The bucket list is starting to grow longer than time to fulfill it.
In a quiet downtown Seattle hotel room, Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn reflects on her four-decade career in women’s basketball and how, even though it’s carried her across the globe, it’s time to travel and see the world outside the gym. Paris and the Greek islands top the list.
Before the small-town gal from Tennessee can continue her jet-setting, she’ll be honored for what she traveled America to help cultivate — equality for women through sport. Dunn, 66, will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June 2014.
The memorable year could be her last as a coach after 43 years. Her contract expires in 2014, and the organization is grooming associate head coach Stephanie White to succeed Dunn.
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“I’m qualified for Medicare and social security now, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dunn, whose Fever played Seattle on Saturday.
In many ways, Dunn paved the basketball tunnel for women. She began her career in 1970, starting three college programs and one professional team in the Storm. She developed Final Four programs, conference champions in the defunct ABL and coached Indiana to the 2012 WNBA championship.
Still adored at KeyArena, it pleases Dunn to think how she laid the groundwork for what is now dubbed “Storm Crazies.”
“When you build a program and see them continue to be successful, that’s the ultimate prize,” Dunn said of being the first piece of a WNBA franchise with no name, logo, players or fans. “I was thrilled when they won their first championship (2004) because I knew I had a part in that by drafting Sue (Bird) and Lauren (Jackson). I knew they were franchise players who had the chance to win multiple championships.”
Bird, a seven-time All-Star point guard, still marvels at Dunn’s accomplishment in Seattle.
“Her personality and the way she is, I can’t think of anybody better to do it,” Bird said.
Dunn’s first job in 1970 was starting the women’s program at Austin Peay in Clarksville, Tenn., when she was 23. She also coached the volleyball and tennis teams, oversaw the cheerleading squad and taught eight physical education classes.
She was paid $7,000 and an extra $500 for chaperoning the cheerleaders to men’s basketball and football games. She didn’t receive anything for coaching the other teams.
In 1977, she stared a program at Ole Miss. The school paid her $15,000, and she didn’t have to teach. Dunn went on to start the team at Miami (1978-87), then went to Purdue (1987-96) before winning Coach of the Year in the ABL (1998) and becoming the Storm’s inaugural coach from 2000-03.
When examining the evolution of her career in basketball, Dunn can whittle what she has enjoyed most to one word.
“Opportunity,” said Dunn, who was named Indiana’s coach in 2007. “Opportunity for scholarships. Opportunity to be provided resources to compete and access to facilities. All of the things Title IX has created are huge and we’ve seen some of the benefits of it.
“One thing I hope women will learn is we don’t have to follow down the same path that the men go down. We don’t have to overspend. We don’t have to have 10 assistants and have enormous budgets. College athletics, from my perspective, is a little out of control. College professors don’t even make a tenth of what a college football coach makes, so it seems that things have gotten a little out of whack.”
Not that Dunn will transition into the politics of athletics. She envisions herself doing consulting work to help women become better coaches.
“If I get into politics, I’m going to get involved in helping Hillary Clinton become President,” Dunn said. “That’s on my bucket list. I never thought I’d see a black person in the Oval Office. Now I’d like to see a woman.”
Dunn told President Barack Obama as much in June. A highlight of her storied career was celebrating the Fever’s title at the White House in June. Dunn nervously fiddled at the podium in the East Room, then told Obama she was a Democrat and voted for him.
In true Southern charm, she then gave him a kiss on the cheek and a high five. More importantly, she thanked Obama and his family for what they’ve done to empower women.
Dunn’s only somber moment regarding the President and the pending induction into the Hall of Fame in her native Tennessee, is her mother can’t share it.
LaRue Dunn died in December 2012 at the age of 92. She viewed the Fever’s championship series against Minnesota in October from her nursing home, however.
“I’m sure glad you beat that Bill Laimbeer,” Dunn said of her mother’s words. The Lynx are actually coached by Cheryl Reeve. “Mom thinks he’s the coach of every team.”
Some could think the same of Dunn after her numerous stops around the country and stints with USA Basketball teams. Fittingly, she’ll enter the Hall in Knoxville, Tenn., 323 miles from where basketball began for Dunn at Dresden High School.
Dunn played two seasons of six-on-six hoops from 1965-66. She could only play intramural sports in college at Tennessee-Martin, graduating in 1969 – three years before Title IX was implemented.
“She has been a trailblazer for the game and a catalyst for a lot of positive change,” said Karen Bryant, the Storm’s president and CEO. She hired Dunn in 1999. “Her passion is still really high, so I hope she continues to have the opportunity to make an impact.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.