Sheryl Swoopes is finally happy again.
It’s no surprise that her joy comes at a time when she’s back on the basketball court – a place where she’s always felt comfortable. Only this time it’s as a coach and not a player.
The former WNBA great, who was one of the first stars in the sport, became the head coach at Loyola of Chicago in April. It’s her first coaching job at any level.
“Even when I was younger, I did some interviews and said, ‘Someday I know I’m going to coach,’ ” Swoopes said in a phone interview. “I’ve always had a passion for basketball and playing the game. Now I’m in a position to give back and can stay involved in the game from a teaching standpoint.”
Swoopes acknowledged she was a little nervous when she took over the program. Now she’s getting more comfortable. The team has started practice and will be headed to Italy in a few weeks for a foreign tour.
This new opportunity has provided a high from what Swoopes concedes was the lowest point in her life four years ago. She had just been cut by the Seattle Storm and was having financial problems, which came to light when she failed to pay rent on a West Texas storage unit. Swoopes lost years of memorabilia from her celebrated basketball career, including awards, jerseys, fan mail and her college diploma.
“I was just mad at everyone,” Swoopes said. “Mad at the WNBA, mad at life. I’d say a lot of it was my immaturity, my stubbornness – my mom says my hardheadedness. I wasn’t responsible in taking care of my things. You shouldn’t believe everything you read. A headline somewhere said I lost $50 million. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s a big difference to say Sheryl blew $50 million and Sheryl went through $5 million.”
Swoopes’ struggles with life, money and love are chronicled in a documentary by Hannah Storm as part of the ESPN Films Nine for IX documentary series that will air tonight. Swoopes was tired of reading about her life story. She wanted to tell it herself.
“You can find everything on Google, but none of it was in my voice. It’s totally different when it’s coming from you,” Swoopes said.
Swoopes talks candidly in the film about her private life, recounting how at the pinnacle of her WNBA career, she divorced her husband and very publicly came out by confirming a relationship with then-Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott.
At the time, she was the most recognizable athlete, male or female, to come out in a team sport.
Swoopes eventually broke up with Scott and is currently engaged to Chris Unclesho.
After spending the last few years away from the league, Swoopes was invited by the WNBA this past April to speak at rookie orientation. Now, as a coach, Swoopes hopes that she can inspire her team to new levels.
“We will compete every time we step on the floor,” she said.