Former WNBA Star and Hall of Famer Nikki McCray-Penson Passes Away At 51

Nikki McCray-Penson, a Basketball Hall of Famer and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has passed away, reports ESPN. She was 51.

McCray-Penson’s passing was confirmed by Rutgers University, where she was serving as assistant coach of the women’s basketball team.

“Today is a deeply sad and emotional day for everyone who knew and loved Nikki,” Rutgers head coach Coquese Washington said. “Nikki had a big smile and an even bigger heart. She was full of life, energy and was so much fun to be around. Nikki touched the lives of many because she made it her mission to uplift others and help them achieve whatever dreams and goals they expressed.”

In 2013, McCray was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dawn Staley took to Twitter to pay tribute to her friend, who she described as her “angel.”

“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 shared on Twitter. “… Suffer no more Nik Nik.”

Nikki McCray-Penson launched her standout career at the University of Tennessee in 1991. After her time as a college-level standout, she played two seasons in the American Basketball League, where she won the league’s championship and was named MVP in 1997. 

In her eight-season WNBA career, McCray-Penson played for the Washington Mystics, the Indiana Fever, the Phoenix Mercury, the San Antonio Silver Stars, and the Chicago Sky. She was named to three WNBA All-Star teams (in 1999, 2000, and 2001). She also won two Olympic gold medals playing for Team USA in 1996 and 2000. In 2012, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Following her playing career, the WNBA baller joined the coaching staff as an assistant for the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2008 where she won the NCAA Women’s Championship in 2017. She went on to coach at Old Dominion and Mississippi State.

Two-time WNBA MVP and Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson also offered her condolences on Twitter.

“Heart hurts like crazy over this one!  Such a fighter and a warrior with the sweetest gentle soul! Coach McCray, you’ve helped me in many many ways, and you were a true gift from God! Truly will be missed! No more suffering, no more pain! God got a good one,” Wilson’s post read

She is survived by her husband Thomas Penson, and their son, Thomas Jr.

We at EBONY extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Nikki McCray-Penson.

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Updated: July 10, 2023 — 3:01 pm