KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — What David Stern did for the sport of basketball transcended any gender bias and opened a whole new world for women in the game.
NBA commissioner from 1984 to 2014, Stern was the key figure in the formation and operation of the WNBA in 1997. That bold move paved the way for Stern, who died Jan. 1, 2020, to be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
Stern was joined in the induction class by former players Tamika Catchings, Swin Cash, Lauren Jackson and Debbie Brock, along with contributors Carol Callan, Sue Donohoe and Carol Stiff.
“The WNBA was my father’s baby,” said Eric Stern, representing his father. “It was something he had to fight for. He had to spend a lot of professional capital, and even some personal capital, to make it happen.
“There were a lot of doubters. He tended to enjoy conflict and didn’t mind it at all. He did a lot of civil rights work as he was growing up. He had a strong conviction toward equity and equality.”
Catchings was a direct beneficiary of the work that Stern did. After being the college player of the year at Tennessee in 2000, she went on to have a 15-year career in the WNBA with the Indiana Fever. She was the MVP of the Finals in 2012, when the Fever won the title.
While her pro career solidified Catchings’ spot in the Hall of Fame, it was a journey that came full circle.
“In the summer of ’98, I was an intern at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame,” she said. “I made sure the floors were clean and the exhibits were dusted.
“I was able to take in women’s basketball history and appreciate those who fought for women’s rights. The word ‘legacy’ is one I hope you remember. I was a byproduct of so many before me.”
Catchings thought back to life as an eighth-grader, when for some reason, she settled on a channel while watching television.
“I saw two steely blue eyes [belonging to Tennessee coach Pat Summitt] that were so intense,” she said. “It was the first time I was watching women play basketball on TV in the most beautiful shade of orange. It inspired me to be good enough to play for Pat Head Summitt some day.”
In addition to her success at Tennessee and with the Fever, Catchings played on U.S. Olympic teams that won four gold medals in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
As USA Basketball’s National Team Director, Callan was instrumental in putting together players, coaches and administrators that won gold medals in the past seven Olympics, the most recent coming in Tokyo earlier this month.
“The best motivation you can have in life is to play with passion and purpose,” Callan said. “There’s no greater purpose than the pursuit of a gold medal.
“The greatest motivator is to have a compelling goal. In USA Basketball, everyone comes through a selection process. It’s important to let everyone become themselves. We’re all united through the sport of basketball. Culture-based teamwork will allow us to be our best, collectively and individually.”
Stiff was inducted as a contributor after working at ESPN for 31 years before retiring in July. A champion of women’s basketball, she led the company’s programming efforts for NCAA women’s basketball and the WNBA for decades, most recently serving as vice president for programming and acquisitions. Stiff also helped launch Jimmy V Week and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
In her induction speech, Stiff thanked ESPN for “rolling the dice” and hiring “a college basketball coach without any media training whatsoever to program all their women’s sports.” She also urged everyone to “continue to invest and support our game.”
“Invest in the women who play our game at all levels,” Stiff said. “Support by watching, attending, sponsoring. … By doing so, your best and your brightest shining moments are yet to come.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.