Since her time playing in the WNBA, Jamila Wideman’s career has been anything but predictable, but her focus on mentorship and care has remained at the forefront. After graduating from Stanford University — where she played for the NCAA’s winningest coach, Tara VanDerveer — she entered the inaugural WNBA draft in 1997 and was the third overall pick by the Los Angeles Sparks. While in the league, she launched two mentorship programs: Stanford Athletic Alliance and the youth-focused Hoopin’ With Jamila. After four years, Wideman left the WNBA to attend NYU law school. As an attorney, she represented incarcerated individuals and low-income populations facing eviction. Now, Wideman works for the NBA as the senior vice-president of player development, where she basically manages everything that happens off the court for the players. She leads the league’s endeavors to promote the personal and social development of NBA players and works with rookies to educate them during their transition into the league. This week on the In Her Shoes podcast, she spoke with Cut editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples about the importance of mentorship and her career trajectory.
Listen and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read highlights from the interview below.
On her first memories of basketball:
My earliest memories are of going to the university rec gym in Wyoming, where every single Saturday and Sunday morning my dad, my brothers, and I would show up for the pickup games that were there. I was probably no taller than my dad’s knee when my first memories started being in the gym, smelling the gym, and hearing the rhythm of the basketball. I was trying to get shots up while the five-on-five game was at the other end of the court, and then trying to get off the court in time before they stampeded back down toward my end.
On what drew her to law:
One of the silver linings of being a woman athlete is that I had a mind toward what I wanted to do when I was done playing. In some ways, the WNBA was an interruption of a path that I had already started to dream about and imagine. I always knew that I wanted to go back to law school. That seed had been planted by my mom, who actually attended law school when I was in high school. She was an incredible inspiration as somebody who had always had a dream to go to law school and put it off as she raised us kids, but she ended up going back, was an incredible student and an incredible advocate; I had a real front-row seat to watching her do that.
On how the league is improving on the mental-health front:
One of the most rewarding things that we’ve done has been through our Mind Health program. It is an NBA initiative and program that is essentially the league’s mental-health and wellness imprint. Watching the evolution of how players, coaches, teams, and league staff have begun to invest differently in holistic wellness as a core part of how we think about performance health has probably been one of the most impactful evolutions that I’ve been able to witness and be a part of here at the league.