For Dawn Staley, Hall of Fame nomination almost as good as carrying the Olympic flag

Dawn Staley goes up for twoat the Athens Games. Staley won 3 Olympic gold medals, playing for the United States.
Dawn Staley goes up for twoat the Athens Games. Staley won 3 Olympic gold medals, playing for the United States. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 25, 2011

It takes one prolific point guard to know another.

Back in 1997, when the WNBA was about to launch a run that reached its 15th season this summer, former Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson was asked about the new women's pro league.

The future Hall of Famer noted that Dobbins Tech graduate Dawn Staley, who was named Saturday as one of six inductees into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, was the one women's star he'd be willing to buy tickets to watch play.

The remark caused a bit of a sensation at the time because Staley was still playing in the rival American Basketball League for the Philadelphia Rage before jumping to the WNBA in September 1998, just before the ABL folded.

Staley was one of the most celebrated players in the women's game from the late 1980s until her retirement from the WNBA at the end of the 2006 season.

Before she won her third gold medal in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the captains of the other American teams selected her to carry the flag and lead the U.S. delegation into the stadium as part of the opening ceremony.

It's hard to top that highlight of Staley's career, which is now spent on the sideline, coaching South Carolina after an eight-year coaching stint at Temple that ended in May 2008.

But Saturday's announcement, during halftime of the WNBA All-Star Game in San Antonio, Texas, came close.

Staley said she was told about the selection a month ago, soon after the vote was taken, from hall board member Renee Brown, who is also the WNBA's vice president of basketball operations and player relations.

"In terms of my highlights, carrying the flag is still the tops," Staley said, "but this is very special, so it is right up there, you have to say that."

Staley, who turned 41 in May, was selected in her first year of eligibility after being retired five years as a player.

She is the most-recent inductee with Philadelphia ties following last month's induction of Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who played at St. Joseph's in the mid-1970s.

Coincidentally, former Tennessee star Nikki McCray, who is one of Staley's assistants at South Carolina, was also named an inductee. Staley said she was thrilled for McCray's selection and joked about one benefit.

"She deserves it, no question, but at South Carolina anything that helps recruiting is what we're about, so we'll take it," Staley said.

The other four inductees are Pam Magee, who played at Southern California; Inge Nissen, who played at Old Dominion; Washington University at St. Louis coach Nancy Fahey; and ABC broadcaster Robin Roberts, named as a contributor.

Additionally, Staley was also named as one of the top 15 WNBA players of all time to celebrate the league's anniversary season. Balloting from a list of 30 nominees was weighted from three groups - fans, reporters, and current WNBA coaches and players.

Upon graduation from Dobbins, Staley chose to go to Virginia, immediately propelling the Cavaliers to national prominence and three NCAA Women's Final Four appearances from 1990 to '92.

She still is the only Atlantic Coast Conference women's player to score more than 2,000 points, grab more than 700 rebounds, deal more than 700 assists, and grab more than 400 steals.

"When she said she was coming to Virginia, I knew everything was going to change because she was also bringing [shooting guard] Tammi Reiss with her," said former longtime coach Debbie Ryan, who resigned at the end of last season. "I'm proud of what she's accomplished as a player. I'm proud of what she accomplished as a coach, and I'm proud of who she is as a person."

Staley was a three-time all-American and was twice named national and ACC player of the year. She was also a national high school player of the year.

She honed her game on the blacktop courts of the Raymond Rosen project, going against such boys' stars as the late Hank Gathers.

Staley was a five-time WNBA all-star and also made the all-decade team in 2006.

Staley said she enjoyed the trip to Texas and noted that some of her contemporaries on that all-decade team didn't make it again five years later.

"I noticed that, but I really enjoyed getting together with some of my biggest rivals and some old friends and sitting around and talking about the game when we played and the way it is today," she said.

In 1996, Staley began the Dawn Staley Foundation, and the WNBA created and named its community-service award after her upon her retirement.

One of Staley's longtime friends is Teresa Edwards, the Olympic and Georgia great who is interim coach of the Tulsa Shock. Next month, Edwards will be inducted to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

"When she joined the U.S. squad you didn't have to tell us who Dawn Staley was," Edwards said. "The thing that has been common in our friendship is we know how much hard work it took to get where we are - me from Cairo, Ga., and Dawn as a Philly girl."

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