WNBA Fans Should Know About Basketball Legend Jackie Stiles

By: Zachary Diamond
Posted: November 17, 2020

For a brief period of time, Jackie Stiles was one of the biggest names in the woman’s hoops scene. Perhaps even a cultural phenomenon.

The legend of Stiles started in a 700-person town in Kansas called Claflin where in high school (enrollment: 97) she would draw crowds because of her basketball abilities.

The regional news did a segment on Stiles her senior year of high school, braces and all, where they showed the swarms of people lined up outside her high school gymnasium who all thought they were witnessing the greatest basketball player in Kansas history.

Stiles high school coach Gregg Webb said in the segment: “She has taken the art of practice to the new level… She has set goals that are unmatched, I mean to be the best? *laughs* Who does that?”

Jackie Stiles does!

“During the season I make 1000 shots probably twice a week. I have a 45-minute workout every day. Before a game, I have a workout and make 115 shots.” Jackie said in the segment.

That was the beginning of Jackie’s superhuman work ethic.

During her senior year, Stiles averaged 47.5 points per game. She graduated as the all-time scoring leader in the state of Kansas.

Stiles continued playing for (the now-named) Missouri State University Lady Bears (MSU) from 1997-2001, where she was one of the most prolific college shooters in NCAA history.

During Stiles’ senior year in 2001, ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel said, “Basketball is defined by its greatest players, and make no mistake, Jackie is one of them.”

That year, Stiles became the first women’s Division I player to score 1,000+ points in a season, averaging 30.3 points per game. She carried the Lady Bears to the Final Four.

She scored 3,393 total points during her four years for MSU, an NCAA Division I record she held for sixteen years (broken by Kelsey Plum in 2017).

Throughout her four years in college, Stiles averaged 26.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and a 3P% of .441.

Before the 2001 WNBA Draft, The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins said, “She [Stiles] is called perhaps the game’s most sensational discovery since Sheryl Swoopes.”

In the 2001 WNBA Draft, Stiles was selected No. 4 overall by the Portland Fire. What prevented Stiles from being taken No. 1 overall were WNBA legends Lauren Jackson and Tamika Catchings going No. 1 and No. 3 overall in an absurdly stacked draft class.

The Portland Fire had just finished their first season in 2000 as an expansion team ending with a poor 10-22 record. In need of a franchise player to bring the new team long-term success, the Fire turned to Stiles.

Stiles told NBC Sports: “I had kind of the pressure on me, being the quote, ‘franchise player.’ I’m like, they are calling me that?”

The “franchise player” didn’t disappoint her rookie season, winning the 2001 WNBA Rookie of the Year over No. 1 overall pick Lauren Jackson.

Playing 32 minutes a night, Stiles averaged 14.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.6 three-pointers per game.

Her 14.9 points were ranked 9th in the WNBA while she was ranked 7th in three-point field goals made with 50. Her .431 3P% ranked 6th in the WNBA. In her first year in the league, Stiles had established herself as one of the best three-point shooters in the league.

On top of her Rookie of the Year Award, Stiles was voted into the 2001 All-Star game for the Eastern Conference. Playing amongst the league’s stars as a rookie, Stiles was cementing herself into one of the biggest profiles in the WNBA.

To demonstrate the scope of her rising profile, after her rookie season, Stiles was made the cover athlete for the 2002 WNBA Fleer basketball cards.

Stiles was card #1 and even had her own exclusive “House of Stiles” five-card set within the full set. Fleer and the WNBA were going all-in on Stiles as her trajectory was that of one of the biggest stars in women’s basketball history.

But then, the injuries came.

“I was hurting so bad at the end of my rookie season,” Stiles told The Oregonian in 2005.

She was dealing with a severe wrist injury after her rookie reason which required surgery. Because of her wrist injury, she developed shoulder problems which also needed surgery.

In her second season, Stiles was limited to averaging just 18.2 minutes per game in only 21 appearances as her ankle gave out and she partially tore her Achilles tendon. The injury ended her season and required multiple surgeries.

After the Fire unexpectedly folded at the end of the 2002 season, Stiles was selected by the Los Angeles Sparks. However, Stiles took the 2003 season off while rehabbing her many injuries.

Stiles had 13 different surgeries during her career before calling it quits. Her rights were owned by the Sparks, but she was unable to pass a physical and get paid.

Heartbreakingly, Stiles missed out on having a long WNBA career because of her injuries. In two years, Stiles and the Portland Fire went from an up and coming team to both completely out of the league.

Unable to play basketball, Stiles picked up competitive biking in 2005.

According to The Oregonian, “Her training schedule was Tuesdays, a 38-mile ride. Wednesdays, a 32-mile practice race. Thursdays, another 38 miles, and 40 more on Friday. Saturday she rides a cruel 60 miles with a hard-core group of racers and triathletes. The group averages about 22 mph and mixes in sprints where they sustain speeds of 30 mph.”

30 mph is a practically inhuman speed for a regular bike rider to go.

Stiles said, “I am the only girl in that ride and they punish me for sure. For most of the three hours, my heart rate is 170. I played basketball and ran track but I have never been so exhausted as in this sport.”

Jackie miraculously made it back to professional basketball in 2006 playing in Australia’s Women’s National Basketball League. Playing for the Canberra Capitals, Jackie once again injured herself and did not play again.

In 2007, keeping with her dedication to working out, Stiles became a trainer and started her own business. Her business including elite basketball training camps and clinics, personal training, motivational speaking appearances, and sports broadcasting.

In 2012, Stiles began her next chapter as a college basketball coach. She became an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount University for the women’s basketball team.

“I just get so much joy in helping these student-athletes that I’m so privileged to coach to become the best they can be,” Stiles told OU Daily. “I look back and so many people sacrificed so I can do what I did and, now, it’s my time to give back and help lift others up.”

From 2013 to 2019, Stiles coached for her alma mater Missouri State University Lady Bears.

However, in late 2017, Stiles noticed that she had trouble seeing out of one of her eyes. After going to the doctor, Stiles was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, a rare form of cancer.

OU Daily reported that “the tumor was controlled through the surgery and her radiation treatment. Her doctors told her the tumor should remain dormant, but she would have to get checked out every six months for the rest of her life to make sure it hasn’t spread.”

Jackie has had to overcome so many obstacles in her life but she’s overcome them through her hard-working mindset. Overcoming her cancer diagnosis, Stiles became an assistant coach for the Oklahoma Sooners women’s basketball team in 2019. She remains in that role to this day.

Even though she was already a legend, her status was solidified when Stiles was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2016. Stiles was recognized for being one of the NCAA’s all-time basketball players to being WNBA Rookie of the Year to spending almost a decade coaching women’s college basketball.

Jackie Stiles wanted to be the best, and despite all of the crap that has been thrown her way throughout her career and life, she persevered and showed how to be the best.

She may not have had the long professional basketball career in the WNBA that she wanted, but Jackie Stiles time and again proved that she is one of the most legendary athletic specimens in women’s basketball history.

Her work ethic is the model for how professional athletes become the best athlete they could possibly be.

Whatever Jackie does for the rest of her life, just know that she is bringing 1000%.

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For more thoughts and opinions from Zachary Diamond, check out his author page or Twitter.

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