Chamique Holdsclaw won three NCAA championships, an Olympic gold medal and was named a WNBA All-Star six times.
The former Tennessee Lady Vol added to her legacy on Saturday night when she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Yet, Holdsclaw does not describe herself as a basketball player. Her life has become a lot more important than that.
These days, she prefers to be known as a mental health advocate. She tours the country telling her story about battling depression to large groups.
From the outside, it looked like Holdsclaw had it all while she was scoring points, winning titles and earning awards. On the inside, however, she had demons.
The demons grew so fierce that at one point after her playing career she seriously considered committing suicide with a gun within her reach.
Despite all of her accolades, Holdsclaw knows her biggest victory was conquering the condition that affected her for more than three decades.
“I played basketball. It is not who I was,” Holdsclaw said Friday before she was inducted into the hall of fame. “I dealt with that for a while. Even if service workers come to my house they look around and say, ‘There is nothing in your house about basketball …’
“It is where I am now in my life. I have the freedom to be who I want to be. A lot of times as an athlete I struggled to be that person … There is not a better feeling than being comfortable with who you are. That’s who I am, just trying to do my part in society to uplift others and better the life of other human beings.”
One of Holdsclaw’s speaking engagements was with the LSU athletics department in March 2017. Fellow 2018 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and longtime Tennessee assistant coach Mickie DeMoss was an assistant coach at LSU at the time.
DeMoss knew Holdsclaw well from their time together in Knoxville. They kept in touch once Holdsclaw graduated but not as often. DeMoss said she learned new things about Holdsclaw during that speech.
“In college the players can be in a cocoon,” DeMoss said Friday. “Then she gets out and there are expectations that a lot of athletes struggle with. She hit some hard times. I was there to support her. She knew that. I am so proud of what she’s done and what she’s doing now.”
A big part of what Holdsclaw is doing now is relaying the message that it doesn’t matter how great a life it seems someone may have. They could be struggling internally.
Holdsclaw said she hears it from parents all the time that they don’t understand why their child or other children could be suffering from depression and that that is part of the problem.
“You have to have the tough conversations,” Holdsclaw said. “People don’t want to have it, but we are dealing with our young people being affected with school shootings. Every school needs to talk about these types of things. We need to understand what is going on.”
That Holdsclaw has become a powerful voice on any topic surprises many who knew her at Tennessee. She conducted endless interviews during her college career, but that was out of necessity because she was the face of the team.
She never sought the spotlight.
On Friday, she joked that she still had to plan her 10-minute Hall of Fame induction speech and that she may need more time. That never would have been the case in the late 1990s, but that part of her life may as well be a lifetime ago.
The difference is that mental health is important to her. That was not always the case with basketball.
“For something that hits home and something that you want to stand up for, it just comes out,” Holdsclaw said. “I take it really seriously. Like coach (Pat) Summitt said, ‘You have to roll up your sleeves sometimes and do the hard work.’
“I did it when it was something people judged me on. They would say I’m crazy and all these things. I said, ‘I’m not crazy. I have a condition, and I’m OK to talk about it.’”