Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Philadelphia native Dawn Staley has won three Olympic Gold Medals in basketball.
Born in Philadelphia in 1970, Dawn Michelle Staley has been playing basketball since she was a child. From her time as a guard at Dobbins Tech High School to her scholarship at the University of Virginia, Staley has been a leader both on and off the court. She played for the Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets in the WNBA and led Team USA to three straight Olympic gold medals. She won many awards throughout her playing days and eight years as the Temple Owls head coach. Today she is the head coach at the University of South Carolina and runs the Dawn Staley Foundation.
Dawn Staley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 4, 1970. She grew up in the projects at the corner of Diamond Avenue and 25th Street in North Philadelphia. Staley is one of five children; her siblings include Tracey, Lawrence, Anthony, and Eric. Their parents, Estelle and Clarence, wanted all of their children to be successful and they believed a good education was the key to a life outside of the projects.
Growing up Dawn lived on the basketball court. She played with the boys and, after they realized she had talent, she was given the respect she deserved. By associating herself with guys that were bigger and stronger than her, she felt confident when she stepped on the court to play with girls. The experiences she had throughout her childhood greatly helped her when she entered high school in 1986 at Dobbins Tech.
As a sophomore Dawn earned a starting spot on the basketball team. She led the team to three straight public league championships and her senior year she was named USA Today’s National High School Player of the Year. Her skill and ability to pass the ball were qualities colleges were looking for in their next starting guard. Many scholarships were offered to Staley, but in the end she chose to be a Cavalier at the University of Virginia (UVA).
From 1989 to 1992, Dawn Staley starred as a Cavalier guard. She led her team to a 110-21 record over four years and went to four National College Athletic Association (NCAA) tournaments. Three of those resulted in Final Four appearances and one visit to the National Championship. Staley achieved many awards over her four years of college, which included Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Rookie of the Year in 1989, Sports Illustrated Player of the Year in 1991, ACC Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992, and National Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992. She is also a three-time All-American and holds the NCAA record for steals with 454. Throughout her college career Staley accumulated 2,135 points and 729 assists. In the Sports Illustrated article “A Blazing Dawn” her assistant coach Shawn Campbell says, “The truth is she is at a different level. The things she can do, we can’t coach.” This compliment goes right along with all of her accomplishments. To top it all, she is one of three Cavaliers to have her number, 24, retired. In 1992, she graduated with a degree in rhetoric and communications studies.
After college Staley pursued a professional basketball career. From 1992 to 1995 she played overseas for several teams in Brazil, France, Italy, and Spain. In 1994, she returned to the United States to play for Team USA in the World Championships. That same year she was also named USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year. In 1996, Staley was selected to play for Team USA in the Olympics. Tara VanDerveer was the head coach and although she saw talent in Staley, there were times where they did not see eye to eye. Staley told Rachel Rutledge: “I’ve lost some playing time in the past for things I’ve done on the court. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad. They’re just instinctive. I mean, to me, that’s all part of the game and I’ve got to do some of these things to help women’s basketball grow.” Her instincts must have been right because that year the women’s team brought home the Olympic gold medal.
Following her first Olympic games Dawn Staley played in the American Basketball League (ABL). From 1996 to 1997 she played for the Richmond Rage in Virginia. The next season the team moved to Philadelphia and Staley was happy to be back in her hometown. Throughout her ABL career Staley averaged 14.0 points per game, 7.2 assists per game, and 3.5 rebounds per game. She was also a two-time ABL All-Star before the league folded in 1998.
In 1999, Staley entered the Women’s National Basketball Association and was the ninth pick of the draft by the Charlotte Sting. She played for the Sting from 1999 to 2005. During this time she played in three WNBA All-Star games and led her team to the WNBA Finals in 2001. In the summer of 2000, Dawn Staley was not only playing for the Sting, but also preparing for her second Olympics with Team USA. She was a part of the first Women’s Dream Team, which consisted of many professional basketball players. Once again the team went on to win the Olympic gold medal by defeating Australia.
In 2004, as Dawn Staley was preparing for her third Olympic games, she was selected to carry the American flag in the opening ceremonies. She was the first basketball player, male or female, to receive this honor. In Athens, the women won their third straight Olympic gold medal by defeating Australia again. Kelli Anderson’s “Dawn of an Era” claims that people wondered why Staley was a part of this team. Some thought her time had past, but Staley thought otherwise, stating “The reason I’m here is to help the U.S. win its third straight gold medal and to teach the younger players how to do it again.” She certainly proved herself because she again received the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year award at the end of 2004.
Dawn Staley’s final season as a professional basketball player came in 2005 when she was traded to the Houston Comets. Overall, she had a very successful WNBA career. She never missed a game in six seasons and ranks third among career leaders in assists with 1,055.
Throughout her years as a professional basketball player, Dawn Staley remained busy as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Temple. She was their coach from 2000 to 2008 and during those eight seasons her team went on to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) in 2000 as well as six NCAA tournaments. In 2004 and 2005 Staley was named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year. She was seen as a role model and excited the Philadelphia fans. In the article “Dawn of a New Era” by Tim Crothers, one of her then players, Christena Hamilton, says, “I grew up watching Dawn on TV and wanting to be just like her. Having my idol as a coach, well, that blows my mind.” Dawn Staley made a great impact on the players she coached and that continued when she accepted the coaching position at the University of South Carolina in 2008. In an interview with Susan Shackelford, Staley talked about taking the job in order to be close to her family, but also as a new challenge. She likes the competition as well as the different environment she is coaching in.
As a player and a coach Dawn Staley certainly has made a name for herself in the world of basketball. However, basketball players are not the only people she aims to help. The Dawn Staley Foundation was formed in 1996 and it looks to provide a positive and safe environment for children living in North Philadelphia. She wants children to see the importance of education and assists them in building character and developing leadership skills.
The foundation and her coaching job are her current commitments. In the future, she hopes to coach the Team USA in the Olympics.
Anderson, Kelli. “Dawn of an Era.” Sports Illustrated. 6 Sept. 2004: 44.
Crothers, Tim. “Dawn of a New Era.” Sports Illustrated. 29 Jan. 2001: 104.
Looney, Douglas S. “A Blazing Dawn.” Sports Illustrated. 19 Nov. 1990: 112-114.
Rutledge, Rachel. Women of Sports. The Best of the Best in Basketball. Brookfield: Millbrook Press, 1998.
Shackelford, Susan. “One on One with Dawn Staley.” Women’s Basketball 8.5 (2008): 33-34.