Nikki McCray-Penson, who was a key member of the legendary 1996 Olympic squad that launched the United States’ current streak of seven straight gold medals, died on Friday. She was 51 years old at the time of death.
During the 1990s, McCray-Penson was a star for the Lady Vols in her home state of Tennessee. She later played in the ABL and WNBA and worked as a head coach in the NCAA.
McCray-Penson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 while still part of the South Carolina coaching team. She assisted the legendary Dawn Staley in South Carolina’s 2017 championship victory.
McCray-Penson’s cousin Robert Penson confirmed that she died during the night as a result of breast cancer-related secondary complications.
McCray-Penson had a long, illustrious career in both the WNBA and the American Basketball League. Prior to entering the ABL as a professional, she began her career at the University of Tennessee.
“Thank you my little sister, my friend, my foxhole partner, my teammate, my fast food snacker, my basketball junkie, my fellow Olympian, my gold medalist and now my angel,” Staley posted to Twitter along with a statement. “… Suffer no more Nik Nik.”
With the American women’s basketball team, McCray-Penson won gold medals at the Olympics in 1996 and 2000. The WNBA and ABL were both founded as a result of the 1996 team. She participated in the ABL and was named MVP in 1997 before switching to the WNBA. As a member of the Washington Mystics, McCray-Penson was named to the league’s All-Star team three times.
She played eight seasons in the WNBA before retiring in 2006. She was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky for three seasons. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.