Yolanda Griffith hot-wires the hoops
By Sharon Robb
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
September 15, 2000
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Pictures of
Yolanda Griffith hang on the walls of Allen's
Recovery Agency, a car-repossession firm
where the basketball star learned how to
hot-wire cars and drive a tow truck in the
middle of the night.
"It was something to do to put food on the
table, trying to make ends meet while I was
going to school," said Griffith, then a single
mother at 19, raising a daughter and working
her way through college in Florida.
A friend, Charlene Littles, introduced Griffith
to Caeser Allen, who coached city league girls
basketball. She worked part time from
midnight to 5 a.m., enabling her to go to school
and basketball practice during the day.
Griffith and Allen would hot wire cars and
seize them for banks and auto companies.
Once, in a rough Fort Lauderdale
neighborhood, a man pulled a gun on her. The
police were called, and she went on with her
"She is a tough girl, she held her ground,"
Allen said. "She was never scared, not with
her kind of tenacity."
It was a matter of survival for Griffith, the
youngest of five children from the south side
of Chicago. She has come to appreciate every
accomplishment in her life, including her first
appearance as an Olympian as a member of the
U.S. women's basketball team.
"Each and every day I send a prayer out for
me, my family and everybody who helped me
through the hard times," said Griffith, who
now lives in Berkeley, Calif. "A lot of people
out there did a lot for me to help me get
where I am today, and I owe them everything.
Basketball is easy. Life is what's difficult."
Griffith, 30, the versatile Sacramento
Monarchs' 6-foot-4 All-Star forward, has
accomplished what no other player has in
WNBA history. She has won Most Valuable
Player, Defensive Player of the Year and
Newcomer of the Year, finishing ahead of
Cynthia Cooper, Teresa Weatherspoon and
Chamique Holdsclaw for the honors, and was
named to the All-WNBA first team in her
first season in the league in 1999. She did all
that by averaging 18.8 points, 11.3 rebounds,
2.52 steals and 1.86 block shots. After
playing professionally four years overseas in
Germany where "the food was terrible,"
Griffith started playing pro basketball in the
United States in the now-defunct American
Basketball League. In her two seasons with the
Long Beach Sting Rays, she was an MVP
runner-up and Defensive Player of the Year.
She was the second overall pick in the 1999
WNBA Draft after Holdsclaw and has led the
Monarchs to two consecutive playoff berths.
Griffith is excited about her Olympic debut.
"I think every basketball player wants to
play in the Olympics; it's such an honor to
represent your country against the best teams
in the world," said Griffith, who will play in
front of her 11-year-old daughter, Candace.
"We will be a great team at the Olympics."
The U.S. team trained and competed together
for seven months starting in September 1999
and posted a 29-2 record, including a 17-1
mark against international opponents during a
31-game tour. The U.S. team averaged 82.3
points and 39.6 rebounds while holding
opponents to 58.9 points and 26.5 rebounds
The team broke camp for the WNBA season
and reconvened in Hawaii in mid-August for
training camp and a short series of exhibition
games before leaving for Sydney, where
women's basketball is scheduled Sept. 15-30.
The U.S. women have won three of the past
four gold medals but can expect stiff
competition from Australia and Brazil, the
1996 silver medalists who upset the U.S. team
by nine points in March. Teresa Edwards, the
only non-WNBA player on the roster, will
make her fifth consecutive Olympic
appearance at age 36.
"The most important thing is that your effort
is great and that you're going out to play to
win the game," U.S. coach Nell Fortner said.
"And then everything else will take care of
itself. We are focused. We're prepared. The
winning will take care of itself."