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Issues | Conversation WITH RHONDA WINDHAM

Sparking the Hoop Dreams of Girls

May 17, 1997

As a USC freshman starting point guard, Rhonda Windham led the Trojans to a 1983 national championship. Since 1992, she has been director of the "Say No Classic" basketball program, a 500-member, 40-team league. Formerly an assistant public relations director with the Lakers, Windham spoke to MARY REESE BOYKIN about her new job: general manager of the newly formed Women's National Basketball Assn. Los Angeles Sparks, who play their first game on June 21.

When I look for a player, I want a good athlete and someone who is going to be a team player. Then I want to have an opportunity to talk to them because I want to work with good people. If you have good people, you can get a lot out of them.

As the general manager of the Sparks, I evaluate talent, hire the coaching staff, oversee operations in marketing plans and strategies and take care of the players. I am on the management side, but no matter what, I am always a player first.

I want the players to want to play for the Sparks because we take care of them. I want to make sure that they are living in top-notch housing, that they are exposed to things besides basketball. You are only going to be able to play for so long, so I want my players to start thinking about their future while they are hot and while people are interested in them.

My response to those who say there is no need for two women's leagues is that last year we had no leagues. The leagues created more jobs for everyone. Competition is good. And there is an advantage in being in the WNBA: major marketing and a professional organization that will be mirrored after the best professional organization in the world, the NBA. We USC Trojans are dominating the WNBA: Tina Thompson went No. l; Cheryl McGee went No. 2. Cynthia Cooper is playing in Houston, Lisa Leslie is a Spark. Cheryl Miller is a coach and general manager.

Through the "Say No Classic" basketball program, I know the area's female players in the college, high school and junior divisions. I want to remain accessible and talk the real stuff with them. This is real life, and they have to take care of their business. They have to know that not only do I expect a lot from them, they have to expect a lot from themselves.

In the 25 years since the passage of Title IX, I think that we have come very far. There are so many more opportunities for girls to participate in sports and to be involved in the business side.

I think girls' involvement in sports makes them well-rounded because sports teach you about cooperation, sacrifice, winning and losing. You can take these same principles and put them in the work force. That's why athletes make great business people: They are used to being part of a team and they want to work together for a common goal.

I tell girls: "Don't be a follower; don't let anyone deter you from chasing your dreams. If you don't have dreams, you don't have hope."

And I think that the closer we get to the beginning of the WNBA season the more excited people are. They are ready for it. They are happy that women are playing. They want to bring their little girls, their sons.

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