Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx highlight the diverse journeys of black women through sports – from veteran athletes to rising stars, coaches, executives and more – in the series, Elle-evate: 100 influential black women in sports.
Shay Murphy is no stranger to fatal events. Whether it’s using basketball as a coping mechanism in the wake of his father’s untimely death, dealing with the untimely loss of his basketball idol Kobe Bryant, or ultimately coming to terms with his As the first black woman associated with coaching the Lakers franchise, the former WNBA star always finds a way to “turn breadcrumbs into bread,” something she attributes to her own Mamba mentality.
Murphy has a natural generosity with which she prioritizes the well-being of the athletes around her, focusing on the mental health of the players she manages to ensure more fairness behind the scenes. Now the 36-year-old worries about the next generation of black women entering, dominating and rebuilding spaces that weren’t built for them.
It was natural for the Los Angeles native to be a longtime Lakers fan, but she never imagined the role basketball would take in her life until her father died in 1996. ” In order for me to go back to school, I had to go through children’s therapy and an after-school program, ”says Murphy.“ Basketball was something to distract me as a 12-year-old mourning the loss of my life. father, literally just to stop crying. ”
This new way of dealing with her grief would set the course for the rest of her life, including an altercation with the man who would become her idol, Kobe Bryant. “We signed up for the YMCA and the same year Kobe entered the NBA with the Lakers. He and Derek Fisher came to talk to my team, ”recalls Murphy. “Everything is so crazy. My father never saw me play. We couldn’t even afford basketball shoes. My whole family participated and bought me my first pair of Nike that same year. Now I work for the Lakers and Nike at the same time.
Murphy went to college at USC and, after a successful college run, was drafted by the Lynx. Ten years after losing his father and starting his basketball journey, Murphy began his 10-year career in the WNBA, playing for the Lynx, Shock, Mystics, Fever, Sky, Mercury and finally the Stars in 2017. His WNBA career was complemented by 10 years as a professional EuroLeague player, playing in Greece, Spain, Russia, Turkey, France and Montenegro during the offseason.
The death of Bryant, which inspired her career and whose path she has closely followed, was another fatal realignment moment for Murphy. Just a few months ago, she had a dream new job at Nike, as an Assistant Product Line Manager, when she heard news of her idol’s death. “I was at church when it happened in Oregon,” she says. “I broke down. Everyone thought I had lost a close family member. And in many ways, Bryant’s death sparked old feelings of losing his father.
“I just got back to Los Angeles to take a week off and mourn the loss,” Murphy said. “It was so crazy, because Kobe died at 41. My father died at 41. Everyone knew my connection to Kobe. He means so much to me. It is my whole mentality. I have applied the Mamba mentality throughout my life, whether in school or physically in the game. “
Her 2021 appointment as an associate coach for the Lakers and her career with Nike were more opportunities for Murphy to challenge the adversity in her path and leave that door open for black women who came after her. “I have just been inserted, like an extraterrestrial, into this new world of corporate America. Without any tools, without any directives, without any integration. Because when you’re the first, not everything is ready for you, ”she says.
When it comes to actual play, Murphy is convinced the Lakers can be in the West’s top five teams, if they follow his four step plan. “With any new team, it takes time,” she says. “We had a great preseason and strong ties. LeBron is a great leader on and off the pitch. But there are four C. Conditioning – you have to be conditioned to play, conditioned to receive, conditioning your mind and body.
“Then there’s the chemistry – it’s going to take time to build. To create a legacy, a dynasty, there’s no gray area in there, either you have it or you don’t. Then there is consistency. You have to do all of this consistently and you have to do it with your teammates. Day and night for 84 matches. Finally, trust. Once you have that, the sky is the limit.
However, based on his own experiences, Murphy knows that nothing can move without sanity in the foreground. She wants her players to know and feel that their emotional intelligence and well-being is as valued as their physical strength. “We say this game is 90% mental and 10% physical. So why don’t we harness emotional intelligence? ” she asks. “Forget sympathy, where’s mental empathy? Rather than being suffocated or overwhelmed by the apparent adversity of being the “first black woman,” Murphy uses her as speed to keep moving forward.
“When I walk into Staples Center every day as the only black woman, I don’t put myself down, neither for Nike, nor for the Lakers. I will always be me, ”she said. Murphy seeks to make long-term changes that will encourage not only her team, but also the black women who follow her to bring their full and nuanced selves into all spaces, transform those spaces, and continue to push the boundaries of what is right. is possible.
“We have come a long way. I will celebrate the small wins, but we still have a long way to go, ”said Murphy. “I think for black women it’s really about empowerment. Some people play the game. Some people are a game changer. I won the game by being my real, authentic self. I am the game. There is not a single seat at the table. We are the table, and you can come and meet with us.
Her solution to the misconceptions black women working in basketball face on a daily basis? Increased representation and more black women at all levels of the game. “We offer a different perspective,” she says. “These corporate spaces, Nike, the Lakers. They have been doing it for 100 years, in their own way, in the white way, in the masculine way. Now there is a new way to do it.
Naya Samuels is a collaborator of Empower Onyx, a diverse, multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sport for black women and girls.
Naya Samuel is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse, multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sport for black women and girls.