Review: CHAMIQUE by Chamique Holdsclaw

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Cover shows Black woman leaned over, dribbling a basketball

Chamique: On Family, Focus, and Basketball
Chamique Holdsclaw with Jennifer Frey
Scribner, 2000
189 pages

Buy: ebook

Much like Brittney Griner’s In My Skin, Chamique is a slapped-together memoir by a college basketball wunderkind, Chamique Holdsclaw, following the player’s uneven rookie year in the pros. Where In My Skin charmed with Griner’s honesty and desire for self-improvement, Chamique broke hearts with a tale that has since been proven to be an elaborate façade—although it’s not easy to tell if Holdsclaw herself understood the book’s content was a façade at the time.

This is pretty astounding, considering the many beans that Holdsclaw is willing to spill in Chamique. Pre-teen Holdsclaw is effectively forced to steal money from her parents, themselves nonfunctional alcoholics, to get food for herself and her younger brother, Davon. As she grows older, Holdsclaw dishes dirt about plenty of her professional relationships, including her displeasure with her WNBA team, the Washington (D.C.) Mystics, for allowing her closest friend on the team, backup Rita Williams, to be signed elsewhere.

What the reader could not have known at the time of the book’s release, however, is how much of her life Holdsclaw kept bottled inside. Not that we the basketball-watching public—or even Holdsclaw’s basketball-playing colleagues—must know, or deserve to know, these things. But eventually Holdsclaw was unable to continue her visible career without having things get out.

For instance: Holdsclaw, like Griner, is a lesbian. Unlike Griner, who came out gradually to her friends in high school, Holdsclaw was still in the closet when writing this book, which includes jabs from teammates about how she had only ever had one boyfriend.

Far more poignantly: Holdsclaw was living her life—under others’ expectation that she would be the new bright face of women’s basketball in the twenty-first century—while walking around with undiagnosed mental illness that truncated her career and no doubt threw her personal life into disarray. Holdsclaw’s college teammate Tamika Catchings was celebrated in this year’s WNBA All-Star Game; it’s easier to find videos of Holdsclaw messily working through personal issues on reality TV than it is to find her basketball highlights.

In the same ways that Griner has slammed into a whole bunch of institutional resistance by carrying so many personal quirks, Holdsclaw was hardly helped by basketball—ironically, cruelly, the thing that she was blessed with mastering. My hope for Chamique now, in her first years of life without basketball, is that she will find rest.

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