Weatherspoon, Teresa

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(b. 8 December 1965 in Pineland, Texas), two-time Olympic basketball guard known for playing on the 1988 Louisiana Tech University National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship team and as an All-Star guard on the New York Liberty in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Weatherspoon, the youngest of Charles and Rowena Weatherspoon's six children, was born in tiny Pineland, Texas, near the Louisiana border. Weatherspoon's mother encouraged her to be adventurous. Fascinated with sports, at the age of four Weatherspoon began playing basketball with her two brothers. Her father had played minor league baseball with the Minnesota Twins, and Weatherspoon also enjoyed the game. She declined the opportunity to play softball as a young girl, opting to play Little League baseball instead. Weatherspoon attended schools in the West Sabine Independent School District, where she excelled both athletically and academically, graduating in 1984 as the class valedictorian. Weatherspoon called her family the greatest influence in her success: "The most important thing that I had and that was given to each and every one of us," she said, "was love. My mother instilled morals in us that will forever be with us. It was hard, but I was told never to give up."

Weatherspoon attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, playing for the Louisiana Lady Techsters from 1985 to 1988. She led the Techsters to two NCAA finals; they won the championship in 1988 and Weatherspoon was named to the All-Final Four Team in both 1987 and 1988. As of 2001, she remained the team's career leader in assists (958) and steals (411), with 1,087 career points and 533 rebounds. During her college years, Weatherspoon won gold medals in the 1986 World Championship, 1986 Goodwill Games, and 1987 World University Games. She was named to the NCAA Women's Basketball Team of the Decade for the 1980s and won the 1988 Wade Trophy, an honor awarded to the country's top female college basketball player. That same year, she was named the Louisiana State Player of the Year and won the Broderick Cup. Additionally, Weatherspoon was a Kodak All-American in both 1987 and 1988.

In 1988 Weatherspoon played for Team USA in the Summer Olympics. While she was in Seoul, South Korea, her mother suffered a stroke. Weatherspoon wanted to return home, but her mother insisted that she remain in Seoul, and Weatherspoon helped her team win the gold medal. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Weatherspoon and her teammates captured the bronze. Her Olympic successes led to opportunities to play on women's basketball teams in Italy and Russia. She played for three Italian teams, Busto (1988–1989, 1990–1993), Magenta (1989–1990), and Como (1996–1997), as well as on the 1997 Italian League championship team and the Italian League All-Star team (1996–1997). From 1993 to 1995 she played for CSKA, becoming one of the first two U.S. women ever to play professional sports in Russia.

Weatherspoon returned to the United States in 1997 to take up an inaugural spot on the New York Liberty in the newly formed WNBA. In her first season with the Liberty, Weatherspoon led the league in assists (6.1 average) and steals (3.04); she also matched the WNBA season high with twelve assists in an August game against the Los Angeles Sparks. Named the Defensive Player of the Year in 1997 and 1998, she was also selected to the All-WNBA Second Team in 1997, 1998, and 2000. She led the New York Liberty in minutes played per game in the 1997 WNBA championships, and in 1998 led the WNBA in steals (3.33) for the second consecutive season. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News noted her accomplishments by writing, "I'm now convinced that Teresa Weatherspoon is the best point guard we've got at the [Madison Square] Garden. Man or woman."

Weatherspoon had her best season to date in 1999, leading the Liberty in assists and steals and finishing second in the league in both categories. She was also voted the starting point guard for the first WNBA All-Star game. During her first four years with the New York Liberty, she led the team in both assists and steals; she also served as an All-Star starter on the 1999 and 2000 teams. On 4 September 1999 Weatherspoon made the videotape highlights on every television sports program. The New York Liberty trailed by fourteen points at halftime during a championship game against the Houston Comets. They closed the gap to two points, and with only 2.4 seconds on the clock, Weatherspoon sunk a fifty-foot shot. "When it left my hands, I knew it was good," she said. "I was just praying that it would go in. I've never done this before in a game."

In a sport where height is a condition for participation, Weatherspoon attained success despite her relatively small stature of five feet, eight inches, and 161 pounds. "Height is definitely not an issue," Weatherspoon once asserted. "It's the size of your heart. Not how big you are, how fast you are. It's the size of your heart and about having confidence in yourself." In an interview for the WNBA website, Weatherspoon revealed that she was a better base stealer than a ball stealer and dreamed of playing baseball for the Colorado Silver Bullets. She also has expressed an interest in coaching at the college or professional level after retiring as a player. However, she has pledged to help the Liberty win the WNBA championship before moving to the next stage of her career.

In the off-season, Weatherspoon has volunteered for Drug Crusades, giving talks to children in Texas about the dangers of drug use and sharing how athletes are role models for both boys and girls. When she was a child, Weatherspoon's athletic role model was the Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens. She wrote Teresa Weatherspoon's Basketball for Girls (1999), to encourage girls with athletic ability to pursue their dreams.

An aggressive point guard, Weatherspoon was a pioneer in U.S. professional women's basketball, setting records in both the offensive and defensive arenas. To honor her family's contributions toward her accomplishments, Weatherspoon has given back to the youth of her community while continuing to achieve goals in her professional development as an athlete.

Many newspaper and magazine articles chronicle Weatherspoon's career and give a sense of her personality and values. For the former, see Michael Wilbon, "U.S. Wins in Women's Basketball; Defeats Yugoslavia," Washington Post (22 Sept. 1988). For the latter see Philip Lerman, "Great Assist," USA Today (3 Oct. 1988), which recounts how Weatherspoon gave her Olympic basketball to an injured soldier in honor of his courage. See also David Fleming, "Sweet Liberty," Sports Illustrated (14 July 1997), and Jonathan Van Meter, "Tyra and Spoon," Women's Sports and Fitness (June 1998).

Kelly Boyer Sagert