Two weeks ago, I received a very classic email from my dad, complete with a short, concise subject heading — although not the usual, intimidating “Fyi.” — and an article link. Unlike most of his weekly “recommended reading” emails that saturate my inbox, however, this one contained more than just a naked link and commentary and included a quote he pulled from the article he wanted me to read.
The subject of such an out-of-character email: Pat Summitt. The former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach died two weeks ago after a nearly six-year fight with early onset Alzheimer’s.
It is sometimes easy to forget what we take for granted now — for example, the excitement associated with women’s basketball at the collegiate and professional levels. But it had to start with one person, or a group of people, who worked to create and establish such opportunities.
Pat Summitt was one of those people.
She was responsible for making women’s basketball relevant. A pioneer for the sport, she represented the United States in the 1976 Montreal Olympics — the first time women’s basketball was included in the games. She and her team won the silver medal, helping to establish their country’s future preeminence. Since then, the U.S. Women’s Team has collected seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze. No other country comes even close.
Directly after graduating college, Summitt began coaching women barely younger than she was at the University of Tennessee. She very quickly, however, proved to be one of the best coaches the sport has ever seen. Summitt is the winningest NCAA basketball coach of all time, with more victories than anyone in history: 1,098 wins, only 208 losses — an .840 record — and eight NCAA titles.
Impressive is an understatement. She is the pinnacle of success.
Her dedication and role in the popularization of the sport are among the reasons that, growing up, women’s basketball was just as relevant to me as men’s basketball. I asked to go to Sparks games just as often as I did Lakers games (all the time) and associated purple and gold with the tall women on the court just as much as I did the tall men. In fact, two of Summitt’s best Lady Vols players, Candace Parker and Chamique Holdsclaw, have both played professionally for Los Angeles.
Summitt’s legacy extends beyond the sidelines of the court, and she has left behind more than just her unmatched record. In his email, below the link to Summitt’s obituary, my dad included the website to her foundation, specifically a page listing her rules to live by: “The Definite Dozen.” It is through the following 12 rules that Pat Summitt impacts more than just those interested in basketball or familiar with her achievements.
Respect yourself and others. Take full responsibility. Develop and demonstrate loyalty. Learn to be a great communicator. Discipline yourself so no one else has to. Make hard work your passion. Don’t just work hard, work smart. Put the team before yourself. Make winning an attitude. Be a competitor. Change is a must. Handle success like you handle failure.
“Her dozen rules of success are not just good for being a better athlete and team member, but pretty good rules to live by,” my dad wrote in his email, imploring me to read and consider each one carefully, and to take them to heart.
Thanks for the email, Pops.
Contact Sarah Goldzweig at [email protected]