Holdsclaw, Chamique (1977—)

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Holdsclaw, Chamique (1977—)

African-American basketball player who led Tennessee to three NCAA championships. Name variations: (nicknames) Meke; the Claw. Born on August 9, 1977 in Astoria, Queens, New York; daughter of William Johnson (an automobile mechanic) and Bonita Holdsclaw (a data-entry worker); graduated from University of Tennessee, 1999, with a major in political science.

First woman college athlete to win the James E. Sullivan Award; all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Tennessee basketball history; third on NCAA all-time women's basketball scoring list; four-time All-American, two-time ESPY award winner, two-time Associated Press Women's Basketball Player of the Year, and two-time Naismith award winner; named 1999 Rookie of the Year.

Chamique Holdsclaw emerged from a dazzling college basketball career with Tennessee's Lady Volunteers to steal the spotlight as a star player of the Washington Mystics WNBA basketball team. Her unsurpassed accomplishments on the court caused sportswriters to consider her the greatest player to come through the women's college ranks. Holdsclaw's phenomenal skills have invited comparisons to basketball superstar Michael Jordan, whose #23 jersey she shares.

She was born in Astoria, New York, on August 9, 1977, to William Johnson and Bonita Holdsclaw . After her parents split when she was 11, Chamique and her younger brother Davon began living with their grandmother, June Holdsclaw , a clerk in the medical-records department at the Jamaica Hospital. Two years later, Bonita asked the children to return home, but Chamique said no. "My grandmother gave me so much attention. I was established, going to school and playing basketball, and I didn't want to disrupt it." The rejection drove a permanent wedge in the mother-daughter relationship. "She was upset," said Chamique. "She was very, very upset."

Holdsclaw credits her skill in the game to the skirmishes she enjoyed as a child playing against the neighborhood boys on the playgrounds of the Astoria Houses, a complex which overlooks a section of the East River called Hell Gate, in Queens. She grew up accustomed to winning, having played on championship teams throughout high school. At Christ the King in New York, she led the school to four straight New York state championship titles. From high school, she progressed to the University of Tennessee's Lady Vols basketball team, leading them to three straight NCAA championships. As a political science major, Holdsclaw fought the pressure to leave school early to join the newly formed Women's National Basketball League (WNBA). The 6′2″ player was convinced her grandmother would want her to complete her education before turning pro. "What is Chamique doing?," she could hear her say. "She needs to be getting her degree."

In 1998, Holdsclaw was a member of the gold medal-winning team that swept the Women's World Basketball championships in Germany. She averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds per game to assure herself a spot on the 2000 Olympic team. By the time she graduated, Holdsclaw was the most decorated women's basketball player ever: two-time ESPY award winner as the women's college player of the year; four-time All-American; two-time Associated Press Women's Basketball Player of the Year; two-time Naismith award winner; and the first female college player to win the prestigious Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete. In addition to these accolades, she became the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Tennessee basketball history.

Holdsclaw was the number-one draft pick when she graduated to the WNBA in 1999, becoming a member of the Washington Mystics team which had experienced a disappointing season the previous year. The young superstar did not disappoint those who believed that she could propel the Mystics out of their slump. She averaged 16.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game to be named the Rookie of the Year (1999) by an overwhelming majority. She finished the season ranked sixth in scoring and third in rebounding.

Known for her confident presence on the courts, Holdsclaw remains anchored and down-to-earth, characteristics instilled by her grandmother. The combination of her talent and humility made her a favored candidate for lucrative endorsement deals and a ready draw for thousands of fans to the fledgling WNBA franchise. Said Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee : "Chamique has changed the face of women's sports…. She's brought ordinary people into watching the sport. Now you see men outside the arena holding signs that say, NEED TICKETS."


Anderson, Kelli. "Star Power," in Sports Illustrated for Women. Spring 1999, p. 56.

The Day [New London, CT]. March 10, 1998; July 1, 1999.

Jenkins, Sally. "Eyes on the Prize," in Condé Nast Sports. April 1998.

TV Guide. March 13, 1999.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland