Chamique: On Family, Focus, and Basketball

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9780743212700: Chamique: On Family, Focus, and Basketball
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Known as the "female Michael Jordan," Chamique tells the full story of her life on and off the court -- shedding light on what makes her an all-around superstar

She has been called the best woman basketball player ever, but the popularity of twenty-four-year-old Chamique Holdsclaw is rooted not only in her skill, but also in her remarkable life. In this autobiography, Chamique shares her amazing journey from a tough neighborhood and a difficult relationship with her parents to the blacktops of New York City, where she dominated the all-male competition, to her triumphs as the star of the Washington Mystics.

Chamique takes readers inside her incredible record-setting championship seasons at the University of Tennessee, describes her elation when she became the first pick in the 1999 WNBA draft, and brings home her exhausting and exhilarating first year playing professionally and living on her own. As she reveals how she evolved from a deceptively fragile girl into a self-assured athlete, Chamique shares both a stunning life story and her hard-earned wisdom, which will inspire others to pursue their dreams.

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About the Author:

Chamique Holdsclaw was born in 1977 in Flushing, New York. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, she earned a gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics and has played in the WNBA since 1999 for the Washington Mystics.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

My story always begins in Astoria, in the housing project in Queens where I grew up playing ball with the guys, my grandmother watching out for me through a bedroom window in our apartment. When people write stories about me, they always call it something of a desolate place, my building one of a bunch of battered-looking high-rises grouped together along the East River, with the basketball courts in the center. There's a lot of graffiti, and I suppose a lot of drugs, if you wanted them and knew where to look. I never did, and no one ever bothered me.

It wasn't a pretty place, but that's not something I really noticed. To me it was just home, the best home I'd ever had. I had the basketball courts just a few steps outside the front door of my building, a bus stop, a few stores nearby. So the building was old, the metal door scarred by bullets, the walls and floors cold cement. I never rode the elevator, because I was always afraid of getting stuck inside. Besides, it was lazy. Our apartment was up one short flight of stairs, then around the corner. Apartment 1-D. It was home.

It's a cozy apartment, three bedrooms, twin beds in my room, with a window overlooking the courts. My grandmother always made it nice. She had pictures everywhere, and rose petals in bowls, and all those little things that make you forget the chipped paint and old linoleum. My grandmother's friend Miss Jenny lived across the hall. My friend Anthony lived there too, on the same floor. The neighbors all watched out for me and for my grandmother. They still do.

I know what it must look like to outsiders, and what they must think when they see my neighborhood for the first time. When Coach Pat Summitt and her assistant, Mickie DeMoss, came from Tennessee to recruit me, Coach Vinny Cannizzaro -- my high school coach -- walked them from their car to my building, sure that two Southern ladies in heels and suits would get a hard time in my neighborhood. Of course, he was right. They heard some whistles, some trash talk. That was just the way people were there, wary of outsiders on their turf.

Mickie says that when she got into the elevator and saw the profanity scrawled on the walls and an empty beer can on the floor, she was horrified. This is what Chamique has to look at every day? she thought. She knew right away that she had to get me out of that environment. "All I wanted to do," Mickie tells me now, "was take you away from that building and back to Tennessee, where we could give you structure and discipline and an environment that was safe." I think she and Coach Summitt thought they could save me or something. And they did give me perhaps the most amazing opportunity of my life. Playing for Tennessee was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, and playing for Coach Summitt, hard as it was at times, made me so much better a basketball player and so much stronger a person.

But what Mickie didn't understand that day -- what almost no one understood -- is that going to live in that housing project with my grandmother is what saved me. It was my escape. It was the place where I learned discipline, and it was the first place where I learned to feel safe. It was home, and still is. I've always been pretty happy. That's the thing that's hard for me to understand, and explain, sometimes. I never wanted for anything. My brother, Davon, and I, we never went without clothes. We had shoes on our feet. We had people who cared for us. It was just our situation that made me angry and frustrated. I never wanted for anything, but I know what it's like to grow up without two parents. To have to go and live with your grandmother because your parents aren't going to be there for you. To watch your family fall apart.

Sometimes it seems like the only thing people know about me is that I bounce this basketball and I'm from Astoria. I'm a simple little rags-to-riches story, one that has been told about NBA players from the projects for years. That's too simplistic. People who believe that story don't know me as a person. They don't know what drives me, what motivates me, what pushes me. They don't know where I'm from, beyond this little square of asphalt in Astoria. They think: What pushes her is she's from the Astoria projects. They don't see beyond that. Probably because they can't see inside me.

What pushes me is my brother, Davon, and what I want for him -- what I want him to believe. I want to see him grow up safe. I want to see my family in a good situation after having been through so much bad. I want Davon to know -- I want everyone to know -- that just because your life seems dark, that doesn't mean there isn't a way out. There's a positive on the other side, if you look hard enough. And you can change things, if you try hard enough. That's what I want to show Davon. That's what I want to show everyone.

A lot of times I look at what I have been through, and where I am now, and the way I have evolved and changed, and I think: This is what shaped me. No matter how much people say, "Oh, it doesn't matter where you come from," it does matter. It mattered for me.

But as much as I come from Astoria Houses, I also come from a small apartment in a high-rise building in Jamaica, Queens. That's where I lived with my mother, Bonita, and my father, William Johnson, until I was eleven years old. That apartment is where I learned to be strong and independent. That is where I learned to survive. That is where I became, in large part, the person I am today.

My mother was nineteen years old when she had me, and she was twenty-two when she and my dad had my brother, Davon. I love them both, and I love my brother with a fierceness I can hardly explain. Family is so important to me. But my parents weren't ready to raise kids -- not me, and not my brother. They had their own lives to figure out, their own demons to fight. So Davon and I, we became our own little family. I was the mom, he was the kid. We held each other tight at night when things got scary, and he looked to me to bring him dinner, to watch over him, to take care of him, no matter what. I did the best I could. And I'm still trying. Davon is starting college now, and that's always been my hope for him -- that he would find something to drive him the way I found basketball. I've always wanted him to realize that no matter how bad things were for us and our family in the beginning, we can end up blessed. He can end up blessed.

When we went to live at my grandmother's apartment -- when I was eleven and Davon was eight -- it wasn't because my mother felt it would be best for us. We went because Children's Services decided we could no longer live in the environment that existed inside that apartment in Jamaica. It broke my heart to see the cops come, and then to have our caseworker tell me that we couldn't live with our parents anymore. I didn't want to stop being a family. It was the only thing I knew. Later, when I was thirteen and Davon was ten, he went back to live with my mother and I chose to stay with my grandmother, and I felt that loss of family all over again.

So many people want to believe that it was basketball that got me out of the projects, that it was basketball that saved me. I don't believe that. I think it was my grandmother who saved me. And it was the strength I found in myself those years in Jamaica that gave me the drive and focus to make something of my life, with basketball or without. I have to believe that I would have gone to college even without my jump shot. I would have gotten my degree, started my life, become someone. I've never been a weak individual, I've always been pretty strong. I've always had to be.

I know that basketball has given me a life better than anything I could ever have imagined. I've graduated from a wonderful college, earned three national championships. I've had so many

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