance is proof: a case study, actually, in gratitude and the importance of being present. Tuesday night, the icon who took his talents to Miami in 2003, where he has played with the Heat for all but 1½ seasons — takes to the court for his final regular-season home game.
There are two ways to view Wade’s career. One is via the sheer audacity of his accomplishments.
He will have scored more than 23,000 points.
He is a 13-time All Star, and the 2010 All-Star Game MVP.
Wade is a 2008 Olympic Gold medalist and eight-time All-NBA selection.
That he is a three-time All-Defensive selection could have something to do with the fact that, in terms of guards, Wade is the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks.
All of which provides context for him being a three-time NBA champion and the 2006 Finals MVP. Wade is quite simply the greatest shooting guard of all time — not named Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.
The second way to appreciate Wade is through the prism of the cultural impact he’s had on professional basketball, and on the world around him. There’s his very public journey of fatherhood — including his recent extended paternity leave. Wade as wielding his voice and platform in this new golden era of player social activism. Married to actor, author, and philanthropist Gabrielle Union he is one-half of a power couple with global influence. Wade’s fashion risks and fashion firsts are indelible. And, of course, there is Wade’s critical role in forming and preserving the 2010-14 Miami Heat — the team that unequivocally changed the look, the feel, the style and bravado of NBA basketball ever after.
But now, after 16 campaigns, it’s over. Wade’s farewell has been the NBA’s finest storyline of the 2018-19 season. “This year has allowed me just to play and be free and not really care,” Wade told me in February. “If I score 22, if I score two — I’m enjoying the process … this journey, that I’m ending … It really allows me to live in the moment and just enjoy it all. Normally as an athlete you don’t get to.”
I joined Wade at three of his last NBA games. On March 22, Miami was at Milwaukee, near where he played college ball. As a player, he stepped on court at New York City’s Madison Square Garden for the last time on March 30. And then there was his last game at American Airlines Arena on April 9 against Philadelphia. One last ride.
CHAPTER ONE: THE WARM-UP
MILWAUKEE — Now head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, former Marquette Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean has witnessed the legend of Dwyane Wade several times. There was the 2001 31-point explosion against Tennessee in The Great Alaska Shootout. Then there was the victory two nights later against Indiana. But the moment? The one that put an entire country on notice? That’s Feb. 27, 2003, when Wade, Crean and No. 10 Marquette, on the road, defeated No. 11 Louisville.
“[Dwyane] makes a move in front of our bench,” says Crean. “He starts out on a drive so it’s on the left wing, behind the 3-point line. … He gets a dribble out in front of him, he lifts the guy, does a spin dribble, OK?” Excitement rises in Crean’s voice. “[Wade] spin dribbles, shot fakes, lifts the guy and shoots it off the backboard … basically beat three people to the rim.”
Sportscaster Dick Vitale, per usual, couldn’t contain himself. This was the same year high school phenom LeBron James was a one-man sports news cycle. The year Carmelo Anthony’s freshman season at Syracuse was the college hoops storyline. But now a new name was tossed to the hysteria and into one of the best draft classes in NBA history.
And the Miami Heat were anxious to find its next star. “[Everyone in the Heat organization] ended up watching … all of his tournament games to prepare for the draft,” says Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, sitting on the scorers table after shootaround last month. Miami was set to play Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks that night. In 2003, Spoelstra was a Heat coaching assistant. “They were super well-coached,” Spoelstra says. “And Dwyane made you watch that team.”
Walk into the Al McGuire Center on Marquette’s campus and the first face you see is Wade’s. A large portrait commemorating the school’s Final Four run, with Wade as its centerpiece, sits beside Marquette legends such as Bo Ellis, Jim Boykin, Maurice Lucas and Dean Meminger. The 3,700-seat arena is quiet in late March, as both the men’s and women’s teams are at the NCAA tournament. Wade’s presence, though, is everywhere.
There is “M Club” Hall of Fame induction in 2009. His place on the Walk of Champions. A large banner pays him homage in the actual gym. Wade courses through the veins of Marquette. Some students walk across campus in his college jersey. There’s excitement in the air. Wade and the Heat are coming to town — it’s his last time playing in the city that still claims him as its own.
There’s an upbeat vibe at Fiserv Forum the morning of March 22. The Heat are holding a shootaround as The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “It’s the Same Old Song” bleed into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Maybe it’s a Pat Riley call. He is a child of Motown, after all.
Some players are getting up shots. But Wade’s knees are already iced as he sits courtside behind the basket. Almost directly above him hangs his No. 3 Marquette jersey. He’s having fun talking to the media, and he smiles when the Ja Morant comparisons come up. A day earlier, Morant dropped a triple-double (as Wade did in ’03, and as only eight others have done in the NCAA tournament) in Murray State’s first-round win over, poetically, Marquette. “He’s special for real,” Wade said. “[He] definitely gave me flashbacks.”
Wade’s eyes glisten when I mention the name Gaulien “Gee” Smith. He’s owner of Gee’s Clippers Barber and Beauty Salon on Milwaukee’s Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, where Wade got his hair cut while in college. Gee, who has cut the hair of more than 200 NBA players, including Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, recalls Wade as a soft-spoken, respectful guy whom he held out as special. “I told him [at Skybox Sports Bar across the street],” Gee says, “ ‘Man, I knew you would be great. But I’ma be honest with you, I had no idea you would be who you are today.’ ” Wade beams at the memory.
Udonis Haslem, who entered the NBA in 2003 with Wade, returns to the court and looks over at Wade, whom he considers more than a brother. “This is … the happiest I’ve ever seen him,” says Haslem. “I’m living through him and his happiness. I’m enjoying all this as a friend. Real friends enjoy seeing their friends happy.”
Heat fans have piled into the Bucks’ home arena to watch the Eastern Conference’s top squad play the Heat. The past 20 years of Wade’s basketball life are on people’s chests and backs: Marquette jerseys, Olympic jerseys, Chicago Bulls jerseys, even a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. But overwhelmingly it’s about that Heat No. 3 jersey in all of its hues.
Fans Felix and Linda have made the 80-mile trek from the capital city of Madison, Wisconsin, to Milwaukee for the moment. “This is his home! Even though he’s in Miami for now,” Linda says, not even trying to hide her sarcasm. “He’ll always be welcome here.”
“It means a lot to see him in his last game here,” says Felix. “The things he does in the community off the court outweighs what he does on the court. Everybody knows he’s a great player, but he’s also a great human being. That’s the sad part about seeing him hanging up his sneakers.”
It’s a common sentiment at Fiserv all night. Midway through the first quarter, during a timeout, highlights of Wade’s March Madness run splash across the JumboTron and elicit a standing ovation. “This,” a man yells from the stands, “made me a basketball fan.”
When Wade checks in with 4:41 left in the first, an even louder ovation erupts. Wade’s 12 points, though, do little to prevent the inevitable: The Heat — in a royal rumble with Orlando, Brooklyn and Detroit for three of the East’s final three seeds — lose 116-87. But the moment was bigger than the game. Both Milwaukee All-Stars, Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, swapped jerseys with Wade after the game. His who’s who of jersey swappers this year includes LeBron James, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki and others.
“He is definitely a mentor, somebody I watch from afar,” Middleton said after the game. “[He’s] one of my favorite players growing up. Still one of my favorite players to this day.”
In the locker room, Wade sits on a chair with his shirt off and a gold chain around his neck with a throng of reporters around him. “I have no regrets,” he says of his farewell tour. Those who came out to see him don’t have regrets either. Pride is mixed with sorrow. Honor is in bed with sadness.
“I just know,” Linda says, “I’ma miss him.”
Crean, Wade’s coach at Marquette, has a theory about why the star’s connection to the area runs so deep. It’s not about the highlights, or the notoriety both men brought to Marquette in the early 2000s. It’s not even about what they did in the spring of 2003. It’s about the soul of a man.
“He never, ever stopped caring about Marquette or Milwaukee even after [we] left,” Crean says. “It never stopped being his home. It never stopped being his school. … He’s incredibly loyal to his friends, his family, his community. … He gets it.”
PART TWO: DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY
NEW YORK — It didn’t take long for Wade to have his first Madison Square Garden moment. Or, in other words, rip the hearts out of New York Knicks fans. The date was March 15, 2005, and with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and the 49-16 Heat were tied at 96 with the 26-35 Knicks.
Double-teamed by Stephon Marbury and Kurt Thomas, Wade (then known as “Flash” in his second NBA season) turned the ball over, giving the Knicks a chance at pulling off the upset. Thomas missed a baseline jumper, allowing Wade to pull down his third and final rebound of the game — thus setting him up for the final shot. Moments later, Wade called for iso far beyond the top of the key. A hard drive left. A vicious step-back jumper. Nothing but the bottom of the net. Heat win 98-96.
The Heat’s shootaround takes place at NYC’s Basketball City. It sits on the East River with a clear view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and the Statue of Liberty. Some players are getting shots up. Others have side conversations with coaches. The energy is calm and inviting as media types surround Wade. He’s wearing a black Heat sweatsuit — and what appear to be Uggs.
“Besides playing at home, [Madison Square Garden] is my favorite place to play,” Wade says. “It’s a lot of great arenas in the NBA, but there’s something about MSG that’s … special. … Heat Nation is strong here, so we always have a home crowd kinda feel. It’s the lights. It’s the way the floor is lit. It’s everything.”
Wade is balancing reflection and being in the moment. The night is largely about him — he’s the third-leading active non-Knick scorer at MSG, behind LeBron James and Vince Carter. Yet, for Wade, the night is more about the playoff push. The Heat at the time were still clawing for their postseason lives — and, at press time, still are. Wade is as mild-mannered as they come in the NBA, but it’s clear that questions about Knicks coach and close friend Dave Fizdale’s ability to lead his team out of a perpetual state of rebuilding begins to annoy him. Wade’s professional career began in the Garden at the 2003 NBA draft, but in March 2019 at MSG, he had not retired yet.
Much like in Milwaukee, and at other stops this season, droves of fans arrive in Wade-associated paraphernalia. One such Heat fan, sporting the statement pink Wade jersey, walks around a concourse in full Braveheart mode, high-fiving and hugging any other Heat fan he sees. “Let’s go Heat!” he belts out. “Let’s go Wade!”
Other fans couldn’t let Wade leave New York without saying goodbye.
“I’ve only seen him once,” says New Jersey native and die-hard Wade fan Ahmed Doumani. “I can’t have him retire without seeing him again.”
Celebrities also pile up at MSG for Wade. Tennis great John McEnroe, actor John Turturro, New York Jets Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams and Kansas City Chiefs MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes are all in attendance. The most important courtside seat though, as it relates to Wade, is that of his wife, Gabrielle Union.
“It’s so nice to see him appreciate [this final season],” Union said during an in-game interview. “They say give people their flowers while they can still appreciate it, and the NBA has just done a tremendous job [of that].”
Midway through the first, Wade walks to the scorers table to check in. The groundswell of energy, anticipation and gratitude is gargantuan. Hairs rise on the back of necks. Goose bumps have nothing to do with the air conditioning. Fizdale, who spent eight seasons as an assistant and associate head coach in Miami, paid homage to his former player from the Jumbotron and had more to say after the game.
“I’ve learned more from him than he has from me, for sure,” Fizdale said. “When he says he’s your friend, he’s going to be there for you. He’s been there for me every step of the way. He is one of the greatest guards that has ever played this game.”
Every time Wade touched the ball at MSG, the crowd cheered. He received “MVP” chants when he went to the free throw line — perhaps the lone accomplishment not on his career portfolio. The Knicks offense stalled in the second, allowing Miami to push ahead for good. This allowed Knicks fans to focus on what’s really important.
“Thank you, D-Wade, for whooping our a– one more time!” one fan behind press row yelled. “We’re one step closer to Zion [Williamson]!”
Wade finished with 16 points and seven assists in a 100-92 victory — although the crowd would’ve much rather preferred for it to be 18 points. A called offensive foul on Wade in a missed alley-oop drew the biggest boos of the night — from Heat and Knicks fans. After the game, hundreds of fans stuck around to take in Wade’s final moments in the Garden. New York has never had an issue with telling opponents off. It’s an unforgiving fan base. But if the city respects you, they’ll love you forever.
“Gotta pay respect,” a Knicks fan says, patting his young son on the head, “to one of the GOATs.”
Chants of “One more year!” ride shotgun with “D-Wade!” And as a shoeless Wade finally runs off the court, he’s showered with one last ovation. Inside the locker room, Wade, in a pink “Play Make Her” hoodie (a fund launched by the Entertainment Industry Foundation to empower women in the sports industry) is looking forward to summing up the night.
“I’ll be here, I’m sure, a few other times in my life. But as a player … it’s your last time, you just enjoy it,” he says. “The fans staying around after was so cool. You expect that at home, but on the road you don’t expect it.”
As the locker room clears, Wade is smiling. It’s almost over. He taps me on my shoulder. He’s seen me at many of these stops. “See you in the next city, bro.” He takes pictures with two kids — one in a Heat jersey and another in a Knicks jersey. Then he’s off into the New York night, hand in hand with Union, as hundreds of fans wait near the team bus hoping for one last glimpse of a legend.
PART THREE: VICTORY LAP
MIAMI — “Feed him the rock,” the man says, a grin overtaking the real estate of his face. Decked in a white Wade jersey and Miami Heat hat, he takes a couple of pulls from his cigarette and carries on with another guy doing the same. “He can beat Kobe’s 60.Why not? It’s his last home game. It’s what everybody’s here for right?”
Miami knew this day would come. Erik Spoelstra made a vow to Wade (and to himself) at Wade’s home last summer when he learned this would be the superstar’s final run. “I just wanted to enjoy all these moments and be present. Not think about when it’s over, or next year,” the Heat head coach said. “I wanted to [do] everything we could to make sure it was as he imagined.”
Dwyane Wade’s final home game was the topic around the city all day Tuesday. Miami is fiercely protective of Wade, and for a certain generation of south Florida sports fans, Wade is not just one of the greats. He’s the greatest.
“For really anyone 40 and under, he’s the symbol of sports excellence in Miami,” says columnist and 5ReasonsSports.com podcast host Alphonse Sidney. “We’re too young for the 1972 Dolphins. We were in elementary school or not alive even when [Dan] Marino was elite. We’ve seen two Marlins championships, but we never really had a chance to fawn over those teams because as soon as we won the championship they were gone.” He pauses momentarily. “When it comes to elite athleticism, elite players, superstars who are a symbol of a team and a community, it’s Dwyane Wade and really no one else.”
“Dwyane Wade represents us Miamians in a way no other South Florida sports figure has,” says Maria Cabré, head of operations at J Wakefield Brewing. “He [just] gets it — a balance of humility and ego and forward thinking yet rooted in tradition. [Miami] will always be his home.”
Inside American Airlines Arena is a celebration fit for a king. “L3GACY” shirts are placed on every seat in the arena — which is filled long before tip off. Dwyane Wade highlights run in an unapologetic loop on any and every screen. The entire arena chants for some 10 minutes before tipoff.
We want Wade!
We want Wade!
We want Wade!
There are clips and voiceovers from Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, and Gabrielle Union. A deafening roar erupts when Pat Riley declares, “This will be Wade County forever!”
On a night defined by emotions and immortalized by beauty, Wade’s oldest son Zaire introduced his father in a moment best described as surreal. “That one almost got me,” Wade quipped in a hallway after the game.
Following roughly 20 minutes of pre-game Wade-themed nostalgia, and a speech from the man of the hour, an actual basketball game took place. Though it was more like glorified scrimmage with the Philadelphia 76ers seemingly content with having the best seat in the house for Wade’s final Florida farewell. Spoelstra said following the game the decision to start Wade was a “no brainer.”
And, fittingly, with Chris and Adrienne Bosh, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Tim Hardaway and more courtside and nearby, the first bucket of the game was a dunk from No. 3. Everything Wade did Tuesday night — scoring, assists, rebounds, waves to the crowd — elicited thundering ovations. Everyone was soaking up the moment, even those in press row.
During timeouts, the video tributes continued. Derek Jeter’s was booed. NBA commissioner Adam Silver saluted Wade, telling him Springfield, Massachusetts was his next stop. As did his mother (Jolinda), father (Dwyane Sr.), sister (Tragil) and nephew (Dahveon). “You’ve given me the biggest gift you could ever give any of your fans,” Gabrielle Union says in hers. “Your heart.” Zaire returned on screen to thank his father for giving him a blueprint for how to live life both on and away from the court. His youngest son Zion, who participated in the Miami Beach Pride march on Sunday, had but one request for his dad. “Don’t lose your last home!” The biggest ovation was reserved for President Barack Obama. Via video he saluted Wade for a career well-played.
“Now, I know what you’re going through because saying goodbye to a career that you love is never easy. I’ve been there,” Obama said. “In my case though, I didn’t really have a choice. My knees were shot so I had to give up basketball forever.”
News about Magic Johnson stepping away from the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t derail what was instantly one of the most special nights in South Florida history, and the Detroit Pistons’ comeback victory over Memphis, officially eliminating the Heat from the playoffs, didn’t dampen a parade 16 seasons in the making. A truly special sequence in the fourth quarter soon ignites. The game was already decided. The crowd had already erupted into another “We want Wade!” chant. Then Wade and fellow Miami favorite Udonis Haslem checked into the game together.
Dwyane Wade went full Dwyane Wade one last time. A turnaround fadeaway from nine feet. Then a three pointer that turned the arena on its collective head in euphoria. Then another three pointer. Then a 23-foot step back jumper that prompted his wife Gabrielle Union to slap him on the butt as he ran by. And then three minutes later, another three.
All in all, Dwyane Wade closed out his career with 30 points, including 14 in the final frame. And the 20,153 in attendance managed to squeeze in “Paul Pierce sucks” chant for good measure.
As the clock ran to triple zeros, the moment had finally set in. An era was over. Wade saved his most personal jersey exchanges for last. He swapped jerseys with his entire team. Then Zaire. The most personal swap was with No. 11 Heat jersey with “Hank” on the back. This was a homage to Henry Thomas, D-Wade’s late agent who became far more than just that over the course of his career. Wade credited Thomas, who passed away from neuromuscular disease in 2018, for molding him into the man he became after leaving Marquette.
“Wade County,” Dwyane said to the hundreds of fans who stayed long after the final whistle blew, “I love you.”
Following the final press conference of his career in Miami, Wade, in a red suit and sneakers, holding his daughter, left the building — no shirt under the blazer. Friends and family members follow him as he shows his daughter pictures of himself on the wall. Union soon joins them. This is how Wade wanted it to end. On his own terms celebrating with those he loves most.
It feels like just yesterday that he, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James were covering Sports Illustrated with the tagline “The New Era.” And now, Dwyane Wade is no longer in the NBA. Wade valued his career. And he walked out of American Airlines Arena at close to midnight one final time knowing that an entire fanbase, an entire city — and an entire generation — did, as well.
Tristan Thompson is the starting center for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are a 12-46 team, which makes them the third-worst in the NBA, with only two nationally televised games on ESPN, TNT or ABC all year. He was once the team’s big-man defensive stopper who helped the LeBron James-led Cavs secure an unlikely NBA Finals win over the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Now, he’s just a solid performer for a team in the NBA’s dungeon. He was also the most Googled athlete of 2018.
Two days after the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, ended, it was Thompson — not former teammate James, unofficial All-Star host Stephen Curry or reigning MVP James Harden — who was the No. 1 trending topic in the country. Why?
Because of a TMZ story asserting that Thompson was allegedly caught cheating on the mother of his child, reality star Khloe Kardashian. With her sister Kylie Jenner’s best friend, Jordyn Woods. Who has almost the same first name as Thompson’s ex-girlfriend, the mother of his older daughter. Thompson left Jordan Craig for Kardashian two years ago.
Got all that?
Thompson’s current place at the forefront of a politically congested news cycle is a reminder of the unique intersection of two American cultural powerhouses: an unstoppable reality TV dynasty and a professional league always front and center in American pop culture. Thompson, all 11 points per game of him, is a household name.
Social media has turned this family melodrama into a series of unending memes about everything from Thompson’s alleged “womanizing” to Woods’ relationship to Jenner and the interfamily drama between the sisters. TMZ, Cosmopolitan, E! Online and everyone in between has run the same story about Kim Kardashian unfollowing Thompson and Woods on social media. That’s how dialed in everyone is. That’s the circus.
The blended family of the Jennerdashians includes Kim Kardashian, who is married to Kanye West, Khloe Kardashian, who has a child with Thompson, and Kourtney Kardashian, a model and reality star in her own right. There’s also model/entrepreneur Jenner, who has a child with rapper Travis Scott, as well as matriarch Kris Jenner and Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner. Individually, these people are celebrity powerhouses. Collectively, this clan is a cultural supernova. As BuzzFeed reported in 2015, “the family’s activities over the last eight years have been a masterclass in gaming the media to keep viewers hooked on Keeping Up With the Kardashians — and themselves firmly in the public eye.”
The Jennerdashian hurricane can overpower the (mostly black) athletes and artists who choose to walk into it. There’s usually the fun of the media spotlight followed by the free fall. Thompson has managed to avoid a fall so far, and if this is truly the end of his interaction with the family, then he’s walking out better than some.
Before Thompson there was Reggie Bush, who dated Kim Kardashian, and Rashad McCants, who dated Khloe Kardashian and was an early cast member on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Lamar Odom was married to Khloe Khloe Kardashian . And Kendall Jenner’s exes include Ben Simmons and upstart NBA baller D’Angelo Russell. West, Scott and Tyga are just a few of the superstar artists who have jumped into the Jennerdashian ecosystem. An ecosystem that, while offering massive amounts of fame, can cloud each man’s achievements while also being blamed for each man’s downfall. Fair or not.
As Elle said in July, “What once began as an entertaining meme quickly developed into a full-blown belief that every single man that is brought into the Kardashian/Jenner family is cursed — destined to fall apart right in front of the public eye.” True or not, when West dons MAGA hats and aligns with President Donald Trump, he’s referred to as someone who is in the Sunken Place — because of his relationship to the Kardashians. When Odom faced drug problems, many believed they were due to the cameras in his face because of his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. When Scott drops a heralded album, he “breaks the Kardashian curse,” and so on.
Thompson, for his part, has played the role of a kind of lady’s man. In April, when TMZ cameras appeared to show the Cavalier kissing two women in a New York City club while Khloe Kardashians was on the verge of having their baby, he spent the playoffs fighting off crowds chanting about his infidelity. These are the reverberations of a relationship with a Kardashian-level celebrity, but he did appear to cheat on a woman who was about to go into labor with their child.
Things have been relatively quiet for Thompson in the year since his original alleged infidelity, when the media world seemed to close in on him. He’s been able to enjoy relative NBA obscurity in the middle of Ohio for a team that nobody cares about watching. He’s no longer James’ teammate. He’s no longer a part of the biggest rivalry in the NBA. He’s just a guy who grabs rebounds in a lot of lost games. The drama of the past few days, though, has put him firmly in the spotlight again — especially while the NBA is conveniently in between its All-Star Game and its first game back, Thursday night.
On Tuesday, Stephen Curry held a town hall meeting with Barack Obama. And James announced that he is a part of 2 Chainz’s album. But who cares, when there’s a living soap opera to watch? Are lives being destroyed, though, for our gaze? And are there real-life consequences we choose to ignore? After all, there are babies involved here, whose parents already have been separated, or are on the verge.
Minus the Kardashian affiliation, Thompson’s place as the talk of social media water coolers is unlikely. There’s nothing particularly flashy about him. But his current lifestyle is a convergence of themes that captivate. The interracial love affair of big, strapping black athletes and white women. The NBA’s extreme popularity, relevance and media maelstrom that never loosens its grip. The fishbowl of reality TV celebrity and the hundreds of millions of Jennerdashian Instagram followers watching these relationships come together, unfold, reconcile and fall apart again. Add all this to what can feel like our collective desire to invest our attention in anything other than the end of the world as we’ve known it. And hit refresh.
Los Angeles Sparks champion Candace Parker and her daughter, Lailaa, will have to share her special day. That’s because this year, Mother’s Day falls on May 13 — Lailaa’s ninth birthday.
And Parker has a big surprise planned.
“Lailaa doesn’t know. See, she’s a zoo person,” Parker told The Undefeated. “She loves animals. We have two dogs. We had a pig. So we’re going to San Diego. We’re going to do a little private tour of the zoo to meet some kangaroos and do all that stuff. She doesn’t know yet.”
Parker was a 22-year-old newlywed when she announced her pregnancy just after being named the 2008 WNBA Rookie of the Year. Like dozens of other WNBA moms before her, including Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes, the 6-foot-9 forward/center’s career continues to flourish.
“I like to say my daughter chose me,” Parker said. “I feel like I’m lucky from that aspect that she’s in such an important part of my career.”
Basketball has given the mother and daughter the opportunity to travel the world together. “We’ll be sitting at dinner and she’ll say things like, ‘Mom, do you remember in Dubai when we?’ … or ‘Mom, do you remember my friend in Russia?’ She has memories of traveling. She has memories of winning a championship. She has memories of being at the Olympics. So those are all things I feel fortunate to have shared with her, and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had her at such a young age.”
“I have a really cool daughter, and we love each other,” Parker said. “That’s my best friend. I know she’s growing up, but I hope to continue to remain close with her because she’s a special kid.”
As for trying to find that elusive work/life balance? It’s been made a bit easier thanks to the Sparks organization.
“She’s able to go on all the trips, all the planes, all the buses, stay in my hotel rooms,” Parker said. “There has never been a problem.”
Parker credits Lailaa for one of her biggest life lessons. Even after a lifetime surrounded by friends and family, it was her daughter who changed and sharpened her outlook and awareness of the people and world around her.
“I didn’t realize becoming a mother would make me a better teammate, a better friend, a better basketball player, a better daughter. I’ve read somewhere, and I think Obama said it, they’re like little heartbeats. They’re like your heart walking around outside your body. They’re running around, bumping into stuff and falling. You’re able to kind of live life again through them. It’s so special to be able to be a part of her life and to bring her along and to see how she grows and see how much she’s my personality twin. It’s just amazing.”
The best piece of advice about motherhood Parker received is to “do as I do.”
“I think a lot of people come from the generation of do as I say and not as I do,” Parker said. “But everything I do my daughter is watching. And she listens to what I say, but she really listens to what I do. There’s like ways for her to pull up stuff and see, so I just want to make sure I’m doing what I’m telling her and what I’m showing her to do.”
There was one instance when Parker cried after a loss in a basketball game.
“We’d lost a big game and our season was over, and a couple of months later she was playing soccer and she cried because she lost, and I said, ‘We don’t cry when we lose.’ And she said, ‘But you did.’ It’s like every single day she’s watching what I’m doing.”
Parker’s blueprint of motherhood comes from her own mother, Natasha Parker.
Happy Mother's Day to you! And your Mom!
— Mary Helen Yarbrough (@MaryMhjazz) May 15, 2017
“For my mom, I feel like I’m the most important thing, me and my brothers, just her support and her ability to always put us first. [Now] getting up with Lailaa in the morning before school and having a conversation, making sure that she’s taken care of and she knows that I care and that I’m able to talk to her and have that type of relationship” are the lessons Lailaa has learned from her own mom.
The first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft out of the University of Tennessee, Parker led the Los Angeles Sparks to their third WNBA championship, with a dominating 28 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5 against the Minnesota Lynx to take home the WNBA Finals MVP award. No stranger to winning, Parker was WNBA Most Valuable Player in 2008 and 2013, All-Star Game MVP (2013) and an Olympic gold medalist (2008, 2012).
Lailaa plays soccer. She also loves dance and participating in hip-hop performances. For Parker, there are those gut-wrenching times when work means missing those performances.
“The hardest part is now that she’s older is she has activities of her own, so it kills me to not be at everything,” Parker said. “With Facetime videos I’m able to see all her games, all her performances, but it’s hard for me to not actually be present when she does everything.”
Lailaa also enjoys math and science, and the two create slime together on a regular basis.
“I think she’s going to, at some point, be a scientist,” Parker said. “She loves slime. She goes crazy over slime. We make slime. We color slime. We decorate slime.”
This Mother’s Day marks Parker’s second year in which she’s honored other mothers through her #CPNomAMom campaign. Using social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), she asked for nominations by mothers for other moms who they thought deserve to be pampered. The lucky mom this year will win an Adidas prize pack and Sparks tickets to a home or road game.
“I think it’s really cool to recognize moms,” Parker said. “And it’s not just your mom, either. It’s recognizing other moms because really it is kind of a thankless job. You don’t get paid for it, and I feel like it’s the most important job in the world. I think it’s just another way to thank moms.”
We’re in a big moment for sports fanatics. Last week, the NFL hosted its annual draft, where teams were on the hunt for the next Russell Wilson or Ezekiel Elliott.
Everyone wants to win. As coach Herm Edwards famously said, “You play to win the game.” Winning games brings success. And success brings money. But in a culture where winning comes before everything else, how much does it cost black players to lose?
Almost every competitor in professional sports is familiar with the concept of the “Next Man Up.” The idea is that a player must always be ready to play his best because when he can’t play his best, the next man is up. And the “next man” knows that if he performs at a high level, he could secure his position long term.
For example, Dak Prescott took over for injured quarterback Tony Romo in 2016 and has remained the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback ever since.
As a licensed couples and family therapist who specializes in working with relationship issues, men and professional athletes, I’ve worked with clients of all backgrounds. At the same time, my work with black athletes has allowed me to hear their struggles of balancing playing at a high level to keep their career going while maintaining their mental health.
One of my clients, a former player, shared, “I got injured, lost my spot, and even after rehab, I wasn’t as fast as I used to be. They cut me, and eventually I felt my only option was to retire.”
This led him to struggle with life after football, difficulties in his relationship and disconnection from his children. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely than the general population to experience serious mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
The message the industry sends black athletes is clear: “Don’t lose a step, don’t get injured, don’t admit weakness (physical or mental) because if you do, someone is waiting to take your spot.” As stated above, many athletes experience constant worry about maintaining their starting position. This is the embodiment of anxiety, which is defined by “feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes.”
“There are at least two to three other guys on the team that play my position,” one of my clients said. “After I got injured, I was benched and my name came up frequently in trade rumors.”
He was depressed and needed help but couldn’t allow himself to trust me until almost a year of therapy. About 25 percent of African-Americans seek mental health care, compared with 40 percent of whites, mainly due to stigma, shame, distrust, misdiagnosis and socioeconomic concerns.
The pressure to remain a starter has many implications, including loss of the position, career, money, family and more. The impact of such significant losses can create depression for many players, and they have for clients in my field for decades.
In the sporting world, unreported depression and anxiety are rampant. And “Next Man Up” syndrome feeds into the issue. Don’t be misled to think this is just for male sports leagues — this issue carries across all sports for all genders. Chamique Holdsclaw, a former WNBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, shared her personal experience and family history of mental illness with ESPN. “I wasn’t honest about needing help. I was just going through the motions, trying to keep stuff together. … The mental health component of sports is missing.”
Next Man or Woman Up syndrome benefits one player while potentially prompting a mental health crisis for another. The importance of mental health and how it impacts everyday life has been undervalued for far too long.
In the past few years, black athletes have fought through the stigma to share their stories, struggles and successes with their mental health. In one tweet, DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors declared to the world, “This depression get the best of me …” DeRozan went on to say in an interview that his anxiety and depression, “it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”
Brandon Marshall, a wide receiver who was recently released from the New York Giants, has shared numerous times about his experience with borderline personality disorder. “Man, if you would have asked me eight years ago what does mental health mean to me, I would have said mental toughness,” he told USA Today.
“As football players, we are taught to never show weakness, to never give an opponent an edge. To open up when something hurts, in our culture, is deviant. But when you really sit down and think about it, connecting with those emotions is the real strength.”
Not every athlete hoping to maintain a roster spot struggles with a mental illness. But if we don’t work harder to remove the stigma of talking about and treating mental illness, it will continue to be difficult to discern which athletes need treatment to continue playing at a high level.
The time has come to stop devaluing the importance and necessity of mental health education and treatment in the professional sports world and beyond, because what we see in the public from celebrities, athletes and entertainers highlights what many others are experiencing daily.
Former WNBA standout Tamika Catchings has advice for women entering the WNBA out of this year’s draft.
“I think for the players coming in, just being able to live their dreams and take advantage of the opportunities that’s presented to them — take advantage of every opportunity …,” Catchings said.
The 2001 No. 3 draft pick also posted a memory of the day she was drafted by the Indiana Fever, where she spent her entire 15-year career.
“DRAFT DAY! Every yr when @wnba #DraftDay comes I’m reminded of my @IndianaFever journey & how blessed I’ve been! To ALL of the 2018 draftees, enjoy this day & dwell in the emotions that 2nt will bring! I’m excited for u and ur paths 2 greatness #TheBestIsYetToCome!”
DRAFT DAY! Every yr when @wnba #DraftDay comes I'm reminded of my @IndianaFever journey & how blessed I've been! To ALL of the 2018 draftees, enjoy this day & dwell in the emotions that 2nt will bring! I'm excited for u and ur paths 2 greatness #TheBestIsYetToCome! pic.twitter.com/3U4Kc3iRB5
— Tamika Catchings (@Catchin24) April 12, 2018
Catchings led the Fever to the 2012 WNBA championship and picked up the Finals MVP award. She holds four Olympic gold medals and is a five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and 10-time All-Star. In 2011, Catchings was voted by fans as one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time.
The next chapter for Catchings includes running Catch the Stars Foundation, where she helps prepare youths “to catch their dreams one star at a time”; enjoying her newly purchased tea shop, Tea’s Me Cafe; handling the daily operations as the director of player programs and franchise development at Pacers Sports and Entertainment; and speaking to young girls.
Just ahead of the 46th anniversary of Title IX (June 23), the WNBA champion answered the call to speak to more than 300 middle and high school girls at the Second Annual Girl’s Summit, in celebration of the historic act hosted by the Memphis Grizzlies, the National Civil Rights Museum and the Women’s Foundation of the Mid-South in March.
“Well, for me, the WNBA wasn’t around, and that’s one thing I told them,” Catchings told The Undefeated. “You guys have a prime opportunity because you have the WNBA to aspire to be in. You have all these professional sports that will give you options to pick. Maybe I don’t want to play basketball; I want to play soccer. I want to do tennis, or golf, or whatever it is. You have all these different opportunities that you can strive to be, and you have role models.”
One of the things that stood out for Catchings at the event was being able to work with the Memphis Grizzlies.
“They’re so passionate about what they do,” Catchings said. “It makes it easy to come in and fit in and be in alignment with the things that they have going on. It’s a lot of fun. And then, of course, being able to impact kids no matter what city they’re from. Changing lives is something that I want to do, and that I hope that I can continue to do.”
An outspoken voice for women’s empowerment and equal opportunities for young girls, the University of Tennessee standout joined with the other panelists, including women’s soccer Olympic gold medalist Angela Hucles and University of Memphis standout and now assistant coach Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, and spoke about opportunities, networking and availability.
Diane Terrell, vice president of community engagement and executive director of the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation, was thrilled about the event and Catchings’ presence.
“Everyone knows Tamika Catchings because she was a UT basketball star,” Terrell said. “I think most NBA teams can easily forget girls. But, you know, everybody now is talking about sort of playing multiple sports. I think the timing is right for an NBA team to start acting around other sports opportunities other than basketball. We’ve always done clinics. But this is really about more than basketball; this is about access and opportunities.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Catchings hopes to be a general manager in the WNBA or NBA.
“It is something that I have dreamed about since college. Throughout my career, I have constantly been observing and studying different GMs so that when my chance comes I can be successful.”
Catchings spoke about family, passion and transitioning out of basketball.
What inspires you to keep going?
The cares of today and realizing that we are basically setting up what our future will look like. Lord willing, I’ll have kids and be able to have positive role models for my kids to look up to. I take every single day and every opportunity that I have to go out and to be a positive force in a lot of our kids’ lives, boys and girls, is really, that’s what inspires me. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what drives me every single day — just to be able to make an impact and to help to see the light.
Who was your role model growing up?
My role models were, honestly, my parents. My father played in the NBA, so being able to watch him and travel around a lot and did a lot of things with him. That was kind of first and foremost for me. And my mom, she’s absolutely amazing. Just wanting to be more like them. ’96 Olympic team was the first team — by then, I was a freshman in college. That was the first true woman team that I saw. From that, from watching them, that was kinda like, ‘Man, one day I wanna be like them. I want to grow up, and I want to play for my country, and I want to represent the USA team.’ Having them to kind of follow, that’s what inspired me.
Was your dad the first person to put a basketball in your hand?
Of course. He was playing when I was born. His last year was ’84. He played ’73 to ’84; I was born in ’79. Watching him, that was it.
When did you first know that you had the “basketball jones”?
I would say seventh grade. Seventh grade was the first time I made, like I had a dream. I want to play in the NBA. I want to be like my dad. I want to follow in his footsteps. That’s kind of where it started, and then from there it just became life. I actually talked about that today. Basketball is life. That’s kind of what we strive to do.
How do you feel being at the forefront of being a league that really prompted a huge movement centered around social justice?
I was the president of the Players’ Association and to have so many ladies that were on the same page and to be able to voice and to have your voice heard is important. We all wanted to be able to share our voice and share the things that we believe in. I think to be able to have that, and to be able to have the platform to do that and the courage to do it, says a lot about not just me but our league as a whole and what we represent and what we stand for.
Do you miss being on the floor?
I do not.
How has transitioning into life after basketball been for you?
It’s been great. Just being able to do a lot of the things that I never thought I’d be able to do. I still work for Pacers Sports Entertainment. I still have the opportunity to be around the game, to be on the court and all of that, but being able to travel. I’m an ambassador for the NBA and the WNBA, so I still get to do a lot. … It’s given me a lot of opportunities. I think a lot of the opportunities have come because of being able to learn the life skills, the life lessons from being trained in basketball.
I bought a tea shop [Tea’s Me]. I love hot tea, cold tea, green tea, black tea and oolong. It’s awesome. I love it. I love making people happy, and tea makes people happy, and tea makes me happy.
What is coming up with you?
Lord knows. I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot of different things. It’s cool to be able to live life, and learn, and channel and impact people. Coming in and out, kinda keep it moving.
What do you tell WNBA players transitioning out?
For the ones that are transitioning out, same thing. It’s kind of crazy. You hope that you’ve instilled a lot of things and have taught them a lot of things about what they’re going to be doing. Staying in contact with people. For us when our careers end, it really is about transitioning into another world and trying to figure out what that looks like. So hopefully you can figure that out while you’re playing so the transition is maybe a little bit easier.
During National Women’s History Month, The Undefeated will recognize two women every Tuesday. This week’s Two for Tuesday features basketball Olympic gold medalist Swin Cash and civil rights activist Coretta Scott King.
WNBA star Swin Cash retired from the game in June 2016 after completing her third season with the New York Liberty. Cash, who became one of the most influential players in the league, had a 15-year pro basketball career that included many titles, accolades and high scores that made history. Now she is director of franchise development for the Liberty, a post she’s held since 2017.
The McKeesport, Pennsylvania, native led the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team to national titles (2000 and 2002). She led two teams to three WNBA championships (Detroit Shock 2003 and 2006, Seattle Storm 2010). The 38-year-old boasts two Olympic gold medals (2004 Athens Games and 2012 London Games). Cash’s days on the hardwood included 5,119 points (15th in league history) and 2,521 rebounds (10th) in regular-season WNBA action.
The wife, mother and league executive was selected by the Shock in the 2002 WNBA draft, and she spent six seasons with that team. Besides playing with the Storm and Liberty, she spent time on the floor with the Chicago Sky and the Atlanta Dream.
Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
Activist, mother and civil rights worker Coretta Scott King owns many titles. Widely known for working alongside her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., in the 1960s, she labored for peace and justice organizations and fought for social and economic change before her death in 2006.
After the murder of her husband on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, King continued the fight on behalf of equal pay for sanitation workers and led her husband’s planned march through Memphis.
King founded and served as president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She participated in demonstrations against apartheid in South Africa and fought for 15 years to formally recognize King’s birthday as a federal holiday.
Born on April 27, 1927, in Marion, Alabama, King received her bachelor of arts in voice and music from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1954. She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. The couple had four children: Yolanda (1955-2007), Martin Luther III, Dexter and Bernice. The surviving siblings are activists and manage the King Center and their father’s estate.
During National Women’s History Month, The Undefeated will recognize two women every Tuesday. This week’s Two for Tuesday features basketball Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Miller and writer and journalist Ida B. Wells.
Miller was born and raised in Riverside, California, the third of five children. She and her younger brother, Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, became basketball stars. Now the youngest women’s basketball coach at Cal State Los Angeles, Miller has carved a name for herself in basketball history.
During high school, she was celebrated for scoring 3,405 points overall and averaging nearly 37 points per game, and for setting a California high school record with 105 points in one game. A four-time All-American, Miller attended USC, where she led her team to NCAA championships in 1983 and 1984.
After graduating, the 6-foot-2 Miller was drafted by several pro leagues, including the United States Basketball League, a men’s league. She was a key component of the 1984 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team that won a gold medal. She got her first head coaching job in 1993 at her alma mater.
She has also been an NBA sideline reporter and was head coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. In 2014, Miller was named the women’s basketball coach at Langston University. She was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and in 1999 was inducted into the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2010, Miller was also inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame for her success in international play.
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
Lynching was at an all-time high in the United States in the 1890s when journalist and activist Ida B. Wells launched an anti-lynching crusade that helped lead to a mass exodus from the South to the Midwest.
Living and working in Memphis, Tennessee, as a journalist, Wells’ friend was one of three black men murdered during a lynching in the city in 1892. Wells responded with an editorial in the Free Speech.
“There is therefore only one thing left that we can do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons,” she wrote.
After an array of public protests, black citizens began to leave Memphis. According to biography.com, “about 20 percent of the city’s black population (approximately 6,000 people) left. Following death threats and the destruction of the Free Speech‘s offices, Wells herself was among those who exited Memphis.”
Wells was traveling to New York when the Free Speech’s offices were destroyed. Receiving a message that she would be killed if she returned to Memphis, she remained in New York working as a journalist while bringing light to the evils of lynching and other injustices faced by blacks in the South.
Born into slavery in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells moved to Memphis after her parents died of yellow fever. She later attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. After facing many of her own experiences with social injustice, she returned to Memphis and started writing about race and politics under the pen name of “Iola.” Wells later published the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspapers. She also worked as a schoolteacher in Memphis.
She joined forces with poet and author Frances Harper and national civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell to form the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.