One of the original Women’s Dream Team members, Nikki McCray-Penson died on July 7, 2023, following a lengthy battle with breast cancer. At this time, there has been no official cause of death determined, but she has been fighting the disease since 2013. As reported by ESPN, McCray-Penson was a basketball star at the University of Tennessee before playing in the now-defunct American Basketball League before moving on to the WNBA. McCray-Penson is remembered by many in the women’s basketball family as a warm and generous spirit, current WNBA players admired the way that she would check in with them and often tell them how proud of them she was. Dawn Staley, McCray-Penson’s 1996 Olympic Games teammate, added her to her coaching staff at South Carolina in 2008 where she remained until 2017. In 2013, while coaching the Gamecocks, McCray-Penson was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Later that year her cancer went into remission so she was able to remain on staff. It was at South Carolina that she would coach future two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson who fondly remembered her in a Tweet: “Heart hurts like crazy over this one…Such a fighter and a warrior with the sweetest gentle soul! Coach McCray you’ve helped me in many, many ways and you were a true gift from God! Truly will be missed! No more suffering, no more pain! God got a good one.”
During her playing career McCray-Penson developed a reputation as a hard-nosed defender, routinely tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player during her runs with the Women’s National team. She was hand-selected in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton to become a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. McCray-Penson was also invited by the Library of Congress to be their keynote speaker for Women’s History Month in 1999. In 1996. McCray-Penson started her professional career with the ABL’s Colombus Quest and over her ten-year career in the WNBA, she played for the Washington Mystics, Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury, San Antonio Stars (Las Vegas Aces), and Chicago Sky.
We are saddened to hear of the passing of Fever alum, 3x WNBA All-Star, coach and friend, Nikki McCray-Penson.
our thoughts are with her family and friends. pic.twitter.com/gokEW9RFqY
— Indiana Fever (@IndianaFever) July 7, 2023
Truly, the women’s basketball community is a little bit dimmer after the passing of such a beloved figure and pioneer in its game. McCray-Penson leaves behind a 10-year-old son, Thomas Penson Jr in addition to her husband, Thomas Penson. The entire community of women’s basketball poured out tributes to McCray-Penson from her alma-mater to the WNBA itself. Tennesse head coach Kellie Harper released a statement: “Our hearts are broken as we mourn the loss of a beloved Lady Vol…We also offer our love and sincere condolences to her family, friends and colleagues across the country. Nikki had a bright and loving personality and touched the lives of everyone she met. Her kind and genuine spirit will be missed.” The WNBA released a statement reading: “Our hearts are heavy as we learn of the passing of Nikki McCray-Penson…Our thoughts and prayers are with Nikki’s family and loved ones at this time.”
Source: Black Enterprise