Dawn Staley Is A True Trailblazer In Basketball And Coaching

Dawn Staley Is A True Trailblazer In Basketball And Coaching

Dawn Staley’s journey from the courts of her childhood to the pinnacle of basketball is one defined by perseverance, talent, and an unyielding dedication to the game. She’s been a trailblazer both on and off the court, blazing an incredible path as a WNBA basketball star and as a coach with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Born on May 4, 1970, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Staley’s passion for basketball was evident from an early age. Despite facing numerous obstacles, she rose to become one of the most influential figures in women’s basketball history.

Staley’s basketball career began to take shape during her time at Dobbins Technical High School, where she quickly established herself as a standout player. 

According to the Pennsylvania Center of The Book, Staley led her team to three consecutive public league championships, and by her senior year, she had earned the prestigious title of USA Today’s National High School Player of the Year. Staley’s exceptional passing skills and athletic prowess caught the attention of college recruiters across the nation, with many vying to secure her talents. Ultimately, she made the pivotal decision to join the ranks of the Cavaliers at the University of Virginia (UVA).

During her collegiate career, Staley’s talent and leadership were undeniable. She led the Virginia Cavaliers to three Final Four appearances and was named the ACC Player of the Year three times. Staley’s impact went beyond statistics; her fierce competitiveness and ability to elevate the play of those around her set her apart as a true leader.

After college, Staley continued to excel in the sport, both as a player and a coach. She enjoyed a successful career in the WNBA, where she played for the Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets, and earned numerous accolades, including six All-Star selections and an Olympic gold medal. 

In March 2017, Dawn Staley, a revered coach with an illustrious career, was appointed to helm the USA Basketball Women’s National Team for the Tokyo Olympics. Under her leadership, the team soared to new heights, clinching a remarkable seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal, the USAB noted. Staley’s tenure with USA Basketball also saw triumphs in the 2021 and 2019 editions of the AmeriCup, where her teams secured gold with flawless 6-0 records in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Following her stellar achievements in guiding the USA to gold at both the Olympics and the FIBA AmeriCup in 2021, Staley’s remarkable coaching prowess was duly recognized. She was honored as a co-recipient of the prestigious 2021 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year Award, sharing this esteemed accolade with none other than U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball head coach, Gregg Popovich.

Since her hiring in May 2008, Dawn Staley has propelled South Carolina into the national limelight, establishing the Gamecocks as a formidable force in the quest for SEC and national titles. Her tenure has been marked by a series of groundbreaking achievements, including the team’s first-ever National Championships, NCAA Final Four appearances, No. 1 rankings, SEC regular-season and tournament victories, SEC and National Players of the Year, top WNBA Draft selections, an undefeated regular season, and top-tier recruiting classes. Staley’s impact on the program is undeniable, elevating South Carolina to unprecedented heights in collegiate basketball.

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Ja Morant And The Perceived Menace Of The Black Gangster

Ja Morant And The Perceived Menace Of The Black Gangster

Ja Morant And The Perceived Menace Of The Black Gangster
The NBA suspended Ja Morant for 25 games after he posted a video of himself brandishing a gun.
Justin Ford/Getty Images

“Man enough to pull a gun, be man enough to squeeze it,” rapped NBA superstar Allen Iverson on his song “40 Bars.”

This was two weeks prior to the 2000-01 NBA season, one in which Iverson would be named league MVP. Ja Morant, the 23-year-old star point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies, was barely 1 year old.

Today, Morant’s game conjures that of the electrifying Iverson. With colorfully dyed dreadlocks, an infectious smile and a signature sneaker, Ja represents the next generation of NBA superstars.

But his bursting athletic brilliance, so evocative of Iverson, comes with a cost: the perceived menace of the Black gangster.

On March 4, 2023, Morant posted an Instagram Live video of him displaying a gun at a Denver strip club. Colorado is an open carry state, but it’s illegal to carry a firearm while under the influence of alcohol. Though Morant was never charged for a crime, the NBA suspended him eight games for “conduct detrimental to the league.”

Then, on May 14, 2023, another Instagram Live video surfaced of Morant holding a gun in a parked car with his friends while dancing to rap music. In response, the NBA suspended Morant for 25 games to start this upcoming season for “engaging in reckless and irresponsible behavior with guns.”

I’m not looking to defend Morant’s behavior. It was careless, and he could have harmed himself and others.

But as a scholar of Black popular culture, I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been if Morant were white.

To many politicians and activists in the gun-obsessed U.S., the freedom to own and flaunt firearms is a sacred right. And yet throughout the nation’s history, gun ownership among Black Americans has elicited fear and recrimination. Even when folks who look like Morant innocuously and legally possess a gun, they find themselves too easily typecast as villains.

Disciplining ‘thugs’ and ‘children’

The NBA has long had a fraught relationship with its Black superstars.

When global sports icon Michael Jordan retired from basketball in 2003, the league found itself in a period of transition.

How would it continue to fill arenas, satisfy advertisers and spread its vision of a global game without its brightest star?

Not only did the NBA need a new crop of superstars to mitigate Jordan’s exit, but it also needed a fresh attitude. In response, the league turned to the marketing juggernaut of hip-hop and Black culture.

Players openly professed their love for rap music, with stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Iverson and others recording and releasing music. Players wore oversized T-shirts, baggy jeans and New Era fitted caps as they traveled. You’d see durags and iced-out diamond chains during postgame interviews.

At first, the league saw opportunity – an opening to usher in a new post-Jordan audience.

However, in 2004, two events prompted a backlash.

First, there was the notorious “Malice at the Palace,” during which players for the Indiana Pacers went into the stands to fight fans who had provoked them at Detroit’s Palace of Auburn Hills stadium.

Ja Morant And The Perceived Menace Of The Black Gangster
Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest fights with a fan during a brawl at a game against the Detroit Pistons, in Auburn Hills, Mich., on Nov. 19, 2004.
Duane Burleson/AP Photo

A year later, there was an infamous Team USA dinner in Serbia. As The Washington Post reported, “Iverson and some of his fellow National Basketball Association professionals arrived wearing an assortment of sweat suits, oversize jeans, shimmering diamond earrings and platinum chains … Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach of the U.S. team, was appalled and embarrassed.”

Former commissioner David Stern went on to institute a controversial dress code for NBA players, banning, among other things, baggy clothing, along with the display of gaudy jewelry. But Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson exposed the ban’s quiet truth.

“The players have been dressing in prison garb the last five or six years,” he said. “All the stuff that goes on, it’s like gangster, thuggery stuff.”

The NBA decided its foray into the marketing of hip-hop with basketball required a paternalist brand of discipline to keep its players’ “street cool” in line and avoid the poisonous image of Black criminality.

And like Jackson all those years ago, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, on the network’s Lowe Post basketball podcast, criticized Morant with not so subtle racial undertones.

“Ja Morant is a child,” he announced. “This guy is so worried about being cool: ‘Look at me, man: Life is like a rap video.’”

The NBA’s gun culture

Ja Morant isn’t the first NBA player to find himself in trouble for wielding firearms.

In 2006, Stephen Jackson was suspended just seven games for firing a gun after an altercation at an Indianapolis strip club. In 2010, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton were suspended for 50 and 38 games, respectively, after pulling guns on each other in the Washington Wizards team facilities. And in 2014, Raymond Felton was suspended four games after pleading guilty to charges stemming from an incident where he threatened his estranged wife with a gun.

Like Ja, all these players are Black. But unlike his situation, these incidents were violent, criminal offenses.

The closest analogues to Ja Morant are Chris Kaman and Draymond Green. Kaman, a former center who is white, posted pictures of his arsenal to social media in 2012, 2013 and 2016. In 2018, during a trip to Israel, Golden State Warriors star forward Draymond Green posed with an assault weapon. Neither Kaman nor Green was suspended for their posts.

The metaphor of guns also saturates the league in ways that reflect the country’s obsession with firearms.

The alias of Andrei Kirilenko, a former All-Star for the Utah Jazz, was “AK- 47.” Fans anointed Lakers guard Austin Reaves with the nickname “AR-15” until he denounced it after the tragic mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. NBA superstar Kevin Durant’s Instagram handle is “easymoneysniper.” Watch Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Breen announce a game, and you’ll inevitably hear his famous catch phrase, “BANG.”

Was this ever about guns?

After Morant’s most recent incident, Adam Silver, league commissioner, said, “I’m assuming the worst.”

But why is Morant, according to Silver, all of a sudden a poor role model to “millions of kids, globally,” especially when former and current athletes have done the same without punishment?

To me, the answer is simple: In America, armed Black folks conjures pathological criminality.

Guns, since the nation’s inception, have fortified a uniquely American masculine fantasy: the revolutionary and the cowboy, the cop and the soldier, the spy, the hunter, the gangster – all coalesce around the presumed thrill of the trigger. These fantasies reflect the National Rifle Association’s most pernicious and oddly patriotic lie: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

At the same time, Historian Carol Anderson’s book “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America” explores how the imagined danger of armed Black people has long pervaded the national psyche.

In her telling, this story begins in Morant’s home state of South Carolina, where the Negro Act of 1722 and the Negro Slave Act of 1740 argued Blacks were “instinctually criminal” and abolished their access to weapons and right to self-defense.

So if people are so sure of Morant’s villainy, I ask without a hint of snark: What does responsible Black gun ownership look like?

Does it look like Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party, whose armed protests were the impetus behind California’s stricter gun laws – legislation that was backed by the NRA?

Black and white photo of Black men and women congregating, with some men holding guns.
Armed members of the Black Panther Party stand in the corridor of California’s capitol in May 1967.
Walt Zeboski/AP Photo

Does it look like Philando Castile? Do we see it in Marissa Alexander, who was sent to prison after she fired a warning shot at her husband, who had threatened to kill her?

To me, this was never about guns – just as, back in the early 2000s, it was never about rap music or baggy clothing.

It’s about white paternalism. It’s about how Black people can’t be trusted with weapons. It’s about how the country’s veneration of gun ownership as an inalienable right is seconded only by its commitment to rendering armed Blacks an existential danger to the civility and structure of America.

Blackness seems to disavow any possibility of being a “good guy,” gun or not. Kyle Rittenhouse was a “good guy with a gun.” So, too, was George Zimmerman. Both meted out extrajudicial killings, and both emerged unpunished.

According to this warped, uniquely American fantasy, “good guys with guns” can never look like Ja Morant – and good guys can always kill bad guys.The Conversation

A. Joseph Dial, DISCO Network Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Purdue University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. The Conversation

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