Dawn Staley, as usual, was working. She was conducting her end-of-year meetings with her team when the phone, as it often does, rang.
Staley ignored it and sent it to voicemail. A few minutes later, she got a text message from a former player asking if she’d just received a call.
Intrigued and with the meeting over, Staley checked her voicemail. Nothing big — just somebody letting her know that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was calling and would like a call back.
That’s when Staley remembered that other call she had received, weeks earlier. The one that said that she was nominated for the Hall of Fame’s class of 2013, and if she made it, she would receive a call later on.
“It was a complete surprise, actually,” Staley recently said. “That’s when I had to call back, and they told me.”
Just a formality, as it turned out. Would Staley be free the weekend of Sept. 8? The Hall would like her to be present in Springfield, Mass., when she would officially be inducted.
All of the pickup games Staley had played growing up in Philadelphia, then the competition through high school, the University of Virginia, the WNBA and the Olympics hit her at once. She was about to be recognized as one of the greatest basketball players ever.
Not a woman player. Not a WNBA or college player.
A basketball player.
She never thought it would get to this point.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted, just because I think it’s the greatest place to end up after finishing your career,” she said. “I just didn’t know that it would come as quickly as it came. That’s kind of the startling thing, where I feel like I’m pretty young and I can enjoy it for a lot of years.”
Staley left on Friday for Springfield, Mass., for Hall of Fame weekend. She will be enshrined as part of a luminous class (reigning national championship coach Rick Pitino, college and pro heavyweights Gary Payton and Bernard King, longtime UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian and North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell are also included) in the sport’s ultimate residence.
Staley is used to Hall of Fame ceremonies — she was selected for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame last year, and was inducted alongside USC assistant coach Nikki McCray. McCray, plus USC’s entire usual traveling party is attending her induction (a gift from USC athletics director Ray Tanner, although the team is staying at home), and Staley’s mother, siblings and friends from Philly also will be there.
“I think it’s a huge honor for her,” McCray said recently. “I think a lot of the reason that she’s being inducted is because of the lives that she’s touched. She’d be the first to tell you, it’s really not about the basketball. It’s about her making people better. Just seeing people be successful.”
Staley’s plenty pumped about getting to meet all of the other Hall-of-Famers, but a bit nervous about having to stand up and speak to a room crowded with well-wishers and other families. It would be a lot easier to shake a hand or two and get back to practice.
“I’m not excited about the ceremony because I’m not excited about having to give the speech,” Staley said. “But I am excited about being enshrined and seeing all the people and meeting all the other Hall-of-Famers.
“It’s frightening, to be quite honest. I wish I could just sit back and kind of have an out-of-body experience where I could just enjoy it. Depending on which order I say my speech in, is probably going to figure in whether I can enjoy the rest of it.”