The 1996 U.S. women's basketball team celebrating their gold medals Aug. 4, 1996. From left: Jennifer Azzi, Lisa Leslie, Carla McGhee, Katy Steding and Sheryl Swoopes. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)
Carla McGhee said she felt like a kid in a candy store. Venus Lacy was tempted to get right back onto the nearest basketball court.
McGhee and Lacy joined some of their 1996 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball teammates this weekend at a reunion to honor their gold-medal performance in the Atlanta Games. The 1996 team was saluted as trailblazers of the game Saturday as part of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“You know that nervousness you have at Christmas, trying to see if you’re going to get the gift?” McGhee asked. “That’s what it’s like when I see anybody from that 1995-96 - people say team, but I say experience because it changed my life. I’m excited. I’m sweating because I was so excited, anxious and nervous.”
McGhee, Lacy, Jennifer Azzi and Katy Steding took part in a Saturday morning autograph session.
Organizers were hoping a couple more players from that 1996 team would make it into town by Saturday night’s induction ceremony, and Ruthie Bolton, Nikki McCray and Sheryl Swoopes all arrived by Saturday night.
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The reunion also featured plenty of members of that 1996 team’s coaching staff, including head coach Tara VanDerveer of Stanford.
“We’re not all here, but there’s enough of a quorum, I guess, that it feels like the old team. ... To just see the people that you sweated and bled and cried with and everything and traveled the world with, it’s amazing,” said Steding, now the head coach at Boston University.
The 1996 team won the first of five straight Olympic gold medals by the U.S. women. The 1996 team’s success contributed to the successful launch of the WNBA, which is now in its 20th season, and the ABL, which lasted two years. VanDerveer noted that she never needed to give a single one-on-one talk to a player about attitude or effort problems because the entire team was so focused and united on accomplishing its goal.
“We knew what we had to do,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a team that had as much pressure on them, but you never would have even known it. They really cared for each other. They really worked hard.”
VanDerveer said she couldn’t remember a time since the Atlanta Games when so many of the team members were gathered in the same place. Some players pointed out specific teammates they were seeing for the first time in several years.
The experience left some feeling nostalgic.
“It makes you want to be back out there,” Lacy said as she motioned to a basketball floor inside the Hall of Fame building. “That’s what it makes you feel like. It makes you want to go back and start playing.”
The event held special meaning for Azzi, who grew up in nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Azzi also played on a Stanford team that won the 1990 national championship at Thompson-Boling Arena, located less than 2 miles from the Hall of Fame.
“I just feel at home here,” said Azzi, now the head coach at San Francisco. “I had such a great childhood here. I was so fortunate and blessed to grow up in the community here.”