Basketball great Swin Cash speaks at the 12th Annual Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon on Feb. 27. Cash's career accomplishments include two NCAA championships, three WNBA championships and two Olympic gold medals.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
WNBA star: Sports help teach life lessons
March 1, 2017Tweet
Swin Cash remembered crying in the middle of the basketball court after her high school team lost its state championship game.
“I was crying because the referee said to me during the game: ‘You think you’re pretty good because you’re going to UConn,’” she recalled. “As a young girl, that just killed the spirit because it wasn’t about me. The issue was with him.
“I took that life lesson and said: ‘I’m not going to let anyone take anything from me. I’m not going to let him demoralize who I am. I earned my scholarship. I’m going off to college and be the best me I can be.’”
Cash went on to win two national champions (2000 and 2002) with the University of Connecticut and was named Most Outstanding Player in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. She later won two Olympic gold medals and spent 15 years in the WNBA, winning three league championships and earning All-Star honors four times. She was recently named one of the 20 greatest and most influential players in WNBA history.
More than 680 people came to the Events Center on Feb. 27, to hear Cash speak at the 12th Annual Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon. Proceeds from the luncheon support the Binghamton Bearcats Athletic Association Women’s Scholarship Fund. Other speakers included President Harvey Stenger, Director of Athletics Patrick Elliott and Binghamton University senior Kristin Ross, a member of the women’s basketball team.
Cash said it is vital that events such as the luncheon celebrate the achievements and efforts of female athletes.
“It’s important to let them know: Whatever you want to accomplish – whether small or large – you will mean something to the University,” she said. “You are leaving a legacy for the girls behind you.”
Cash began planting the seeds for her legacy as a child outside of Pittsburgh in a region she called “God-family-football.” Every Sunday, the family would return from church, watch the Pittsburgh Steelers and play sports outside. Cash said she received nothing but support from her mother.
“If we wanted to play sports with my brother, she pushed us to do that,” Cash said. “That was my foundation at a young age, to realize that it’s no different for my brother than it is for me.”
Even though Cash won championships at UConn, playing sports in college helped prepare her for the real world.
“In my (Pennsylvania) neighborhood, there were only black people and white people,” she said. “I didn’t know many Asian people or Latino people. When I got to UConn, my mind just expanded. That’s why these institutions are important. That’s why sports are important.”
She stressed that sports help student-athletes become more inclusive: race and religion do not matter on the courts and fields.
“We play the game because we love it,” she said.
Cash learned another life lesson during her freshman year, as team members were told to be sure to dress up before the Big East championship.
“I looked at the assistant coach and said: ‘Why? All the other teams are going to be in sweats.’ She said: ‘That’s not who we are. We represent the university and our families.’ She was trying to teach us something in that moment.”
Cash’s success has continued after retirement. She is now the director of franchise development for the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
“When I decided to retire, I already had started a television career,” Cash said. “But (Liberty president and former NBA great) Isaiah Thomas came to me and said: ‘We think you should be in the front office. You played the game. You worked with the union. You were part of two (labor) negotiations with players. We think your skill set would help the New York Liberty front office.”
Cash asked Thomas if he wanted her assistance on the basketball side or the business side. Thomas created a hybrid role in which Cash works on both sides.
“There is not a person in the WNBA or NBA who has that kind of position,” she said. “He picked me for it.”
How Cash played the game and respected the game gave her the opportunities to succeed after her playing career ended. But she emphasized that playing sports from a young age gave her the most growth.
“I’ve had a humble journey,” she said. “I’ve had success. I’ve had surgeries and have been down. But through it all, I’ve been able to learn so much about who I am as a woman. It doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 21 or 37.”
Cash said sports have enabled her travel around the world and even visit some of the poorest countries. She has seen the power of sports.
“There are people who would die for the meal we are having today,” Cash said. “But you give them a basketball and it doesn’t matter where they came from. They are going to play basketball together.
“Much is required of each and every one you in this room,” she said. “Let us use sports to teach life lessons and build up all girls so when they travel the world in the future, they will come back and say the seeds were planted at Binghamton University.”