PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The clock was ticking, from 10 seconds, to 5, to 0. Confetti rained down at the Rutgers Athletic Center, and the cameras began to swarm C. Vivian Stringer on the bench as she claimed her historic 1,000th coaching victory.
Coaches and players had flown in to honor the longtime Rutgers women's basketball coach from as far away as Hawaii. Social media filled up with praise from the likes of Kobe Bryant and Hillary Clinton. She even got a pair of shoes to commemorate the evening, breaking down how many wins she has had at the various programs she has coached in posting a 1,000-402 career record to date.
Stringer, born in the southwest Pennsylvania town of Edenborn, said she didn't notice the game was about to end.
"I wasn't able to avoid the nervousness that [the players] demonstrated and I demonstrated as well," she said Tuesday night after the 73-44 win over Central Connecticut State. "I was just nervous and they were, too, because I know that we can play better."
At age 70 and in her 47th season, Stringer became the first African-American women's coach to reach 1,000 wins and the fifth Division I women's coach overall.
"Maybe I'm doing some things right," Stringer said of the friends and colleagues in attendance, including Philly native Dawn Staley and her entire South Carolina coaching staff. "People genuinely do care. Something my father said a long time ago: 'Don't give me flowers when I'm gone. Let me know what you feel now.' "
The magnitude of the accomplishment was not lost on one of her longest and closest friends, former Temple coach John Chaney.
"Those 1,000 wins to me mean a lot more than just basketball games," said Chaney, whose friendship with Stringer goes back to when he coached the men and she coached the women at Cheyney in the early 1970s. "It meant a great deal in terms of fighting for humanity and doing good things so that women could be where they are today."
Chaney's comments in a phone conversation epitomize the enduring relationship he has enjoyed with Stringer. Other than Stringer's late husband, William, Chaney has been in her corner more than anyone.
Their relationship is candid and often comical.
"The jokes that she would tell would make me fall out laughing and gain stitches in my stomach," Chaney said.
In return, Stringer has learned from Chaney.
"Man, I have nothing but respect for the great teacher. He's so knowledgeable," said Stringer, who has a career winning percentage of .713 (1,000-402). "When Coach Chaney would get into these heavy conversations, we would get our kids [players] involved, and it was much like a chess match."
Stringer coached at Cheyney before the adoption of Title IX, which meant women's basketball was viewed as a second-class sport. The team competed in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), which served as the national organization before women's sports were governed by the NCAA. All the resources for basketball were poured into the men's team.
"There was no equality," Chaney said. "She found herself in many battles for women and for humanity as well."
Through the frequent conversations he had with her, Chaney knew the daily uphill battles she faced both personally and professionally. Whether it was trying to get Stringer's teams funding to travel or consoling her when her husband died in 1992, her kids fell ill, or she battled breast cancer, Chaney has long admired how Stringer has overcome the obstacles and discrimination she has faced and still produced on the court.
"She has gone through quite a lot, so much," he said. "But it wasn't something that any one of us could feel that she couldn't do."
Stringer began her coaching career at Cheyney in 1972, then moved to Iowa in 1983 before landing at Rutgers in 1995. She has taken all three programs to the Final Four, and attributes her success at every institution to the presidents and athletic directors who have believed in her.
"You've got to have an athletic director, you've got to have a president of the university who believes in you, because if you don't, you will be ruined," Stringer said during a conference call Monday.
Other black female coaches, such as Temple's Tonya Cardoza, also have long admired Stringer. She hasn't always landed the top players in the country, but Stringer has found a way to get the most out of them, Cardoza said.
"Just watching her and how she conducts herself and being a role model, being a leader, being outspoken," Cardoza said. "You can learn from her in so many ways, and I think she has done a great job in representing a black woman in coaching."
Villanova coach Harry Perretta has faced Stringer-led teams for more than 40 years and remains friends with her despite all their years as Big East Conference foes. Seeing Stringer reach this milepost in no way surprises him.
"She's a great coach. She has been doing it for a lot of years. And when you put those two things together, you get to 1,000 wins," Perretta said. "We hated playing each other, but it was always a fun thing. We always battled it out and we were always friends before and after."
If there is one thing Stringer said she learned along her career, it is this: You don't ask for respect; you have to earn it.
"You have to demonstrate, and you earn respect," she said. "And if you're going to earn respect, then you're going to have to work."