Edwards, Teresa 1964–
Teresa Edwards 1964–
Teresa Edwards’s sporting career stands as proof that women can be as successful in the basketball arena as men. She holds the record for Olympic basketball appearances with four, and her professional career is now entering its second decade. The dynamic Edwards, a former Ail-American from the University of Georgia and longtime international basketball star, won an unprecedented third gold medal in 1996 as a member of the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team. That honor capped a distinguished career as an Olympian, featuring gold medals for basketball in 1984 and 1988 as well as a bronze medal in 1992. “Edwards may be the best player in the world,” Alexander Wolff once wrote in Sports Illustrated. “At the very least, she’s a spectacular riposte to those who wonder why a woman can’t be more like a man.”
Edwards’s career has been ideally timed to take advantage of a surge in popularity for women’s basketball. She was one of the first players named to the fledgling Atlanta Glory basketball team in the new women’s American Basketball League, and thus she will help to establish professional women’s basketball in America. No one could be more suited to the task: since 1986 she has played in Spain, Italy, Japan, and on many U.S. national teams—often serving as captain or co-captain of her squad. “My attitude, the way I perceive things, the way I live my life, has come through basketball,” Edwards declared in Ebony. “The travel and the different cultures; meeting people and dealing with people, the way I carry myself on and off the court…. Everything I could possibly talk about is going to be connected to basketball.”
Born in 1964 in Cairo, Georgia, Teresa Edwards grew up the oldest child, and only girl, in a single-parent family. Her mother, Mildred Edwards, had dreamed of becoming a nurse but became pregnant out of wedlock instead. After Teresa and her four brothers were born, Mildred supported them by working any job she could find, from picking vegetables to operating machines on assembly lines. Teresa’s father, Leroy Copeland, helped financially as well, but the family never had very much money.
Getting all the chores done was a family project. Everyone
At a Glance…
Born July 19, 1964, in Cairo, GA; daughter of Mildred Edwardsand LeroyCopeland. Education: University of Georgia, B.S., 1989.
Basketball player. Member of Southeastern Conference championship teams with University of Georgia, 1983, 1984, and 1986; member of United States women’s Olympic basketball team, 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996, won gold medals in 1984, 1988, and 1996, won bronze medal in 1992. Member of gold medal-winning World Championship team, 1990; member of bronze medal-winning World Championship team, 1994. Professional basketball player in Italy, Spain, and Japan, 1986-95; professional player with Atlanta Glory in American Basketball League (ABL), 1996—.
Selected awards: One of only three University of Georgia women’s basketball players to have her number retired; named USA Basketball Player of the Year, 1996.
Addresses: Office— Atlanta Glory, 151 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Surte 200, Atlanta, GA 30308.
one pitched in, and the Edwards siblings took extra duties when one of them had sports practices to attend. Teresa was charged with cleaning the house on weekends. “I’d do it so fast my mother would get so mad,” she recalled in Sports Illustrated. “She’d tell me, ’If you’re not going to do it right—and do it hard—don’t do it at all. ’ That’s the way I started to look at basketball, and life.”
Sports were a passion for all of the Edwards children, Teresa especially. She played sandlot baseball, football, and Softball, but her favorite game was basketball. She spent hours shooting baskets at trash cans and an old rim nailed to a pine tree in the front yard of her house. Still, no one in her family ever expected her to become a basketball star. Her strict and conventional mother instructed her not to try out for the middle school girls’ team. Edwards ignored the advice and tried out anyway. She went to practices for weeks before she finally told her mother she’d made the team—and then she only confessed because she needed a new pair of sneakers.
“[Basketball] was the only game growing up where I could go up against the boys and beat them,” Edwards remembered in Ebony. As she grew to a respectable five-foot-eleven, she discovered that she could beat just about anybody. Soon enough, college recruiters were offering her scholarships. She became the first member of her family ever to attend college when she entered the University of Georgia in 1982.
In Sports Illustrated, Jill Lieber described Edwards’s college career as “sparkling.” Edwards—soon to be joined by her roommate Katrina McClain—led Georgia to Southeastern Conference championships in 1983, 1984, and 1986 and took her team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Final Four twice. Nor were her talents confined to a college team. She earned a roster spot on the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team in 1984 and helped the team to a gold medal finish.
In 1986 Edwards participated for the U.S. on a team that won the World Championship and the Goodwill Games. Although she had not finished her degree requirements, she decided to leave college and turn professional. Had she been a man, Edwards might have expected a seven-figure salary, product endorsement deals, television commercials, and instant fame. Instead her pro career took her out of America altogether. She spent two years playing in Italy and three seasons after that in Japan. The experience was draining. Edwards told Essence: “At first you are bitter for having to go over there and play. But once you get past the cultural shock, you’re just thankful for the chance to play and see the world for free. I look at it as a blessing.”
All told, Edwards spent nine years playing basketball in Europe and Japan, earning as much as $250,000 per year and fighting homesickness and language barriers. Like many other top-rated female players, she jumped at any opportunity to play her sport in the United States—and the opportunities were certainly there.
Edwards was co-captain of the 1988 Olympic basketball team that won the gold medal in Seoul, South Korea. Many observers credited her with the outstanding performance in the gold medal-round game, in which the U.S. beat Yugoslavia 77-70. Throughout the Games she was the U.S. team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game and leading in field goal percentage, assists and steals. Asked how her team compared to the men’s squad—which lost to the Soviet Union at the same Olympics—Edwards told Sports Illustrated: “I believe we have been much stronger than them mentally.” She added that she had learned to live with the disparity of interest in men’s and women’s basketball. “I feel I won’t be involved in this game when we get to the point when women finally get their due,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard for women’s basketball, and we’ve done all we can. I can’t let it upset me. But at the same time, if you get used to things, you can’t change them.”
Edwards was a member of a hastily-assembled U.S. women’s Olympic team that turned in a disappointing performance at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. A defeat by the Unified Team in the final round brought her a bronze medal and the determination to keep trying for another gold. Ironically, she almost failed to make the U.S. national team when it reformed in 1995 to prepare for the Olympics. Edwards was not only 31 at the time, she was coming off a particularly dismal performance at the 1994 World Championships, where she contributed only 21 assists in seven games and shot only 5-for-18 in the championship round. New Olympic coach Tara VanDerveer wondered if Edwards was slowing down and, more importantly, whether Edwards was willing to learn a new system. “I may have been a little skeptical at first,” VanDerveer stated in Sports Illustrated. “I didn’t want to get into a yearlong fight with a player who was bucking the system. And this system wasn’t for everybody.”
When she learned that she had made the U.S. national team—the women’s “Dream Team”—Edwards broke down and cried for joy. Never mind that she would take a severe pay cut to play for the Olympic team, that she would be on the road almost constantly for a year, that she would have to work harder than ever for one of the most demanding coaches around. She was thrilled. She plunged into VanDerveer’s training regimen and prepared herself mentally and physically for her fourth Olympic appearance. Her example proved inspiring to the younger members of the team, but when asked about her leadership role in Ebony, Edwards downplayed its importance. Claiming that her teammates were just praising her “to be nice,” she added: “I’m not Mother Teresa, but I’m glad I’m in a position to inspire.”
Elsewhere, in Time magazine, Edwards expressed her enthusiasm for being a part of Olympic history. “You realize you’re different when you have a lot of college coaches calling your house,” shesaid. “But when you get to this level of international competition as a member of one of the best teams in the world, boom ! Now you know Tm good.’ You have to be good to be on this team.”
Edwards’s greatest moment of inspiration came midway through the grueling year of preparation the women’s team underwent for the 1996 Olympics. During a stopover in Atlanta, coach VanDerveer ordered the players’ bus to stop at the Georgia Dome, where the Olympics would be played. The coach led the players into the middle of the arena. There, as Edwards watched, each of her teammates tried on one of her Olympic gold medals as an Olympic video played on the big screen overhead. As Wolff observed in Sports Illustrated: “The case can be made—and to those who mistakenly think women’s basketball was invented by Sheryl Swoopes in 1993 and perfected by Rebecca Lobo two years later, it should be made—that the growth of the game over the past dozen years is best reflected in the [career] of Edwards, who at the opening ceremonies took the Olympic oath on behalf of all the athletes.”
The 1996 Summer Olympics were a joyous homecoming for Edwards who, after traveling some 102,000 miles in the previous year, found herself playing before a hometown crowd. By any yardstick, her performance was memorable. She led the team in assists with a 7.7 average and a team-leading 10 in the final as the United States crushed Brazil 111-87. The Olympic gold medal capped a 60-0 record for the U.S. women’s national team and proved beyond doubt that women’s basketball could be as exciting and rewarding to watch as men’s—or, in the case of the over-hyped men’s Olympic “Dream Teams,” much more so.
With her fourth Olympics behind her, and a third gold medal hanging in her home, Edwards has begun to reap the rewards of a lifetime spent playing basketball at the edge of the limelight. She was named 1996 U.S.A. Basketball player of the year, and she signed a contract to play professional basketball for the Atlanta Glory, one of the new teams in the recently-formed American Basketball League (ABL). Having earned her bachelor’s degree in recreational sciences in 1989, Edwards feels that her future, like her past, lies with basketball—only this time she plans to stay in America. She hopes to contribute to the professional league “if not on the coaching level, the definitely as a general manager,” she told Ebony. She added: “I would like to some day own a women’s professional team here. I definitely would like to be involved in the growth of this sport here in America on a professional level.”
Teresa Edwards has been described as an easygoing person who tends to lavish her money on family and friends rather than spending it on herself. She has bought her mother a house near the one in which she grew up, and she has helped her younger brothers with their college tuition. Theresa Grentz, the coach of the 1992 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team, told Sports Illustrated of Edwards: “She can’t be bought. Values are very important to her. Her humility and her simplicity of life make her very special to be around.”
Asked about her contribution to sports in Southern Living magazine, Edwards said that she has enjoyed “making something that little girls can look up to.” She concluded: “We can look back over our lives as old women with canes and really appreciate what we’ve done. I like the fact that I’m able to give back all I’ve gotten from basketball.”
Johnson, Anne Janette, Great Women in Sports, Visible Ink (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Ebony, March 1996, pp. 68-70.
Essence, April 1996, p. 78.
Jet, November 11, 1996, p. 54.
Southern Living, June 1996, pp. 28-29.
Sports Illustrated, October 10, 1988, p. 94; June 8, 1992, p. 41; July 22, 1992, pp. 128-29; August 12, 1996, pp. 59-60.
Time, July 22, 1996, p. 75.
"Edwards, Teresa 1964–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/edwards-teresa-1964
"Edwards, Teresa 1964–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/edwards-teresa-1964
American basketball player
She is the most decorated Olympic basketball player ever, male or female, and has a street named after her in her hometown. But Teresa Edwards is often overlooked among women's greats in the sport, having played before the boom in media and fan interest. "She played many of (her) games before her sport caught the public's attention," the Associated Press wrote after Edwards won her fourth Olympic gold medal, as the United States prevailed at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. "Women's basketball had just some [teams] under the NCAA['s auspices] when she started at Georgia. The fan support and media coverage weren't close to what they are now."
Raised in Jackie's Hometown
Edwards grew up as the oldest of four children, and the only girl, in Cairo, Georgia, hometown of baseball legend Jackie Robinson . She said she took up basketball because it was the only sport in which she could beat boys head-to-head. During Edwards' four years at the University of Georgia, the Bulldogs sported a 116-17 record, and played in the NCAA tournament each time. They played in the Final Four in 1983 and in 1985, when they lost to Old Dominion in the championship game. Edwards scored eleven points in the final but fouled out early. Georgia was Southeastern Conference champion in three of her four seasons. She was all-SEC three times, and became one of only three Georgia women's basketball players to have her jersey number (#5) retired. Lacking the professional outlet women have today, Edwards went overseas for nine seasons, competing for teams in Vicenza and Magenta, Italy; Nagoya, Japan; Valencia, Spain; and Tarbes, France.
Edwards began her Olympic run in 1984, following her freshman year at Georgia, when she was the youngest member of the U.S. team that won easily in Los Angeles. Four years later, in Seoul, South Korea, Edwards helped spark the Americans to a second-half comeback in their opening game against Czechoslovakia, scoring 24 points overall in an 87-81 triumph. She added 23 points against Yugoslavia in a 101-74 win and contributed 12 points and six assists in the semifinal as the U.S. beat the Soviet Union for the first time, 102-88. In the gold medal contest, a rematch against Yugoslavia, Edwards scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, and broke open a tense game with three consecutive fast-break baskets to put the U.S. up by 12. The Americans prevailed, 77-70.
After settling for a bronze at the Barcelona games in 1992 (Edwards averaged 12.6 points per game), the Americans were determined to win back the gold as host nation in 1996, in Atlanta. The Olympic team captains voted for Edwards, also a basketball co-captain, to take the oath during opening ceremonies. On the basketball court, the Americans reclaimed the gold, and culminated a historic 60-0 record during international competition in 1995-96. Later-round games were played at the Georgia Dome before crowds of bigger than 30,000. Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes attracted the biggest headlines, but Edwards drew raves for a 20-point, 15-assist effort in a 96-76 trouncing of Australia in the preliminary round. The U.S. routed Brazil 111-87 in the gold medal game, atoning for losses to the South American nation in the semifinals of the 1994 World Championship and 1991 Pan Am Games.
ABL, All Too Briefly
Playing for the Atlanta Glory when the women's professional American Basketball League began in 1996-97, Edwards made the all-league first team and was runner-up to 1996 Olympic teammate Nikki McCray in the voting for most valuable player. Four times in two seasons, she scored more than 40 points in a game. A year later, with the added responsibilities of player-coach, Edwards again made all-league first team and led the ABL in assists (6.7).
After the 1997-98 season, she was traded to the Philadelphia Rage, but the league folded right before Christmas, unable to compete financially with the fledgling Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). Edwards had been the league's leader in scoring (21.0 points per game) at the time it dissolved. She felt she could have done well in the WNBA, but they could not meet her financial demands.
|1964||Born July 19 in Cairo, Georgia|
|1987-88||Plays pro basketball in Vicenza and Magenta, Italy|
|1989-93||Plays pro basketball in Nagoya, Japan|
|1994||Plays pro basketball in Valencia, Spain and Tarbes, France|
|1996||Signs with Atlanta Glory of fledgling American Basketball League|
|1996||Takes Olympic oath at Atlanta Summer Games|
|1997||Named Atlanta Glory player-coach|
|1998||Traded to ABL's Philadelphia Rage|
|1998||ABL folds on December 23|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1980||Wins high jump in Georgia state high school track and field championships|
|1982||High school All-America at Cairo (Ga.) High School|
|1983||Leads University of Georgia to Final Four semifinals|
|1983||Leads University of Georgia to Final Four championship game|
|1984||Gold medalist, Los Angeles Olympic Games|
|1984-86||All Southeastern Conference first team selection three straight seasons|
|1985-86||All-American selection two successive seasons|
|1987||USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year|
|1987||University of Georgia retires her number (5)|
|1988||Gold medalist, Seoul Olympic Games|
|1990||USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year|
|1992||Bronze medalist and co-captain, Barcelona Olympic Games|
|1996||Gold medalist, Atlanta Olympic Games|
|1996||USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year|
|1998||Names All-ABL First Team|
|2000||Gold medalist, Sydney Olympic Games|
One More Gold
Edwards, however, was ready for one last Olympic attempt—the 2000 Games in Sydney. She announced that this would be her final international competition, and got in playing shape with daily workouts and games against men in an Atlanta gym. "It seems like she's older than she is because she's been playing so long," said Olympic teammate Ruthie Bolton-Holifield in a biography of Edwards published on the University of Georgia Athletic Association's web site. "But she's only three years older than me. Thirty-six is not crazy. To me, she's got some more years left in her." Edwards exited with her last gold as the Americans won all eight games and dominated Australia 76-54 in the championship game. She totaled 2,008 points overall for the U.S. in international competition and is the Americans' all-time Olympic career leader for games played (32), assists (143) and steals (59).
While retired as an active player, Edwards is still involved with the U.S. basketball program. The four-time Olympic gold medalist was the keynote speaker at the 2002 USA Basketball Women's Youth Development Festival. Edwards made her national debut at the event's forerunner, the U.S. Olympic Sports Festival, in 1981.
Edwards, asked why she enjoyed talking to the youth on the USA Basketball Women's Youth Development Festival web site, cited "the importance of respecting each other's talents because they're all on the same page, on the same level." She added: "Being there to answer questions that they may have at this time of their life, they're so young. If they can stay on the right path then I've done something to help somebody. So I think that, for me to give and for them to get something out of it is important."
"I'm At Peace"
Edwards missed out on big professional dollars because the WNBA arrived after the prime of her career. She had to play abroad for several seasons and her one pro league in the U.S. folded. Ironically, the WNBA, which put Edwards's ABL out of business, has begun to struggle financially as the NBA has begun to distance itself. "A cynic might argue the (NBA) lost interest in the women once a potential entertainment competitor, the ABL, went out of business," Filip Bondy wrote in the New York Daily News in January, 2003.
|ATL: Atlanta Glory; GA: University of Georgia; PHI: Philadelphia Rage; US: United States Olympic Team.|
But Edwards, known as "T" to her friends, has no regrets. "I played when I was supposed to," she told the online journal Canoe. "I'm very happy with the process. I'm at peace with where I am. If somehow my abilities and talents have been used to further the game, then it feels good."
Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.
Adande, J.A. "When Dreams Become Just That; The ABL's Demise Makes Playing Pro Basketball in This Country Tougher for Some and Impossible for Others."Los Angeles Times (December 24, 1998).
Bondy, Filip. "Risky WNBA Business: Its Alliance with Casino Big Gamble."New York Daily News (January 29, 2003).
Solomon, Alisa. "Ready, Willing, and ABL."Village Voice (November 24, 1998).
"Edwards Bids Farewell after Stellar Career," Canoe, http:/www.canoe.ca/2000GamesBasketball/oct1_usa-ap.html, (October 1, 2000).
"Edwards Remains World's Most Decorated Player," CNN-Sports Illustrated, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/news/2000/06/29/update_edwards/, (June 30, 2000).
Leaders in Sport, http://www.sd83.bc.ca/stu/9701/w3ejg1.htm, (January 26, 2003).
"Teresa Edwards Imparts Words of Wisdom to the Young," USA Basketball, http://www.usabasketball.com/women/02_wydf_edwards.html, (January 26, 2003).
University of Georgia Athletic Association, bio of Teresa Edwards, http://georgiabulldogs.ocsn.com/traditions/olympians/edwards_shtml, (January 21, 2003).
USA Basketball, Teresa Edwards Profile, http://www.usabasketball.com/bioswomen/teresa_edwards_bio.html, (January 25, 2003).
Sketch by Paul Burton
"Edwards, Teresa." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edwards-teresa
"Edwards, Teresa." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edwards-teresa