KNOXVILLE, Tenn. >> Sheryl Swoopes will be missing her biggest supporter as she gets inducted into one more hall of fame.
Swoopes will be enshrined into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, one year after the three-time Olympic gold medal winner and three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Her mother, Ida Louise Swoopes, accompanied her to the Naismith induction in what Swoopes called “the last big trip we took together.” Swoopes’ mother died of colon cancer on March 14.
“I will be a lot more emotional (Saturday) than I was at Naismith,” Swoopes said. “My mom was my biggest fan, my biggest critic, my best friend, always told me what I needed to hear — not necessarily what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear.”
Swoopes headlines an induction class that also includes longtime official Sally Bell, former Iowa women’s athletic director Christine Grant, Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell, former Southern Connecticut University coach Louise O’Neal and former Connecticut star Kara Wolters.
The class was announced in February, a month before Swoopes’ mother died.
“She hugged me, we cried together and she told me how proud of me she was and just to continue to do the right thing,” Swoopes said. “And that’s how I live every day, trying to live right, do the right thing and continue to make her proud.”
Swoopes helped the 1996 U.S. team earn gold and won additional gold medals in the 2000 and 2004 Summer Games. She also won four straight WNBA championships with the Houston Comets from 1997-2000 and led Texas Tech to the 1993 national title.
She was the first player to sign a WNBA contract and the first women’s player to have her own signature shoe model – Nike’s Air Swoopes. She returned to the floor several weeks after giving birth to help the Comets win a title in the WNBA’s inaugural season.
“There was a part of me when I found out I was pregnant that felt like, ‘Oh my goodness, how could you do this, you’re letting the league down,’ ” Swoopes said. “But I also knew how important it was to have my son, to have a healthy baby and to be able to come back and to say to all those people who said, “Oh my god, she’s pregnant, she’s having the baby, she’ll never be the same,’ I wanted to be able to prove those people wrong.
“The other side of that is I also wanted women to look at me and say, ‘If she can do it, I can too.’ I was very fortunate and blessed that the career I had, I could bring my son to work with me and a lot of women don’t have that opportunity. But just to show women you don’t have to sacrifice anything. You can be very successful at your job and what you do and also be a very good mom.”
This marks the second straight year that the Hall of Fame has honored Swoopes. She reunited with other members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team a year ago when that squad was saluted as “trailblazers of the game.” This year, the “trailblazers” honor goes to the 1975, 1976 and 1977 Delta State teams that won three straight AIAW national titles.
The other inductees also have impressive credentials.
Bell worked 15 Final Fours during a 33-year officiating career. Grant was a founding member of the AIAW. Insell won 10 Tennessee high school state titles at Shelbyville Central and has over 1,000 combined wins at the high school and college level.
O’Neal helped Southern Connecticut make eight straight appearances in the national women’s collegiate championships in the 1970s.
Wolters played on Connecticut’s 1995 national championship team, was the Associated Press college player of the year in 1997 and won a gold medal with the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. Wolters and Swoopes are two of only 10 players to win an NCAA title, WNBA championship, Olympic gold medal and a FIBA Women’s World Cup championship.
“The only reason that I’m here is because I had the best teammates and coaches,” Wolters said. “We won a lot. I was fortunate to be a part of all that winning.”