The basketball scrap heap is littered with young men hailed as the “Next Michael.” Chamique Holdsclaw claims the unique distinction of being the first woman driven to the fringes by Jordanian expectations. She is also one of the few players who has bounced back. A three-time NCAA Player of the Year and one-time WNBA savior, Chamique has battled double-teams, achy knees and depression during her long career. And she’s still going strong. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Chamique Shaunta Holdsclaw was born on August 9, 1977 in Flushing, New York. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) Her parents, William and Benita, were ill-prepared for their first child. Young and immature, they argued frequently. The fighting only worsened when Chamique’s brother, Davon, came along a couple of years later.

Chamique’s parents both battled drinking problems throughout her childhood. From time to time, the police were called to their apartment in Jamaica, Queens, to break up their quarrels. Eventually Children’s Services got involved.

Chamique had to grow up fast. Her parents treated her more like an adult than a child, heaping on her the responsibility of keeping things around the house functioning as normally as possible. Chamique’s escape was sports—basketball, in particular. There weren’t a lot of other girls in the neighborhood who shared Chamique’s passion for hoops, so if she wanted to get into a pick-up game, it came against boys her age and older.

Among those she faced was a tough kid named Ron Artest. Running with and against the opposite sex gave Chamique a different perspective on the game. She learned a wide variety of one-on-one skills, developed an appreciation for a well-placed elbow under the boards, and found that backing down was a quality no one valued on the court.

In 1988, the authorities decided that Chamique and Davon were no longer safe living with their parents. They moved in with their grandmother, June. After a brief stay in her Manhattan apartment, they found a more appropriate place in Astoria, Queens. June made a point of teaching Chamique about the importance of religion. In fact, the youngster wore #23 not because Michael Jordan was her idol, but because the 23rd Psalm held particular meaning for her.

Through her church connections, June was able to enroll her granddaughter in Queens Lutheran School. There she got her first taste of organized basketball, which she took to quickly. Chamique turned plenty of heads with her court skills at Lutheran. This opened a lot of high school options for her. She had designs on attending St. John’s Prep for her freshman year in 1991. But Vincent Cannizzaro, the head coach at Christ the King, had other ideas. He launched an aggressive recruiting campaign, working June as hard as he went after Chamique. Eventually, Cannizzaro prevailed, convincing both that the school’s rich basketball tradition would serve her well.

Chamique stepped on the court for the first time as a Royal when she was 14. A starter for Cannizzaro, she blended in with her teammates seamlessly. Her first big moment came in a game against O’Connell in Washington, D.C. Chamique’s trey to begin the fourth gave Christ the King a comfortable lead that it never relinquished. More nights like that followed, and by the state playoffs, Chamique was an integral part of the squad.

Coming off a championship in ’91, the team entered the postseason looking to repeat. In the state semis, Christ the King beat Brooklyn St. Savior. Chamique went for 16 points and eight rebounds. In the championship contest, the Royals cruised past Staten Island St. Peter’s, 58-43. Chamique was solid again, posting eight points, nine boards and three blocks. After the campaign, USA Today listed her among its "Underclassmen to Watch" in 1992-93.

Cannizzaro expanded Chamique’s role in her sophomore year. Though quiet by nature, she was a natural leader, with an ability to dominate opponents. In a mid-season rematch versus O’Connell, the Royals rolled to a 70-47 win. Chamique keyed the victory with 26 points. Undefeated heading into March, Christ the King again blitzed through the state tournament. Drawing Clifton Park Shenandoah for a third straight title, it was no contest. The Royals won by 20, and Chamique, who registered a double-double (22 points, 20 rebounds), was named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player.

By now, Chamique was attracting the attention of the New York press, which relished the job of covering the Big Apple’s next great star. When USA Today asked her to pen a daily diary, the junior became a full-fledged media darling. The pressure seemed to have no effect on Chamique. For the third year in a row, she led Christ the King to league, city and state titles.

By the fall of 1994, college coaches were lining up at Chamique’s door. Purdue, Virginia and Connecticut were all jockeying for position at the top of the list, but the choice became a no-brainer after she visited the University of Tennessee. Though life moved at much slower pace than in New York, Chamique felt at home in Knoxville, and despite Pat Summitt’s reputation as a taskmaster, she believed the Lady Vols head coach was a good fit for her.

With the stress of her college decision behind her, Chamique enjoyed a remarkable senior year for Christ the King. She averaged 25 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, four steals and three assists—numbers that helped her get recognized as player of the year by Rawlings/WBCA, Atlanta’s Tip-Off Club and Ohio’s Touchdown Club. The Royals were unstoppable, taking yet another state title. The only downer was a ruling by New York City’s Catholic High School Athletic Association, which suspended Christ the King from league play for a violation concerning out-of-state trips. That hiccup aside, Chamique ended her high school career as one of the Big Apple’s most storied players.

ON THE RISE


 

 

 


Ron Artest, D-Band ad

     
 

In Knoxville, Chamique joined a team long on experience. Senior point guard Michelle Marciniak was Summitt’s top returning player, but every Tennessee upper classman realized that their new teammate was a star in the making. In the preseason, Chamique got a lift from Abby Conklin, who encouraged her to let her talent shine. A few weeks later, in an exhibition against the U.S. Women’s national team, the freshman scored 19 points, and all of Tennessee embraced her. It wasn't long before the comparisons to all-time greats like Cheryl Miller began.

Through the first few months of the 1995-96 campaign, the Lady Vols were ranked consistently in the Top 10. As Chamique grew more accustomed to the college game, Tennessee got better and better. A victory over unbeaten Louisiana Tech gave the team lots of momentum as the NCAA Tournament approached. Then disaster struck. Chamique hurt her right knee, making her availability in the postseason questionable. But the frosh attacked her rehab, and when the Lady Vols opened against Radford, she was in the lineup.

Tennessee waltzed through its portion of the bracket, breezing into the Final Four. Against UConn, a team that had defeated them earlier in the season, the Lady Vols turned the tables. Relying on balanced scoring, they advanced to the championship game. Chamique, still trying to work her way into game shape, netted nine points. Facing SEC rival Georgia for national title, Tennessee authored one of its best performances of the year. With Chamique going for 16 points and 14 rebounds, Summitt’s troops captured an easy 83-65 victory.

Chamique’s first season was an unqualified success. The SEC Freshman of the Year, she topped the squad in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg), and also earned spots on the all-conference and All-American teams. In every way possible, Chamique had the best season by a newcomer in Tennessee hoops history.

With expectations high the following season, the Lady Vols limped from the starting gate. Losers of six of their first 16, they clearly missed Marciniak. Though Chamique was delivering on the court, Summitt needed more from her. In January, the sophomore tore into her teammates, and they responded. Tennessee got hot late and advanced to Final Four for the second year in a row.

In their semi-final matchup, the Lady Vols dismantled Notre Dame. Chamique was the catalyst with 31 points, five rebounds and four steals. In the final, Tennessee squared off against Old Dominion, which boasted a record of 34-2. Summitt crafted an aggressive game plan, urging her players to pressure Lady Monarchs point guard Ticha Penicheiro at every opportunity. They pulled it off flawlessly, producing a 68-59 victory. With 24 points and seven rebounds, Chamique secured the Most Outstanding Player award.

Rallying a slumping club to another national championship was quite a feather in Chamique’s cap. But she had little time to enjoy it, as she embarked on an international tour with Team USA. The youngest player on the roster, Chamique established a commanding presence on the floor nonetheless. She ended the 12-game tour as the squad’s leading scorer and rebounder, and the Americans posted an 11-1 record. Weeks later, Chamique joined the U.S. women again, this time for World Championship qualifying. The U.S. had little problem with anyone on their schedule.


Cheryl Miller, 1992 SI for Kids
     
 

Chamique had a great time on both trips. She roomed with 33-year-old veteran Teresa Edwards, who shared her views on basketball and life whenever asked. The advice was particularly helpful as Chamique prepared for her junior season at Tennessee. There was talk of her leaving school for either the WNBA or American Basketball League, but she didn’t think she was ready.

Edwards emphasized the need to round out her game, especially on the defensive end. That was evident as the Lady Vols put together a season for the ages. With Chamique teaming up with two freshmen, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall, the squad ended the regular season undefeated, and then swept through the SEC Tournament. In March Madness, the “Three Meeks” continued their dominance.

Tennessee again made it to the title game, this time matching up against Louisiana Tech. Chamique took control early, piling up 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists by intermission. Her performance helped the Lady Vols build a 22-point bulge, which they nursed to their third straight national title. Chamique was again the easy pick as MOP.

She spent another summer with the U.S. nation team, as the Americans looked for gold in the World Championships. Again, Team USA barely broke a sweat. They won all nine of their games, including a 71-65 victory in the tournament final. Chamique finished third on the squad in scoring (10.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.4 rpg).

MAKING HER MARK

Chamique returned home a national sensation. No one know this better tha the Tennessee Athletic Department, which was besieged with media requests. In all during the 1998-99 campaign, Chamique did somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 interviews and photo shoots. That she even had time for school and basketball was an amazing accomplishment. Fans wondered whether Chamique had it in her to bring home a fourth championship.

Early on, it appeared the national title was a forgone conclusion. Chamique’s international experience had helped her become stronger and more confident. In February, she was presented with the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete. No female basketball player had ever won the award before. She was also selected to the 25th anniversary Kodak All-American team.

But the strain of four years in the spotlight caught up to Chamique in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee cruised into the Great Eight, only to be upset by Duke. Chamique had one of her toughest nights ever, hitting on just two of 18 shots and fouling out. She left the court in tears.

Chamique had only a few months to recover from the disappointing end to her college career. In May, the Washington Mystics tabbed her as the #1 pick in the WNBA draft. The league, now three years old, was in an interesting position. The ABL had just disbanded, meaning stars like Dawn Staley, Natalie Williams and Jennifer Azzi were available to the highest bidder. While the WNBA was eager to integrate as many of these talented veterans as possible, it still wanted a young, marquee name to build around. The league looked to Chamique to help it break through with mainstream sports fans, to become its Michael Jordan.

The people of D.C. welcomed her with open arms. A rally was held in her honor, and the Mystics sewed her up with one of the league’s most lucrative contracts, somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 annually. Also arranged was an endorsement deal with Nike that earned her even more cash.


Teresa Edwards, 1992 Kelloggs
     
 

Chamique was an instant box-office draw fromor the Mystics. Coming off a dreadful 3-27 campaign, the team was grateful for a second chance to win over their fans. Head coach Nancy Darsch paired Chamique with Nikki McCray to give Washington an explosive one-two punch. The plan worked out on the scoresheet, as McCray netted 17.5 points a game and Chamique added 16.9. She also grabbed nearly eight boards and dished out 2.5 assists a night. Selected as a starter in the inaugural WNBA All-Star Game, Chamique was the runaway choice as the league’s Rookie of the Year.

Her numbers translated into more wins for the Mystics, who went 12-20, and higher attendance—they led the league in attendance. But their record wasn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs. For the first time in eight years, Chamique watched the postseason from home.

Based on their 1999 showing, there were high hopes for the Mystics in 2000 season. Chamique boosted her scoring and improved her defense, but her play was uneven at times as she limped through a series of minor injuries. He frustration was evident in her dealings with the team higher-ups. After years of saying and doing the right thing, Chamique openly argued with Darsch and others in the front office about the direction of the team.

Her behavior was odd, considering that the Mystics were actually playing well. With point guard Andrea Nagy running the offense and veteran Vicki Bullett acquired in a trade, Washington appeared to be on track for a playoff berth. But Chamique and McCray displayed little to no chemistry on the floor, and Darsch ultimately paid the price. She was canned midway through the year and replaced by Darrell Walker. He rallied the Mystics to a 14-18 mark, which got them into the postseason for the first time. Washington, however, was no match for the New York Liberty, who sent them packing after two games. Chamique was relieved the campaign was over.

Next, Chamique flew to Australia with her U.S. teammates for the Olympics, where they claimed the gold. It was during the Summer Games that she came to an important realization. Chamique had put together two strong pro seasons, but she felt like she had not reached her potential.

Chamique hit the weight room hard over the winter, adding more muscle to her frame and shedding some 20 pounds. The results were not evident on the court, however. While Chamique improved her rebounding during the 2001 season, she dropped in nearly every other statistical category, including scoring and field goal percentage. The Mystics struggled, too, finishing in a four-way tie for last place at 10-22.

For Chamique, losing was taking its toll. The Mystics went through another coaching change before the ’01 season, when Walker chose to move on. In his place, the team hired Australian Olympic coach Tom Maher. His presence did nothing to bridge the gap between Chamique and McCray, who feuded publicly, airing many of their complaints in the media.


Chamique Holdsclaw, 2000 TV Guide
     
 

The Mystics tried to retool again after their disappointing campaign. Maher and GM Melissa McFerrin resigned, while McCray was shipped to Indiana for Angie Braziel and a couple of draft picks. Hoping to appease Chamique, the team hired Pat Summitt as a consultant and handed the coaching reigns to Marianne Stanley, who shifted her star player from small forward to power forward. Chamique made a change of her own, too, switching from #23 to #1.

A new number, however, did nothing to lessen the pain of a personal tragedy. In the spring of 2002, Chamique’s grandmother died, a loss that affected her deeply. With no close friends on the Mystics, she kept most of the pain to herself during the summer.

Still, through the opening months of the ’02 campaign, Washington looked like a different team, and Chamique was a different player as well. Stanley’s no-nonsense approach worked with her players, particularly Chamique, who was averaging a double-double in points and rebounds. At 14-5, the Mystics boasted one of the league’s top records. But the team was forced to adjust when Chamique missed a total of 12 games to a pair of ankle sprains. Washington managed to survive without its star and ended the regular season with its best record ever, 17-15. In the playoffs, the Mystics disposed of the Charlotte Sting in two games, setting up a showdown with the Liberty in the Eastern Conference Finals. Again, New York was the better team, taking the series in three.

For Chamique, 2002 was a nice bounce-back year. The move to power forward suited her well, as she was able to use her quickness to greater advantage. Chamique topped the league in scoring, rebounding and double-doubles. She also played in her fourth consecutive All-Star Game.

Still, Chamique was unhappy. Over the winter, she travelled to the Far East with former Tennessee teammate Michelle Snow, where they joined the KB Savers of the Women’s Korea Basketball League. Chamique enjoyed competing against veterans of the international game, as well as the challenge of adapting to a new culture. She returned to the States revitalized, but the 2003 WNBA season was another draining one. Chamique put up strong numbers again, averaging 20.5 points and 10.9 rebounds a game. The Mystics, however, were dreadful, falling to the basement in the East at 9-25.

Unfulfilled personally and professionally, Chamique began to withdraw further from friends, family and teammates. When Team USA called and asked her to work out with the squad over the winter in preparation for the 2004 Olympics, she declined the invitation. She stopped answering her phone. The situation grew worse when she lost her grandfather in the spring. Nothing seemed to matter to her.

Washington, meanwhile, named yet another new head coach, this time turning to former NBA All-Star Michael Adams. For the 2004 season, he promised to install an up-tempo offense that would allow Chamique to use her speed and run the floor. The system appealed to her, but her focus was clearly lacking at times. On the nights Chamique was into it, she was a terror, regularly posting double-figures in points and rebounds. By July, however, she was unable to sustain a consistent effort. Late in the month, Chamique left the club for what management called a “minor medical issue.” She also relinquished her spot on the U.S. national team for the Summer Games in Athens.

In reality the problem was far more serious. With rumors swirling about a cancer diagnosis, an unwanted pregnancy and drug addiction, Chamique remained silent. Two months later, she came clean, admitting that she had been in the throes of severe depression. It wasn’t until several friends confronted her that she sought psychiatric help.

Unsure of her desire to continue her hoops career, Chamique joined a team in Valencia, Spain to gauge her interest in playing again. The experiment was a success. But when she got back to the U.S., she knew she needed a change of scenery. The Mystics eventually obliged, dealing her to the Los Angeles Sparks for Delisha MIlton-Jones and a first-round draft pick.


Nikki McCray, 2002 Ultra WNBA
     
 

Chamique had second thoughts prior to the start of the 2005 season and told Sparks GM Penny Toler she was considering retirement. Toler talked Chamique into staying, and she got off to a great start. She looked relaxed and content for the first time in a long time.  In May, she scored her 3,000th career point.

In all, Chamique played in a career-high 33 games, averaging 17 points, 6.8 rebounds and  3.2 assists per contest. The drop in boards was partly the result of working alongside center Lisa Leslie, who was good for 7.3 boards per game.

Chamique led the Sparks in points and assists. This was not a good stat for the squad, however. It reflected the fact that ace playmaker Nikki Teasley missed almost half the season with an injury. LA finished a disappointing fourth in the division with a 17–17 record. They fell to the Sacramento Monarchs in the first round of the playoffs.

In 2006, all the pieces fell in place for the Sparks. They won the West with a 25–9 record. For Chamique, however, it was a difficult year. She became the team’s sixth man, coming off the bench in all 25 of the games she played. At one point, Chamique missed a string of six straight contests while her father and stepfather battled grave illnesses.

When she did play, Chamique provided quality minutes, averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds a game. The Sparks defeated the Seattle Storm in the first round of the playoffs, but they fell again to the Monarchs in the conference finals.

Early in the 2007 campaign, the old thoughts and feelings returned. Chamique was tired of the grind. This time, she knew what she had to do. She left the Sparks after five games and checked herself into a hospital.

Two years passed before Chamique could muster the mental strength to return to the WNBA. In the interim, she tried to stay sharp, logging time with TS Wisla Can-Pak Krakow, a women’s team in Poland.

In 2009, Chamiquesuited up for the Atlanta Dream, who traded the Sparks a draft pick for the right to sign her. She played 25 games and was second on the club with a 13.9 scoring average.  The team finished with an 18–16 record, and then lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Detroit Shock. Chamqiue missed the end of the year after undergoing knee surgery. Her knees had begun to bother her while she was playing overseas.

Chamique was glad to get back on the court, but she wanted out of Atlanta. Prior to training camp in 2010, she requested a trade. Eventually the Dream released her. Chamique then signed with the San Antonio Silver Stars, where she teamed with veterans Becky Hammon, Michelle Snow and Ruth Riley. The Silver Stars lost more often than they won, finishing at 11-17.

Chamique put up strong numbers most games, But at 33 she was more of a support player than a go-to girl. Still, she seemed content in San Antonio.


Lisa Leslie & Chamique Holdsclaw,
2006 WNBA
     
 

Chamique’s legion of fans may be disappointed that she didn’t become the female Jordan, but they have come to appreciate the way she has played with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Some are no doubt hoping for a renaissance in San Antonio. But most would just be happy if she’s happy ... even if this is her last hurrah.

CHAMIQUE THE PLAYER

Chamique is the complete package. She is a consistent shooter inside 20 feet, she can penetrate and finish, and she can handle the ball as well as most guards. She has an explosive first step and gets off the floor quickly for rebounds.

Chamique is bigger, faster and—if her knees are cooperating—can get up higher than any wing player in the WNBA. And she plays good defense when she puts her mind to it.

Those who predicted Chamique would dominate in the pros have been left scratching their heads. But if you look at who was doing the talking, these were not the coaches and players with an intimate knowledge of women’s hoops. After a dozen WNBA seasons, it’s clear that the sport simply isn’t structured for a single player to dominate. A superstar gives her team an advantage, but it is up to the rest of the squad to work that edge and create more opportunities.

Chamique spent the first half of her WNBA life knowing that the crowd would be disappointed when they left the building, whether her team won or not. She wasn’t going to score 40 and she wasn’t going to perform any gravity-defying dunks. That responsibility has now been removed, and it will be interesting to see how she applies her high basketball IQ in her current situation.


Chamique Holdsclaw, 2006 WNBA
     

 

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