Former WNBA player Tamara James enters the political arena

Courtesy of Tamara James

Tamara James might not have any political experience, but two days after her swearing-in ceremony, the newly elected mayor of Dania Beach, Florida, sounds confident.

Having just assumed the highest-ranking position in local government -- in her hometown -- she looks to begin her second career with the same grit and determination that helped her succeed in the first place.

In fact, James, 32, strongly believes that playing basketball prepared her for this role.

From balancing a schedule that included 5 a.m. practices, classes, travel, and the real-world responsibilities of paying rent off campus during college, to dealing with international health insurance while playing pro ball abroad, James has learned invaluable and transferable skills from a career in basketball.

Her mayoral duties include representing the city in the public spectrum, attending and leading commission meetings, and signing official documents. And when she begins she plans to improve school facilities and education in Dania Beach.

"If you look at it in basketball," James said, "I'm the captain of the team."

Between 2002-06, James starred on the hardwood at the University of Miami. In 2006, the Washington Mystics selected James with the No. 8 overall pick in the WNBA draft. And after a year in D.C., she left the WNBA to move abroad and play ball in Turkey, Spain and Israel, where she helped win three championship titles.

In 2010, Miami retired her jersey, and this year inducted her into its sports hall of fame. To this day, James holds the career record for most points -- 2,406 -- scored at Miami in men's or women's basketball.

While playing basketball, James regularly participated in community service events, which helped foreshadow this burgeoning career in public service.

After graduating in 2006, she established the Tamara James Foundation with a mission to help underprivileged youth participate in, and excel at, athletic pursuits. She petitioned Dania Beach's commission on behalf of her organization and other causes, which taught her about the importance of local government.

"This is the face of your city," she said. "This is how you get things done. This is how your money gets allocated. This is how you get to decide what's important to you and your city."

Although James' mother, Tammie, works for the city of Dania Beach's community development department in the building division, the young athlete never considered running for office before her October 2015 bid.

But after retiring from basketball last year, current and previous members of the Dania Beach Commission who had been encouraging her to do so for the past five years, returned to convince her.

Bobbie Grace, the first female African-American mayor of Dania Beach and its current commissioner, is among James' supporters.

"I watched her matriculate through middle school and high school and going to South Broward High School, where she was the team's leading person who got them to the championship," Grace said.

Since 1989 and throughout James' childhood, Grace served on the commission, helping create affordable housing in the area, especially for first-time homeowners. Grace, who also knew James' grandparents and parents, emphasized that familial trust as one of the new mayor's best traits. "She would not do anything that would not be positive for Dania Beach," Grace said.

Even though James recalls facing challenges and discrimination for her lack of relevant experience during her campaign, she knows that it's the same issue most professional athletes face when they seek secondary corporate careers.

"People had reservations about me running, that I had no experience -- the same things that they have when you apply for a new job coming out of the basketball world," James said. "They won't see what basketball really has taught us: leadership skills, teamwork, perseverance, everything that you really need to be successful in life."

Katie Meier, James' former college coach at Miami, sees these skills in her protégé. In particular, Meier considers James' internal strength, especially as a student-athlete, one her greatest assets.

"There was not one part of me was shocked or surprised," Meier said. "She came into my office and said, 'This is what I'm doing. I need your support!'' It was a statement. It was not a, 'Coach, what do you think?' which is why I think she's going to be so great. She's very sure of herself and very certain."

From the classroom to the court to the dais, community service has always been a factor in her life; continuing these actions in a more political arena seems just another way to keep contributing to her community as she always has been.

"I have a pure heart. I'm a leader. I'm a champion. I'm a strong individual that knows how to combine a team and work well together," James declared. "People say, 'Why?' And I say, 'Why not?' Who else is going to do it?"

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