How my grandmothers inspired me to love the game

Courtesy of Taja Wilson

In December, espnW's weekly essay series will focus on family.

My childhood consisted of obsessing over Dominique Dawes and trying to find a way to either shrink or become the world's tallest Olympic gymnast.

I identified as a dancer, trained like an elite gymnast and hated playing basketball. The day did come when I was too long to compete on the uneven bars and needed to pick a sport that was better suited for my size. I remember begrudgingly making my way to the basketball court on the first day of practice, but shortly, after I grew to love competition on the court.

Gymnastics helped me to lay the foundation for my eventual transition to basketball. I grew to be 6 feet tall by the age of 11, had a ridiculous wingspan and was "made" for the game. I often reflect on a conversation I had with my grandmothers prior to playing collegiate basketball, one that still sticks with me. These sprightly, 80-year-old women told me detailed stories about their adolescent hoop dreams. They recounted feelings of frustration while playing half-court basketball when they knew they had so much more to give. They described how they watched the men blissfully display their talents and abilities in a full-court setting.

My grandmothers simply could not wrap their minds around the idea that women were too weak to extend their game to a full 94 feet. While these forward-thinking women may not have been taking off from the free throw line, they still itched to dribble coast-to-coast and defy the odds.

As their dainty, skirted uniforms flew in the wind, they dared to fly in their own way and had the courage to believe in their own ability when others thought that women were somehow not equipped to do so. Learning about how much they disregarded the boundaries and limitations that others set for them allowed me to unlock the keys to many elements in my game that helped me to become a successful player.

My grandmothers taught me how to be fundamentally sound. Just as in life, progress on the court starts with baby steps. If you want to be the best, you have to sacrifice. Do the things that no one else wants to do. While it may seem like basketball fans are preoccupied with dirty dunks and shiny tricks, real court value comes down to the fundamentals.

This is just one reason why the women's game remains so pure.

Taja Wilson is an associate editor for ESPN. She's a former basketball player who played at Michigan State University and Xavier University, where she received her master's degree in sport business administration.

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