Raise the Roof
by Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins
Broadway Books, $25
This is an article from the Nov. 16, 1998 issue
This is a book about basketball and the often complex people who
coach and play it. That it is also a book about women's
basketball is of little consequence to the narrative, and therein
lies its significance. In fact it is a measure of the amazing
progress of the women's game that this should be so. Change the
pronouns in these pages from feminine to masculine, and the
familiar story of the heretofore unyielding and
tradition-besotted coach's adjusting to gifted but free-spirited
young players, some of them from impoverished single-parent
homes, remains the same.
Substitute he for she in "she could take you off the dribble with
either hand, or bury you with a three," and you are hearing
coachly exposition common now, at long last, to female and male
alike. Yet what ultimately separates this excellent read from
conventional courtside memoirs is the fact that the talented
players it describes are women. When Pat Summitt, the coach at
Tennessee for the past 24 years, steps onto the court in
Knoxville before a sellout crowd of 24,597 gathered to see her
Lady Vols, she is moved nearly to tears. "For years," she says,
"we had worked in a sport no one else seemed to care about. We
loved what we were doing, but there were times when we despaired
of ever filling a stadium." She recalls walking into gyms "so
empty you could hear your own footsteps echo."
Last season the Lady Vols averaged nearly 15,000 at home games.
Of course the team was well worth the attention, winning 39 games
without a defeat (by an average margin of 30.1 points) and taking
its third straight NCAA championship, Summitt's sixth overall.
The Lady Vols were led by Chamique Holdsclaw, a survivor of the
New York City housing projects with skills so dazzling that
Michael Jordan himself suggested that he and she play one-on-one.
(The two players were introduced to each other by Summitt, who
has been a friend of Jordan's since the 1984 Los Angeles
Olympics, at which Jordan played on the U.S. men's team and
Summitt was a coach for the women.) Holdsclaw was the Lady Vols'
acknowledged star last season, but this great team also featured
four freshmen, whose transformation from girls to women gives
this book its dramatic thrust--that, and the presence midway
through of a menacing stalker.
This is the second collaboration between Summitt and Sally
Jenkins (Reach for the Summit was the first), and it represents a
gratifying breakthrough in the literature of women's sports. The
book, says Summitt, "is about trading in old, narrow definitions
of femininity for a more complete one. It is about exploring all
of the possibilities in yourself."