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September 9, 2013
Dawn Staley managed not to cry - this time.
Trading her black evening gown for a black South Carolina T-shirt, the star-studded company of fellow inductees like Rick Pitino and Gary Payton for members of South Carolina media corps and the festooned backdrop of the Springfield (Mass.) Symphony Hall for the media room under the stands of the Colonial Life Arena, newly minted Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Dawn Staley spoke from the heart - again - about her climb to basketball's mountaintop Monday afternoon.
Staley said what has made the honor so significant has been being able to share it with so many people.
"Anytime you're able to share something like this with the people who have supported you and who are supporting you, it's always a great thing," Staley said. "I'm certainly one that really appreciates all the people who have supported me throughout my career. I think any successful person credits the people that helped them along the way, and I'm not different.
"It was an incredible weekend. It was all of us celebrating this moment. Just getting on the stage and sharing my story made me nervous, but it also made me want to share my story with people who had followed me and also people who hadn't and who didn't know anything about me and for people who actually needed to hear those words, whether it's somebody going through something, a young basketball player, a young child who's at a crossroads in their life and who understands the importance of having positive, good people in your life to help you, to boost you and give you that support that you need.
"I always use basketball as a platform to share, to change lives, to get in doors that I couldn't. But mainly (it adds credibility) to help people who are in need, because obviously I came from a need-based neighborhood and people helped me along the way."
Staley's emotional speech, which is available to watch online, drew the picture of her life's journey as imagined while she carried the United States flag around the stadium as the standard-bearer for America at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics in Greece.
"My speech really turned me into another person," Staley said. "I'm not one that's very comfortable in front of a microphone. Being on live television and amongst some of the great players who went before me, and having to give a speech...obviously it was a pretty big deal and I didn't want to disappoint."
Back in Columbia, Staley's had a chance to reflect a bit on what it means to be, now and forever, a Hall of Famer - one of just 15 female players in the 337-member club.
"You add instant credibility being a Hall of Famer," said Staley, who was so outstanding as a collegiate player at Virginia she became the only Final Four Most Outstanding Player from a team that didn't win the championship.
"I think it's significant (being a female player) in that there are only 15 that have been chosen to be a part of this incredible group of being in the Hall of Fame. I'm elated to be a part of that select group, but I want to take my hat off to those who came before me, who didn't get a chance to showcase their talents in a professional league here in the United States."
The honor also allows her to be noticed in a crowd - something she's not always had the luxury of standing just 5-foot-5.
"You're seen a little bit differently," Staley said. "I've been in the presence of, you know, a lot of those players, and obviously my height didn't help - they didn't see me. But they saw me this particular weekend."
So did the rest of the country, and now, Staley hopes, the kind of recruits necessary to win the national championship she promised from the podium in Springfield.
"I'm going to be the same," Staley said. "I have to go recruiting today.
"We have a huge recruiting class to sign. That's in the forefront at the moment. Hopefully our recruits saw the speech, because it came from the heart. It came from a place from which I hope they play basketball. I have to hit the ground running and start to maybe get some commitments and get some future Hall of Famers to coach. A national championship. I said it. I put it out there."
If history is any indication of the future, what Dawn Staley says, she does. And if by now you still don't believe her, there's about a two-foot tall bronze statue with her name on it that'll be happy to answer your questions.
South Carolina NEWS