Editor’s note: Chamique Holdsclaw is a three-time NCAA Champion, two-time Naismith Player of the Year, 6-Time WNBA All-Star and Rookie of the Year, and an Olympic Gold Medalist. She played for Pat Summitt from 1995-1999. Below is her letter to Summitt exclusively provided to theGrio.com for publication.
Dear Coach Summitt,
I’m sitting here exhausted in my hotel room in Nashville, Tenn., after a whirlwind day of book signings and speaking engagements. Just when I thought things couldn’t get much busier and I didn’t have any energy left, you made your announcement to step down as head coach. Suddenly my voicemail went from just two messages to completely filled with messages from media asking me to comment on the special relationship that we share.
So here I am, in the wee hours of the morning pouring out my thoughts on paper for you Coach Summitt. Even in your absence as head coach you’re still pushing me and making me see what I’m made of.
Last week at your home, we had already spoken about your decision to step down as head coach so this announcement was no surprise to me. Yet, I was still touched that so many people would reach out to me because they know how much you mean to me and that we have done some amazing things together.
From cross-country trips, to magazine covers to HBO documentaries and the first three-peat championship in NCAA women’s basketball, we’ve had a wild ride. But off the court you did an even more amazing thing for me. You took a cocky girl from Queens who had been told all her life that she was “the star player” and you pushed me. You knew how to turn that competitive New Yorker in me into something special. You fueled me and so many other players to be the best we could be on and off the court.
Unlike all the other coaches who recruited me, you didn’t promise me tons of minutes and control of the team. Instead, you promised me a solid education and that I would be ready for the world after college. Playing time was secondary. I think that is the main reason why my grandmother let me go to Tennessee. She knew that you would take care of me and I would graduate in four years with a degree.
My grandmother also knew that you didn’t take any mess, and if I ever got out of line (which I did a couple of times) you could handle my temper tantrums. I thank you for that.
As I grew into a professional player and more importantly a woman, I struggled with my own demons. At times people in the media would throw me under the bus, not knowing why my behavior was so erratic. You didn’t know either, but you stood by my side. With each outlandish media report you reached out me to make sure that Chamique, the person, was OK.
I remember being at your house in 2007, right after my suicide attempt. You didn’t know I tried to take my life but you opened up yourself to me and talked about your divorce, family, politics and my well being now that my grandmother was gone. Then you said something I will never forget, “Mique just do what makes you happy and what is best for you.”
Those words from the most respected person in my life gave me everything I needed. You had no idea but those words resonated through my body made me secure in my decision to step away from basketball and gave me the courage to take care of my inner demons.
That conversation at your house was the first time we ever crossed that coach-player boundary. It was the first time I saw you as more than the coach with the icy glare that made me run wind sprints, you were a woman and more importantly my friend.
Now we hangout at your house on the weekends, you invite my friends — who you’ve never met — to stay at your home and go out on your boat. We even share an occasional glass of wine together, even though I still feel strange drinking in front of my coach.
That’s because in my mind, no matter how old I get, no matter what your title says, and no matter where you sit on the sideline, you will always be Coach Summitt to me. Not Pat, not Patricia, but my Coach Summitt.
Follow Chamique Holdsclaw on Twitter at @Chold1