Hannah Storm directed an awesome documentary about Sheryl Swoopes. The film ran last week on ESPN as part of their Nine for IX series celebrating women in sports.
The documentary looked at the highs and lows of Swoopes’ amazing career as the Michael Jordan of women’s basketball. The film covered everything from her Olympic gold medals to her money issues.
But Storm left out one major event from Swoopes’ life…the game I coached her.
Yes, you read that correctly. I actually coached the great Sheryl Swoopes (although I use the word “coached” lightly).
A few years ago, the company I worked organized exhibition games for NCAA women’s basketball teams. We would put together a group of former players to give college teams the equivalent of a warm up, or preseason, game.
This particular year, we only had one game scheduled and it was against the University of Montana. In order to save some money my boss decided not to hire a real coach and he convinced me to act as coach for the game. I had no coaching experience, but he said all I had to do was show up and make sure nothing went wrong.
It sounded easy enough. But then he also said, “Oh yeah, Sheryl Swoopes is playing on the team.” I did a double take.
Somehow my boss had a connection that arranged for arguably the greatest women’s basketball player of all time to play on my team. Talk about pressure. What could I possibly tell Sheryl Swoopes about basketball??
At our first, and only team practice the night before the game, I told the players to get warmed up by running a full court drill. Sheryl looked at me like I had two heads. “I’m not doing that. My knees are bad,” she joked.
“Umm…okay,” I replied, scared to death. “What should be do instead?”
From that point on, it was Sheryl’s team. She ran practice and I became the water boy.
More of the same continued the next day at the game. I stayed out of the way while Sheryl drew up plays and coached the team. The only other “coaching” that happened was when my assistant coach (co-worker) called a timeout when our team needed a reminder to run the offense, aka get Sheryl the ball.
Not to make excuses, but most of our players were moms who were too busy driving carpools to play much basketball at the time, so we lost by 10-15 points. But if it wasn’t for Sheryl we would have lost by 50. She had nearly 40 points and 20 rebounds and was by far the best player on the court.
And she couldn’t have been nicer off the court as well. She stayed hours after the game, signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans, the opposing team and what felt like everyone in the big city of Missoula, Montana. She was funny, charming and a joy to be around.
I can honestly say that coaching Sheryl Swoopes was one of the coolest things I will ever do in life. How many people can say that they’ve coached a National Champion, MVP and three time Olympic gold medalist?
Apparently our time together didn’t have the same impact on Sheryl since Hannah Storm left it out of her documentary. I will just assume that it is included on the DVD’s special features.