Through my job, I have met some amazing people. Some in passing and others I got to know well.
Pat Summitt was someone I interviewed a couple of different times while I covered the Rutgers women’s basketball team from 2005-2007.
In all, I wrote eight articles for The Press of Atlantic City that included Pat Summitt, including one in 2011 when Summitt had stopped doing post-game interviews.
To me, she always seemed larger than life. In control of it all. Summitt was the face of women’s college basketball. The first and last person you thought about when it came to the topic.
The last article on Summitt was the toughest. The all-time winningest women’s college basketball had publically announced she was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She was in New Jersey to have her Tennessee Vols face Rutgers and C. Vivian Stringer, one of her best friends.
That night gave me goose bumps and I had to stifle a few tears. The Scarlet Knights wore t-shirts honoring Summitt during pre-game warms ups: “We Back Pat.”
The entire arena of about 6,400 that night cheered even when Rutgers lost. This was not just a basketball game, but also a moment to reflect on Summitt’s career and all those people she influenced throughout four decades as a coach.
Summitt talked about that night in her book briefly. It was tough for her as she met privately with a New York Times reporter where the two talked about his father who suffers from the same disease. The passage got me to pause and reflect at that night. While Summitt patiently waited a half four for her team in hopes of ending an emotional night, I worried about hitting my deadline that night. Seems trivial now.
The book “Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective” showed me a different side of Summitt – fun, wild, caring, passionate, intense, but she also showed her vulnerabilities and insecurities. For someone so put together, Summitt revealed just how much she questioned many of her decisions and showed she didn’t always have the right answer.
Even though the book mostly recounted her life, it was easy to read. She made fun of herself as well as called out her faults. But some things she kept private.
Summitt was a little Tennessee farm girl who turned into one of the iconic figures in sports.
It was great to see how Summitt handled all of the challenges thrown at her – and there were many – all the way through her latest with Alzheimer’s disease.