Celebrating the 1995-96 Olympic Team Ten Years Later
They knew they were a part of something special, 12 women making history with
each game they played.
Leslie NBAE/Getty Images
we celebrate the 10th anniversary of their gold medal victory in Atlanta, the
profound influence of the 1996 United States Women's Olympic Basketball continues
to shape the landscape of modern sports. Ten years ago this month, the American
women capped off a year-long exhibition of dominance and set the wheels in motion
for the creation of the Women's National Basketball Association, which began play
less than a year later.
The United States was coming off disappointing
showings in the 1992 Olympics and 1994 World Championships, and was determined
to regain the reputation it had earned as a powerhouse during the 1980's. USA
Basketball brought together 11 of the best American women basketball players,
who then embarked on a 10-month international training tour, competing against
many countries national teams and United States college teams. It also marked
the creation of a U.S. Senior National Team that trained and played in games other
than the semi-annual major tournaments.
"Coming straight from college,
I was in awe of everything. It was so huge for all of us," said two-time Olympic
gold medalist and recently-retired WNBA star Nikki McCray. "It was unbelievable,
like we were the 1992 men's dream team. Every city that we went to, there were
fans for practices, sellouts at the games and it was really fun. There will never
be another team like that because it was the first."
Also headlining the
group were Olympic veterans Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain, as well Jennifer
Azzi, Ruthie Bolton and Carla McGhee, who was recently named the WNBA Director
of Player Personnel.
"I look back and see that the '95-'96 National Team experience was the beginning of greatness," McGhee said. "Great friends, great bonds, great memories, great opportunities, great fan support and awareness, and of course, great basketball! I am very thankful and blessed for everything associated with that team."
Also selected to the team were a trio of younger stars who
would be making the first of several Olympic appearances for the United States:
Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. The team also added Rebecca Lobo,
who was fresh off an NCAA title and undefeated season of her own.
Bolton NBAE/Getty Images
probably one of the defining moments of my career because we tried something that
had never been done before," Staley, a WNBA All-Decade Team member, said. "It
was probably the closest thing to competing on a professional level that I had
done at the time because we were on a team at the primes of our careers, and we
were sort of like the guinea pigs to see if women's basketball could be a draw."
most certainly could be a draw. The group came together on October 2, 1995 and
began traveling and competing to prepare for the 1996 Olympics. They arrived in
Atlanta in July of 1996 with an unblemished 52-0 record. Their Olympic contests
sold out and the team rewarded the home crowd with an array of offensive talent.
In the eight victories en route to the gold medal, the United States averaged
102.4 points per game as Leslie, Bolton, Swoopes, Edwards and McClain started
all eight games.
"We all did our part to go 60-0 and win the gold," McCray
said. "Plus, we got to do it in front of one of the largest crowds to ever see
But the team had accomplished so much more than taking home
a shiny medal. Women's basketball had finally achieved prominence in the national
sports conscience and the NBA's plan for a women's league, the WNBA, finally had
a leg to stand on.
"That team was probably the primary piece of the foundation
that led to the WNBA," the league's first president, Val Ackerman, said. "That
particular team, at that particular time, with the top players at the time, Lisa
Leslie, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes and Rebecca Lobo, all came together. The gold
medal game did got a 15.5 rating on NBC and people had noted that the women's
game had arrived. That momentum generated the strongest push we could have imagined
going into the first season of the WNBA. The top players of that national team
had signed up with the WNBA and we were able to take advantage of the goodwill
associated with their name."
The U.S. had won gold at the 1984 and 1988
Olympics, as well as the 1986 and 1990 World championships, but American women
still had to go overseas to play professional basketball, spending most of their
time away from home. Friends and family members never got to watch them play unless
they made the trek to Europe or Asia.
Edwards NBAE/Getty Images
that, I was playing overseas," Bolton said. "I played in Sweden, Hungary, and
two years in Italy before I had a chance to play in the WNBA. I had a good time
with my international experience, but it felt good to be able to come back home."
the '96 team proved that women's basketball was viable in the United States and
ended a 15-year absence of women's professional basketball in this country. Not
to mention the countless dreams they have inspired in young girls around the world.
been amazing, this opportunity to be a role model," Sparks center Lisa Leslie
said. "Growing up, I remember thinking that the Olympics was as far as I would
go. Then I basically retired from basketball. To play again and have the WNBA
over the last ten years has been tremendous. Plus, the ability to inspire young
girls and women to want to be professional basketball players as well as going
back to school are opportunities that I have embraced and feel a lot of gratitude
to have been able to accomplish."
The women also opened doors for female
athletes and themselves. During the original tour, several women landed marketing
endorsement deals that had never existed for women in America before. Lobo signed
a deal ever with Reebok, the first ever for a women's basketball player in America.
That followed by Nike signing Swoopes to a deal, which included Swoopes having
her own shoe, "Air Swoopes." Leslie was signed to a modeling contract with Wilhelmina,
one of the largest modeling agencies ni the world. It goes without saying that
these players paved the way for current endorsement deals today. Nike has deals
with a handful of WNBA players and Diana Taurasi is the latest to have her own
From a historical basketball perspective, this team changed women's
basketball in the United States and around the world. Since 1995-96 the U.S. have
not lost a major world tournament, winning three Olympic gold medals and two World
Championship gold medals. Even more impressive, the U.S. has gone a perfect 42-0
during that time in the Olympics and World Championships.
To this day, the Senior National Team also competes against club teams
and national teams as a means of building unity, chemistry and committment, maintaining
a pool of professional talent.
Staley NBAE/Getty Images
me it was the light on my professional career," Bolton said. "My experience with
USA Basketball was great not just because of the winning, but because of the friendships
I've developed. Of course, winning always makes it better."
The 2006 World
Championships begin September 12 in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Two members of the original
1995-96 U.S. Team, Leslie and Swoopes (ten-year WNBA veterans with more than half
of the WNBA M.V.P. awards between them), will be back in action once again for
the Red, White and Blue. Also part of the 2006 National Team is Staley, who is
now an assistant coach under Storm coach Anne Donovan for USA Basketball.
They Are Now...
Lisa Leslie - Ten-year WNBA veteran, still
playing in the WNBA and starring with the Los Angeles Sparks; three-time Olympic
gold medlaist; lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Michael.
- Ten-year WNBA veteran, still playing in the WNBA and starring with the Houston
Comets; three-time Olympic gold medlaist; 2005 WNBA M.V.P.
Dawn Staley -
Eight-year WNBA veteran, recently retired from the Houston Comets; Head coach
at Temple University and will serve as assistant coach on the U.S. Women's National
McGhee NBAE/Getty Images
McClain - Never played in the WNBA, but has been active in the community and
participates with the WNBA today, making appearances and working at Junior WNBA
events. She lives in South Carolina with her family.
Carla McGhee - Four-year
WNBA veteran with the Orlando Miracle; McGhee last played in 2002; She has been
active with the WNBA since, and recently was hired as the Director of Player Personnel.
She lives with her son in New York.
Rebecca Lobo - Six-year WNBA veteran,
last played in 2003; currently works as a broadcaster for ESPN; lives in Connecticut
with her family and recently gave birth to her second child
- Played two seasons in the WNBA; Currently residing in Chattanooga, Tennesee
with her children.
Jennifer Azzi - Five-year WNBA veteran, last played
in 2003; Started Azzi Training and is involved with the WNBA Cares fitness initiatives;
Lives in Salt Lake City Utah,
Teresa Edwards - Played one season in
the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx (2004); Currently living in Georgia; participates
in Junior WNBA camps and clinics; Five-time Olympian
Nikki McCray - Nine-year
WNBA veteran; retired during the 2006 with 2,550 career points; two-time Olympic
Ruthie Bolton - Eight-year WNBA veteran, retired after
the 2004 season; Known as Miss Monarch and still works in fan relations and community
relations with the Monarchs.
Katy Steading - Played two seasons in the
WNBA; Is now the head coach at Warner Pacific in Oregon, where she lives with