Cheryl Reeve, Kara Lawson and legacies — Kara Lawson talks Duke-South Carolina — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, December 15, 2021
On the day USA Basketball announced Cheryl Reeve would be the senior national team head coach, I was thinking about her legacy.
Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t.
“I don’t think for a second about those kinds of things,” Reeve told me last week. “Anything in life, you take it as it comes and I what I tend to do is I become task-oriented. And so when the next thing comes up, you want to make people proud. And so I think that’s probably the biggest thing, when this is communicated, you don’t have time to go ‘What does this mean in a bigger picture?’ It’s really more about, okay, what needs to happen and what’s next? And we don’t have a lot of time to do this. And so real excitement builds around the tasks that lie ahead.”
This makes sense, really: it is Reeve’s job to build the legacy, work that requires attention to small details. It is up to all of us in the media to provide that larger context.
Reeve is less of a departure from the history of USAB leaders, and more of a restoration. The past two head coaches have been Geno Auriemma and Dawn Staley, but the two prior to that were Van Chancellor, whose legacy is primarily those Houston Comets title-winning teams, and Anne Donovan, Bergen County, New Jersey’s own, who won her title as a head coach with the Seattle Storm in 2004.
I think it’s difficult to argue that either Chancellor or Donovan — the latter of whom, of course, once had Reeve on her Charlotte Sting staff — have the breadth and depth of resume that Reeve has, even before she likely leads USA Basketball to a gold medal in Paris 2024. It’s not just a question of titles won, though certainly, Reeve’s four already with the Lynx will be difficult for any coach to best. It’s the length of time she’s done it, the period of time she’s done it.
The WNBA is a vastly different place, in media attention, in strategic planning, in things as simple as Xs and Os, than it was back in 2011. Reeve’s Lynx have been contenders, and at times, more than that, over an extended time of change and growth. It’s also impossible to separate that growth from the work of Reeve herself to make it happen.
And then there’s this: we’ll never see the first 25 years of the WNBA again. It is, by definition, the beginning. And the accomplishments of Cheryl Reeve within that context, I would argue, matter more than simply another great run by a Reeve-level coach and executive in, say, 2050. It also matters that she’s done it at the creation.
The endless stories we hear about people like Red Auerbach or Red Holtzman in the men’s game, of Wooden and Iba and Gola, they all carry an added cache that what Reeve has done will as long as we are all around to talk about the game.
In that same way, two giants will be meeting tonight, when Kara Lawson’s Duke takes on Staley’s South Carolina. As we have discussed here, Staley will matter in the ways that Reeve will, pioneers of the history of this game. And there are some significant signs that Lawson will too, in a similar way to Staley — as iconic player and coach, matching legacies.
Guess what? Lawson isn’t thinking in those terms, either.
“I think we’re are respectful competitors. is the way that I would characterize it,” Lawson said Tuesday. “… I’d love to give you a warm and fuzzy soundbite, but I don’t even know if I’ll look down the other end, the other bench tomorrow night, unless to see if there’s someone coming in. I don’t really tend to do that during the game… I’ll be thinking about how to rebound the ball and how to stop [Aliyah] Boston from dominating the paint.”
It’s up to them to build the legacy. It’s up to us to tell the world about it.
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