Teresa Weatherspoon: ‘There is Still a Whole Lot of Work to be Done’
There are no accolades missing from the resume of retired U.S. basketball star Teresa Weatherspoon. NCAA champ. Two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. Olympic medalist. Hall of Famer.
By any measure, she was one of the best to play point guard and now she’s pushing her basketball journey ahead in her third year as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans.
At her core, Weatherspoon is a Black woman looking to create change through her life story. She thinks about where the world is today and tries to make sense of the injustice and chaos, past and present.
“It’s 2023, and during times like Black History Month, it is a good moment to think about how things were — we don’t always do that,” Weatherspoon, 57, said. “The past. The pain. The suffering. The things that those before us went through, because of prejudice and racism. For us, to be standing at this very moment, we know what we have to do. There is still a whole lot of work to be done.”
Weatherspoon added, “All the studying we do, listening to the great leaders from the past, what they did for sacrifices, we take in those words. Then I look at myself and ask, ‘What am I doing? What am I going to sacrifice to make things better?’ I turn on the news every day and I see all the awful things that are happening — they make no sense. I realize we are still in a living hell. What am I going to do? My words that I speak need to have meaning, I need to be part of change. I use times like this to think those thoughts.”
Weatherspoon has embraced her impact as a Black woman at all levels: a stellar player who competed with integrity; then a head coach who returned her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, to shape the women’s basketball program; and now a star assistant who is mentioned as a candidate for head coach openings in the NBA and WNBA.
She knows her words and actions matter, especially as she opens doors. She was one of the WNBA’s original players and now she’s in the vanguard of women coaching in the NBA.
She sees today’s Black women in basketball, especially the current leaders of the WNBA, effectively using their platforms to advocate for professional equity and social justice.
“It is who we are, we always know that as Black women, that there is magnitude in what we do and say,” she said. “The lives we lead, the breath we take, there is magnitude in all of it. There is risk in speaking the truth. But there is also risk in not speaking up.
“The first women who came laid the path for the next, and they are now expanding it. You want to leave a smooth path for those coming after you. I wanted to remove the obstacles in front of me so they would not encounter them. I am so proud of all of the women in the WNBA. They are making the changes happen, they are part of speaking aloud the truth, no matter the sacrifice.”
Weatherspoon’s current life in the NBA has led her to elevate her coaching approach. The biggest change from coaching female college players to professional men is not gender-based. The sport is the same, but the intensity and need for deeper connection to be more effective is clear.
“I understand the assignment,” she said. “This is different, but I take on this assignment as a challenge. It makes me do more, give more, strive more. I want to have a connection with the players where I know them. Them, as people, as men — who are you? I am here to learn, listen, and then create a real connection that helps me bring the best out of them.
“I know there are other women, younger women, who are out there and watching me in this opportunity, and they want this too. So I am not just doing this for me. I do not take this for granted. I am standing in a pool of water, and I’ve got my head above it. I am standing where I belong, with my head above the water. I belong here, and I am long capable of doing this.”
Weatherspoon’s words about fostering connection aren’t just coachspeak.
Earlier this season, Pelicans star Zion Williamson credited Weatherspoon with helping him navigate his darkest moments while missing the entire 2021-22 season with a foot injury.
“She saved me from so many kind of like mental breakdowns,” he told “Sports Illustrated.” “When you see somebody cry for you because of what you’re going through — she cried for me. She didn’t have to do that. … And just seeing that made me realize,Wow, I really have somebody special in my corner.”
Weatherspoon’s calibration to create real personal connection also extends to her desire to be part of social change. She wants society to face racial issues through dialogue, not fear or retreat.
“I ask how this world can be so different for us just because of skin color — that is a painful question,” Weatherspoon said. “We want to be great too. Working together should mean that we take a moment to listen — really listen — to each other’s words about our lives. Let’s sit at a table and talk. Let’s sit to find a solution. We could agree, or disagree, but we still could find a way to like each other as people. I might not love ya, but if you are sitting with me, and we’re talking, I can respect you. If you choose not even to sit at the table and talk, that tells me something about you.
“We all can do a small part in this by listening to each other, and then committing to be part of the change. We’d be so much further along in seeing the world we all want.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.