Sheryl Swoopes (1971-Present)
BIOPIC-WORTHY BECAUSE: The first player to be signed in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) upon its creation, powerful forward Sheryl Swoopes has also won three Olympic gold medals and has been called the "female Michael Jordan" and is arguably one of the best collegiate basketball players ever.
But more importantly, when Swoopes came out in 2005 she joined the very small number of openly gay professional team athletes. (Minnesota Lynx player Michele Van Gorp was the first active WNBA player to come out, in 2004, and former New York Liberty player Sue Wicks came out in 2002 after she had already retired).
THE SUPPORTING CAST: Swoopes had the privilege of sharing court time with some of the most amazing female athletes of our time, including Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo.
SHOULD STAR: Gorgeous and naturally athletic Gabrielle Union showed her athletic prowess years ago in the amazing cheerleading epic, Bring It On, and was an all-star point guard while playing basketball in high school. Learning some new offense moves shouldn’t be a challenge for Union, and she can wear lifts to stretch her 5′ 7½" frame to Swoopes’s imposing 6 foot stature.
For fun, let’s cast some real-life WNBA players as themselves in the movie. I know that actors need work, but women athletes simply aren’t offered the the exorbitant riches awarded their male counterparts. The Swoopes story should garner all of those female champions some SAG cards and residuals. (Think of it as their belated signing bonuses.)
Playing the part would help the talented Wilson avoid typecasting (her Dr. Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy can be a bit … blunt), and give the gay-friendly actress an opportunity show even more support for the anti-Prop 8 movement.
Plus, we’re sure that they make apple crates tall enough to elongate the 5 foot tall actress to the believable height of a former-basketball player.
PLOT POINTS: Swoopes was born and raised in Brownfiled, Texas, and showed early promise when, at eight years old, she went to the nationals with her Little Dribblers team. Swoopes played ball in high school, and though she is initially recruited by the University of Texas, she ends up playing at for the Lady Raiders at Texas Tech. The Raiders win the NCAA women’s basketball championship in her senior year (1993), and Swoopes’s jersey is retired by the school in 1994.
In the doldrums before the WNBA formed, Swoopes is referred to as "the Legend Without A League." Any male player who has dominated the sport as she would be the toast of the NBA and earning millions. But Swoopes heads for Europe, isolated from her family and earning little just for the privilege of continuing to play the game at which she excels. She garners national attention when she wins the the gold medal with USA Basketball Women’s National Team at the 1996 Olympics.
It is during this period that Swoopes marries high school sweetheart (1995-99). Their son, Jordan Eric Jackson, is born in 1997.
When WNBA launches, Swoopes is recruited for the Houston Comets in their first season (playing ball only six weeks after giving birth) and the Comets win the WNBA Championship, and will go on to become the first three-time WNBA MVP.
Swoopes is the first women’s basketball player to have a Nike shoe named after her: the "Air Swoopes," and it’s a coveted endorsement than many assume will be compromised when Swoopes publicly announces that she’s a lesbian in October 2005. She also announces that she’s been involved in a serious relationship with former Comets assistant coach Alisa "Scotty" Scott (who resigns her post a few months in advance of the announcement). Swoopes’s coming out story is scandalous news, but she keeps her Nike endorsement and gains an endorsement from lesbian travel company Olivia. In the end, the WNBA announces that Swoopes’s "lifestyle choice" is a "non-issue" for them.
In October 2007 Swoopes has back surgery, and in March 2008 (after 11 years with the Comets) Swoopes signs with the Seattle Storm. But by February 2009, the Storm waives her, and once again Swoopes is a "Legend Without A League."
For now, she’s keeping busy by working at her local Boys & Girls Club as a girl’s basketball coordinator and spending time on the courts in women’s leagues basketball with other former players. She’s even considering starting a basketball academy in Seattle.
But if the release of this biopic is timed right, it should come out right after Swoopes makes her return as a pro basketball champion with whatever lucky team is smart enough to scoop her up. After all, nothing plays better on the big screen than the triumphant return of an underdog.
TAKE A POPCORN BREAK: When Swoopes is told, via phone call, that she’s been waived by the Seattle Storm. She deserved better, so let’s all boycott that moment together by calling a timeout and making a mass exodus to the concession stand.
SHOULD BE DIRECTED BY:Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood brought heart to a sports movie in Love & Basketball, so there’s no doubt she could shoot and score all over again with the Sheryl Swoopes story.
That’s it for the first installment of our biopics series, but stay tuned for future articles which will include development plans for films about playwright Lorraine Hansberry, musicians Wendy & Lisa and more!