Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Tamecka Dixon
June 21, 1997 was a day in which women’s basketball gained a professional league of its own and a day that began paving a path to gender equality within the world of sports.
That Saturday in mid-June marked the inaugural season of professional basketball for women. The inception of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) came nearly 51 years after the NBA had been established.
The University of Kansas was fortunate to have a trailblazer of its own to help kick-off the WNBA, someone who was avid to pave a path for women and their future of professional sports in the states. Tamecka Dixon, a 1997 KU graduate, joined the WNBA for the induction of women’s professional basketball.
While there were opportunities for women to play basketball professionally overseas for many years before the WNBA was established, the chance to play in front of friends and family in their home-country was very special.
“I don’t like to call myself a pioneer,” Dixon said. “There were so many women that blazed the path for me. But being a part of the first professional league here in the United States was definitely an honor.”
Dixon began her collegiate basketball career with the assumption that if she wanted to play beyond college she would have to go abroad. Having a father who played many years overseas, the idea wasn’t completely “foreign.” As she neared her final years at Kansas, the news began to spread that she may be able to continue playing the sport she loved in the country she loved. The WNBA was taking shape.
“I always knew that there were opportunities to play abroad,” Dixon said. “My father played in Argentina, Italy and France for a number of years, so he actually let me know that there were opportunities to play after college. But, to have the opportunity to play in the states in front of your friends and family was the best-case scenario for me. I was really excited to be a part of it.”
At the time, Dixon was well on her way to becoming one of the all-time greats to play for KU. The former Kansas women’s basketball player also recognized that if she wanted an opportunity to play at the next level in her home country she would need to work hard and make herself available so that teams in the U.S. would consider her to play for them.
While Dixon and other collegiate players had their eyes set on becoming part of the WNBA’s inaugural season, there were also countless American women who were already playing professionally around the world and were ready to come back and play at home.
“The players who had been playing overseas away from their families were hungry to be able to come back and play in the states,” Dixon said. “So the league was very physical and competitive from the start.”
After being named Big 12 Player of the Year and to the Kodak All-America team following her senior campaign, Dixon’s dreams came true as she became part of women’s professional basketball history when she was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks in the league’s first draft. Not only was the Linden, New Jersey native a part of the first draft, but she also played in the first WNBA game when the Los Angeles Sparks matched up against the New York Liberty as women’s sports embarked on a new journey.
Dixon continued to be a force on the court at the next level. After earning countless accolades at Kansas, the WNBA star boosted her resume to a whole new level after winning back-to-back Championships with the Sparks.
“Awesome! It was awesome,” Dixon reminisced on the consecutive championships. “We were always predicted to be one of the top teams leading into every season, but we kept getting ousted by the Houston Comets year after year. It was tough to always lose, but it was great to finally get on top. Years five and six of my career are close to the top, being able to win the fifth and sixth [WNBA] championship was an honor.”
After 13 years in the league, Dixon retired and journeyed back home to New Jersey where she resides today. Although she no longer plays basketball, she has not let go of the sport that shaped her into the person she is today.
“I have a performance training business that I started with my trainer from the last five years of my professional career,” Dixon said. “We got together and started a performance training business, which is basketball-specific. That’s my outlet to give back. Everyone is pushing me toward coaching, but I really like the lane I’m in. I get to work with kids one-on-one in the gym, and that’s where I like to be.”
While Dixon’s basketball career was decorated with awards and trophies, there is one that she holds near and dear to her heart: her jersey hung in the rafters of storied Allen Fieldhouse. Dr. James Naismith court, named after the creator of basketball, holds the history of many great players and Dixon is honored to have created a piece of her own basketball history while representing Kansas.
In 2005, Kansas honored Dixon by hanging her jersey in the rafters, recognizing her as one of the best basketball players to play in a Crimson and Blue uniform. Dixon is joined by two other Kansas women with jerseys in the rafters, Lynette Woodard and Angela Aycock.
“It’s awesome,” Dixon said. “There is no place like Phog Allen Fieldhouse, everybody knows that. It’s the mecca of basketball. So to be able to walk into that building, and glance up and see that my four years of hard work paid off is incredible. It’s something that can never be taken away. It will always be hanging in the rafters long after I’m gone. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
The 14th overall WNBA draft pick credits much of her success to the University of Kansas. After playing for various teams throughout her career, KU was the building block that allowed her to become the athlete she turned out to be.
The Jayhawks became her family: the relationships she made with people on-and-off the court are ones that helped shape her into the person she is today. While both people and places have come and gone throughout Dixon’s life, Kansas means something extra special.
“Kansas was one of the most important stepping stones for me,” Dixon said. “Having Coach Marian Washington as a mentor and a mother figure to me in four of the most important developmental years in my career was tremendous. I can’t even begin to tell you how vital she was to my growth and development as a person and as a player. KU was a very important stop for me.”
Now, years removed from the University, Dixon continues to recognize the impact KU had on her life.
“My experience at Kansas has played a tremendous part in my success,” Dixon said. “I’m so blessed to have been able to be a part of that program and the storied history.”
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk