Women had a profound impact on my love of sports from an early age. My mom and I watched basketball games together all the time. She was really the first person to spark a passion for sports in me. We were huge Boston Celtics fans. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish – we were right there with them through every game.
My sisters were also athletes and sports fans. I grew up watching the commitment, dedication, and competitive spirit they had for their sports and, in many ways, their passion shaped my perspective on what it takes to be successful in athletics and in life.
When I was in high school, women’s sports simply weren’t televised regularly. I remember when Flo-Jo set the world record for the 100m and 200m. We watched her grace, skill, and determination in awe. But by the time the Olympics were over, women athletes seemed to be out of sight, out of mind once again.
I don’t know that I realized how big of a deal that was at the time. It’s just the way things had always been.
It wasn’t just Flo-Jo.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s heart and dominance always inspired me – she gave everything she had every time she went on the track, I remember her literally gasping for air due to her asthma. Teresa Edwards playing for the University of Georgia was one of the greatest women to ever play basketball. Growing up in Georgia, I remember she was a celebrity long before the WNBA was even thought of back in ’83-’86. And Martina Navratilova’s drive to be the best led her to win 18 Grand Slam titles. All of these great women athletes and other inspired me to want to compete at a high level.
By the time I was drafted to the Grizzlies, the WNBA was just beginning. This was a true game-changer for the face of women’s sports.
Throughout my career, I was continuously influenced by the tenacity and steadfastness of women athletes. Sheryl Swoopes was an amazing player and WNBA games were some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen. Venus and Serena were (and continue to be) forces to be reckoned with on the tennis court. Mia Hamm was an incredible role model for young girls who wanted to play soccer.
Late in my career with the Kings, we shared a training facility with the Sacramento Monarchs. They were champions, winning the WNBA championship in 2005. Players like Yolanda Griffith, Kara Lawson, and Rebekkah Brunson, who went on to win more championships with the Minnesota Lynx. They probably don’t know it, but I learned so much from watching their team train, practice, and compete. Their competitive spirit, togetherness, and courage was second to none.
It’s remarkable to see the way women’s sports have transformed over the years.
We went from virtually no organization of women’s sports on a professional level to everything from the National Women’s Soccer League to the Ladies Professional Golf Association and, of course, the Women’s National Basketball Association.
Each milestone serves as fuel for the next. Recently, the WNBA announced they raised $75 million in capital for investment in the long-term transformation of the league.
On the same note, the US Women’s National Team settled an equal pay lawsuit for $24 million just a few days ago. Over the last six years, they have been absorbed in a gender discrimination case and the resolution guarantees them not only equal pay but millions in back pay.
These historic events will facilitate a major leap forward not just for the WNBA and UWMNT but for all women’s sports.
It’s no secret that leadership and sportsmanship are strongly tied, so it comes as no surprise to me that with the prevalence of women’s sports there has also been an emergence of women leaders.
In recent years, I’m happy to have seen a surge in women’s leadership within the sports world, from the professional level down to the youth level. This inclusive dynamic creates a better balance and brings different perspectives to the table, creating a more well-rounded approach to sports as well as life.
I’m privileged to work with a sharp and dynamic group of colleagues including Cathy Engelbert as the WNBA Commissioner, Portia Archer as COO of the G League, Terri Jackson as Executive Director of the WBNPA, Michele Roberts as the former Executive Director of the NBPA, and Tamika L. Tremaglio who recently came on as the new Executive Director of the NBPA.
Women athletes and their accomplishments have always been relevant, but in the last few decades, they’ve become more visible. I think the importance of what I’ve learned from women athletes, my sisters, and now my daughter who is a budding athlete, over the years has kept me grounded as a leader – it’s allowed me to be kind, understanding, empathetic, and passionate about teamwork.
More than anything, I would love to see a time when women athletes and sports are celebrated with the same enthusiasm as men’s sports. They play and train with the same level of passion and skill of male athletes while overcoming the limitations society tries to impose upon them.
There’s no more wishing for change. We are in the moment for it now. I have always been and continue to be inspired, encouraged, and energized by the strength, grace, and resilience of women athletes everywhere.