NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — This Black History Month, WAVY is highlighting some amazing people in our community, one of whom happens to be an Olympic champion.
Nikki McCray is a two time Olympic gold medalist with USA Basketball, and in her third year as the head coach for the Old Dominion women’s basketball team.
It may be hard to believe, but Coach McCray says she never thought she would play basketball.
“The person who I saw growing up, and who I wanted to be, was [Florence Griffith Joyner]. I wanted to be a track star.”
But one day Nikki saw her cousins playing basketball and she decided she wanted to play too. There was one problem, her cousins said no. So, Nikki told her grandma.
“She came out and she was like, ‘Look. If she can’t play, none of you guys can play.’ and from there it gave me the motivation to prove to them that I could be better than them.”
And prove that she did. Fast forward to college where Nikki played under legendary coach Pat Summit at Tennessee.
“She meant so much, not only to me and my family, but she meant so much to women’s basketball and she just paved the way,” McCray said.
After college it was on to the American Basketball League before being selected to represent the U.S. in the 1996 Olympics where Nikki and her teammates brought home the gold.
“We didn’t lose a game that whole year and to go 8-0 in the Olympics, in dominant fashion, was really special, and to be a part of that team was a great moment for me.”
Another great moment? Nikki joined the WNBA, where she would go on to become a 3-time All Star.
Aside from her accolades on the court, including a second gold medal, perhaps one of her greatest titles she earned off the court: breast cancer survivor.
It’s that never give up mentality she brought with her to ODU in 2017 when she became the women’s basketball head coach. That mentality doesn’t go unnoticed by her players.
“She survived [breast cancer] and she keeps going with her everyday life. She didn’t really let that affect her. Just keep going despite all the obstacles life has brought her, like she’s still here and she’s still shining,” says Victoria Morris, a junior and member of the ODU women’s team.
Morris says she and her teammates truly respect and admire their coach.
“She’s just a champion and it’s just an honor to be around her every day.”
An honor to be around a woman who has had so much success, yet exudes a quiet humbleness you simply want to be near.
“At the end of the day, people will remember me just of my impact and just hopefully I made them feel good and made them a better person like they made me,” McCray said.