Dawn Staley has one of the most impressive all-around basketball resumes in the history of the game, and the journey to get there is just as amazing.
From the projects of North Philly, Staley’s parents could only afford puzzles for her Christmas gifts. Now Staley has put together the pieces on an incredible career for more than three decades.
A new Netflix documentary series, The Playbook, highlights five coaches who have championship resumes. Staley was chosen to take part in the five-part series with Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers), Jill Ellis (U.S. women’s national soccer team), Jose Mourinho (Tottenham Hotspur F.C.), and Patrick Mouratoglou (French tennis).
The series is produced by the SpringHill Company, a media brand established by LeBron James and Maverick Carter in June.
“It’s a great honor,” Staley said. “I think I was chosen because I have a great story.”
Staley is featured in the fifth and final episode, in which she gives her five rules for success in sports and life:
1. Bring your own ball.
2. Growth takes place outside of your comfort zone.
3. Create a home-court advantage.
4. The 24-hour rule.
5. What is delayed is not denied.
Those five rules sum up Staley’s journey. As the only girl playing basketball in her neighborhood growing up, she had to find ways to stay on the court.
“Sometimes you just go out there and you’re not welcomed,” Staley said. “You have to endure so much. But then when you keep going out there and you let them know you’re not going anywhere, then if one of them were so absentminded and didn’t bring a ball and got my ball, then guess what ... you can’t play without this ball right here, and this ball is not going to play without its owner being on the court.”
Staley was a star point guard at the University of Virginia, and like many Black kids who grew up in the inner city, it was her first experience in a white-dominated environment.
That can lead to code-switching, conforming, or simply shutting down due to not being relatable to those around you. From playing AAU, going to Virginia, playing basketball overseas, and coaching at South Carolina, Staley has been out of her comfort zone.
“I wasn’t necessarily comfortable outside of the projects that I grew up in,” Staley said. “I look at those uncomfortable experiences and being at South Carolina ... I’m OK now.”
An argument can be made that Staley’s best work in basketball has come as a head coach. And that would be saying a lot, considering she was a two-time Naismith Player of the Year, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and six-time WNBA All-Star, but her impact as a coach goes so much deeper than herself.
She came home to Philadelphia and coached Temple while still an active WNBA player. Her 2004-05 Owls went a perfect 19-0 in the Atlantic 10 and 28-4 overall. Staley took on a massive challenge when she went to South Carolina. She was entering what is called “SEC country.” Football is the lifeblood of that area.
“[South Carolina fans] made women’s basketball a lifestyle,” Staley said. “It’s a beautiful thing. No one could’ve imagined us doing what we’re doing at little ol' Columbia, South Carolina.”
The documentary shows Staley taking South Carolina from a program with low attendance to finishing No. 1 in the country. The 2017 national championship run is also highlighted in the documentary, as well as the importance of the recruitment of A’ja Wilson, who was the WNBA’s MVP this season.
Staley said when the 2017 team won the national title, she wanted every player she has coached to feel like they played a role.
“We made sure once we won that every single one of my former players who have played for me at Temple and South Carolina and all of our coaching staffs that were with us, we all got them miniature national championship trophies,” Staley said.
The funniest part is that the younger Staley didn’t even see herself as a coach. It’s why she hopes viewers can take away important life lessons when they watch The Playbook.
“I hope to be a beacon of hope,” said Staley, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s induction class of 2013. “I hope they find my story to be one that gives them that extra oomph to go out there and accomplish it.”