Flashback: Dawn Staley Honored by Peers as 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Flag Bearer
This story has been updated from its original version from 2004.
The U.S. Olympic Committee announced on Aug. 12, 2004, that three-time Olympian Dawn Staley was elected by the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team captains to represent the United States of America as the USA's flag bearer for the 2004 Olympic Games. Staley, the first U.S. basketball player and third African American to earn the honor, carried the United States’ flag and led the U.S. Olympic delegation into Opening Ceremony on Aug. 13.
"I'm not an emotional person, but this makes me emotional," said Staley after learning she had been chosen. "I'm invisible most of the time, I'm not even a conversation starter. I usually do all my talking on the court, so it's an honor that so many others see me in a different light."
A staple of USA Basketball teams since 1989, Staley was a member of the historic 1995-96 USA Basketball Women's National Team that rolled up a 60-0 record, captured the 1996 Olympic gold medal, and was named the 1996 USA Basketball and U.S. Olympic Committee Team of the Year. She returned to the Olympic stage in Sydney to help the U.S. earn a second consecutive gold, while compiling a perfect 8-0 record.
Staley is a two-time World Cup gold medalist (1998, 2002). In 1998, after winning the World Cup with a perfect 9-0 record, the USA squad was named the 1998 USA Basketball Team of the Year. The 2002 USA World Cup Team not only mirrored the 9-0 record and gold medal, it was also named the 2002 USA Basketball Team of the Year. Further, she was named the 1994 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year and earned 1994 Goodwill Games MVP honors after leading the U.S. to a gold in that event.
A native of North Central Philadelphia, she credits her passion to the poverty-stricken neighborhood where she was raised.
"I was the youngest of five and my family didn't have money, but that taught me to have a lot of heart. The boys in my neighborhood were always playing games and I had to play. If I had a ball and they wanted to use it, I was going to play. Most people would never say that the projects had ever produced something great, but all my life they've been my base."
A torch bearer during the ‘96 Olympic Torch Relay when she ran the torch up the ‘Rocky Steps’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, following the Olympics Staley transformed that base into a foundation, creating the Dawn Staley Foundation dedicated to building a future of hope for at-risk youth by providing opportunities to help them realize their dreams.
The recipient of the 1998 American Red Cross Spectrum Award, which celebrates women who have made outstanding contributions to their communities, Staley has been honored on numerous occasions for her work with inner-city Philadelphia children through her foundation, including the 1999 WNBA Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, which now carries her name.
"If the team captains picked their flag bearer because of what each athlete did in sport, every Olympian should carry the flag. Sport is just the vehicle to allow you to do other things outside of it," said Staley, who at the time had been the head women's basketball coach at Temple University since the 2000-01 season.
With vehicles like the Dawn Staley After School Project, basketball league, clinics and the ‘Day in the Park,' she has reached tens of thousands of youth in the North Central Philadelphia area with her community outreach.
"Carrying the Olympic flame in 1996 was an honor, but carrying the flag is going to be a ray of hope," said Staley. "A little girl from the housing projects of north Philly is leading the U.S. team into the Olympic Games - it's bigger than any basketball game I've ever played."
And after the ceremony had ended, once she returned to the team’s housing area early the next morning, Staley was still euphoric about the experience.
“It was exhilarating, overwhelming, nervous, emotional. I mean all of those things together. But most of all I was proud. I was truly proud and honored to carry the American flag.
“You anticipate going into the stadium, I was extremely nervous but certainly proud I had that honor. It's definitely exhilarating. I didn't know how the fans would react (as the U.S. marched in), but we had a lot of fans in there. It felt like home. I'm very proud to have had my team behind me. The team captains were also behind me. I enjoyed it. I wish I had another opportunity to do it.”
Since retiring as an athlete following her run in Athens to a third Olympic gold medal, Staley returned to USA Basketball as a coach. From 2006 through 2016, Staley aided USA National Teams to golds at the 2008 and 2016 Olympic Games, 2014 FIBA World Cup and 2007 FIBA Americas Championship and a bronze medal at the 2006 FIBA World Cup as an assistant coach, while guiding three junior teams to gold medals as a head coach. She took over the helm of the USA National Team in 2017 and since that time led the USA to gold medals at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and 2019 FIBA AmeriCup. She will return to the Olympics in Tokyo as the USA head coach and as just the third U.S. women’s basketball representative to have been on an Olympic roster as an athlete, assistant coach and head coach. Staley, who led the University of South Carolina to the 2017 NCAA Championship, also earned the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year (1994, 2004) and USA Basketball National Coach of the Year (2015, 2018) honors. The 2013 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and 2012 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee was the 2012 Black Coaches Association and 2014 Basketball Times National Coach of the Year.