Head Coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, 2017 and 2022 NCAA Champions; Naismith Hall of Fame basketball player and coach; five-time WNBA all-star; advocate for gender and racial equality
There are billions of people in this world, but there is only one Dawn Staley. Certainly, the accomplishments Staley has achieved during her decades-long basketball career are significant, but her leadership goes beyond statistics and sports highlights. She is fierce, unapologetic and tenacious in using her platform to speak out against inequities, advocate for increased opportunities for women in sports, and leads with purpose. That is why she is the 2022 Billie Jean King Leadership Award recipient.
Catapulting South Carolina into the national spotlight, Staley has made the Gamecocks a mainstay in the battle for Southeastern Conference (SEC) and national championships since starting with the university in 2008. Under her leadership, the Gamecocks have reached many firsts: Staley made history as the first Black woman to win two NCAA National Championships as head coach, in addition to guiding the team to NCAA Final Fours, No. 1 rankings, SEC regular-season and tournament titles, SEC Players of the Year, National Players of the Year, WNBA No. 1 Draft pick and No. 1 recruiting classes – to name a notable few.
In her 22nd season as head coach, Staley has led her college teams to 12 25-win seasons, a total of 18 postseason appearances, two Women’s National Invitational Tournaments and 147 weeks in the Associated Press top 10, including 44 in the No. 1 spot – the sixth most number of times in the top spot in the history of that poll.
Staley is an advocate to her core. With over 30 years of experience in the spotlight, she does not hesitate to teach, speak out and hold institutions accountable for the inequities in sports and beyond. When the ‘madness’ of the NCAA’s tournament in 2021 showed glaring disparities between the women’s and men’s facilities, she used her platform to bring national attention to the issue – which went well beyond barbells and swag bags – urging the NCAA to re-evaluate how they value women. She continues speaking out to this day, calling out institutions for how they market women’s sports and how they could be doing more to create an equitable playing field for all women in sports.
While we celebrate Staley’s historic coaching milestones, let’s not forget she was an outstanding player as well. She was an integral part of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team – whose success and popularity helped pave the way for the creation of the WNBA – and is still recognized today as one of the most decorated players in the U.S. women’s basketball history. She broke out on the international scene in 1989, making her first appearance in a USA Basketball uniform as a member of the 1989 Junior World Championship Team and 15 years later played her final international game after assisting the organization to a 196-10 record. She also has quite an impressive medal collection – as an athlete she won three Olympic gold medals, two FIBA World Championship gold medals, one bronze and seven international invitational titles from 1989-2004. Flash forward to her USA Basketball coaching career, and Staley continued to land on the top podium, serving as an assistant coach on the 2008 and 2016 Olympic gold medal teams and leading the U.S. to gold in the 2020 Olympics as the head coach.
Following the 1996 Olympic Games, Staley joined the Richmond Rage of the ABL, one of the two women’s basketball professional leagues started in the wake of USA Basketball’s success on the world stage. After two all-star seasons with the organization, she switched leagues, beginning with the WNBA in 1999 – playing for the Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets before announcing her retirement in 2005. Following her retirement, the WNBA began awarding the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award in 2007, honoring the player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community in which she works and lives.
From then to now, Staley encourages her teams to be active members in their community and is the co-founder of INNERSOLE, an organization that provides new sneakers to children who are homeless and who are in need.
Staley has built her success on a foundation of discipline and vision. She’s a leader on and off the court, using her platform to encourage others to get out of their comfort zone, challenge things that they know are wrong, and not be afraid to talk about hard hitting issues in and outside of sports.