Write-up courtesy of Luke Robson
For this week’s Game Changer, the Penn State Sports Business Conference team has chosen to highlight former Women’s National Basketball Association’s star player, Sheryl Swoopes. Swoopes quickly established her dominance on the court and stamped her name in the record books as one of the WNBA’s most decorated players to ever step on the court.
Growing up, Sheryl was raised by her mother, Louise, in the town of Brownfield, Texas. After competing with her three older brothers in the driveway at home, Sheryl started to realize that she was gifted in the sport. Once a couple more years passed, Louise signed her daughter up to play in the local children’s league that is known by many individuals today as Little Dribblers. Looking to take the next step in her career, Swoopes tried out for the Brownfield High School women’s basketball team and earned herself a spot as a starter.
As time went on, it did not take long for coaches, fans, and even players to realize the talent she possessed with a basketball in her hands. Various colleges swarmed into the gymnasium to catch a glimpse of Sheryl on the court. After graduating from Brownfield, she was lined up to attend the University of Texas, but after arriving she decided that the school was not fit for her. Quickly, Swoopes transferred to South Plains College where she would remain for two years before transferring to her final destination, Texas Tech. It was here where her dreams of playing basketball for a living started to turn into a reality.
At Texas Tech, Sheryl Swoopes scored a total of 1,645 points, averaged 24.9 points per game (best in school history), 9 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game, and locked in a 52.7% field goal percentage over her two years at the University. Additionally, she accumulated 3 triple doubles and 23 double-doubles, 14 of which came during her senior season.
Although she had two great years at Texas Tech, many people specifically remember her senior season back in 1993. During this time, Swoopes led the Red Raiders to their one and only National Championship Title by scoring 47 points to defeat Ohio State, surpassing Bill Walton’s previous record of 44 points. Due to this, she received the Naismith College Player of the Year award, Honda Sports Award, WBCA Player of the Year, Division-I All American, and the Sportswoman of the Year all in the year 1993.
After college, Sheryl joined the Houston Comets becoming the first player to be signed in the WNBA. She would remain with the Comets for 11 years before signing with both the Seattle Storm and the Tulsa Shock where she played one more season in the league amongst both teams. Over her 12 seasons, Swoopes accumulated 4,875 points, 1,596 rebounds, 1,037 assists, and a countless number of awards (first 3-time WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, 4-time WNBA Champion, 6-time WNBA All Star, etc.). Through great success, Sheryl Swoopes also became the first women’s basketball player to have a Nike shoe named after her, “Air Swoopes.”
Sheryl’s brilliance on the court was not only recognized at a national level, but also on a global level. In 1994, she was named to the USA National team for the first time earning herself a bronze medal in a hard-fought game against Australia during the World Championships. After this, Swoopes went on to play in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympic Games where her and the rest of the team would go on to win 3 gold medals.
Off the court, Sheryl Swoopes originally married her high school sweetheart, Jordan Jackson. The two had a son together and were with each other from the years 1995-1999. After separating with Jackson, Swoopes waited a few years before announcing to the world that she was gay in 2005, becoming one of the highest-profile athletes to do so publicly while playing a team sport.
She stated that discovering that she was gay just sort of happened, but she is a firm believer that people cannot control the feelings of falling in love with another individual. In 2006, Equality Forum named her an LGBT History Month Icon. Her and her partner, Alisa Scott, would raise Sheryl’s son up until 2011 when the couple had finally broken up. Later that same year, Swoopes got engaged to her longtime male friend, Chris Unclesho, but did not finally marry until 2017. Both Sheryl and Chris remain together to this day.
All in all, Sheryl Swoopes’ excellence in college, the WNBA, and the USA National team solidified herself as one of the all-time great women’s basketball players. To add to that, her willingness to step out of her shell and announce to the world that she is gay has paved the way for other individuals similar to her to express themselves openly without the fear of rejection. With that being said, the Penn State Sports Business Conference team could not be prouder to name Sheryl Swoopes as this week’s Game Changer.