Chamique Holdsclaw is still standing

Chamique Holdsclaw, who we reported will be producing and starring in the lesbian reality show The Other Women of America, has written an autobiography called Breaking Through: Beating The Odds Shot After Shot which will be available later this month (it is currently available for pre-ordering of autographed copies until March 14, through Holdsclaw’s website). The book offers a look at her life starting with her difficult childhood, where she discovered basketball as an escape, through her struggles professionally and personally as an adult.

I grew up in New England in a house that didn’t follow much basketball. When we did watch basketball, we cheered for UConn because they were the best team in the area and the only one that consistently made the cut. As UConn fans — even casual ones — Chamique Holdsclaw was a player we feared from her first year at the University of Tennessee. When she played, you never doubted for a moment that her team was going to win every game, regardless of the score. She seemed to take over the game in a way that only truly great players can. Holdsclaw was a star at Tennessee, and an unstoppable force who helped bring the school three consecutive NCAA Championships from 1996-1998.

Holdsclaw had one of the finest collegiate careers of any women’s basketball player, ever. She received more awards in college than I can list. She hoisted three NCAA championship trophies, scored 3,025 points, was named Naismith Player of the Year (for the top collegiate basketball player) twice, and became the first female basketball player to win the Sullivan Award as the country’s top amateur athlete. Later, she added a gold medal with the United States Olympic team in 2000. After such a brilliant college career, many have been puzzled by her professional career, however many of those questions have been answered by more recent disclosures of Holdsclaw’s battle with depression.

She was drafted with the first pick in the 1999 WNBA draft by the Washington D.C. Mystics and instantly became one of the stars if the young league. Indeed, the league hoped to make her its own Michael Jordan in hopes that building on her college stardom would help the fledgling league gain traction and boost revenues. In her first year for the lowly Mystics, Holdsclaw continued her excellent play and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. Holdsclaw and the Mystics clashed over the next several seasons culminating in Holdsclaw requesting a trade to the L.A. Sparks.

Holdsclaw reveals in her book that she began to battle depression in her final year in Washington and sought the trade to L.A. because she was ashamed of her illness and not wanting to appear weak to others. However, after her first season with the Sparks, things were not better and she attempted suicide at the start of the 2006 season. No one on her team knew about the attempt and she played out the rest of the year only to “retire” from the team after only five games the following season. Her erratic behavior was, for years, unexplained and left commentators to speculate on why she requested trades and seemed to retire abruptly only to return. Since “retiring” from L.A. she has played for Atlanta, before demanding a trade and being waived, and played last season for San Antonio.

It’s unclear whether Holdsclaw will return to the basketball court this season or ever again. She seems content to use her experiences with depression as a speaker for Active Minds, an organization that seeks to raise awareness of mental health issues on college campuses. She told the New York Times:

I know how it was when I tried to commit suicide… I know how alone I felt and how sad I felt. I don’t want anyone to ever go through that. I thought that I had no one when I had a whole lot… Basketball has given me a voice… That may really be my talent.

Hopefully her book can provide a helpful perspective for others suffering from mental illness and augment her work with Active Minds. As a UConn fan, I would never root for Tennessee but I am certainly hoping that Holdsclaw can find a measure of peace both on and off the court through this book and through her work as a mental health advocate.

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