Women’s basketball legend and Hall of Famer Anne Donovan has died of heart failure at age 56, her family said in a statement on Wednesday.
“While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being,” the statement said. “Anne touched many lives as a daughter, sister, aunt, friend and coach.”
Donovan’s impact extended beyond the court, where she starred as a player and a coach.
In her decades-long career, Donovan continually shattered expectations.
• She earned a coveted spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995
• She was part of the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999
• In 2015 she was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame
She first gained national attention in the late 1970s, when she was just a student from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey.
By the spring of 1979, the native of Ridgewood, N.J., already was cementing her status as a star, fielding offers from more than 200 colleges and universities.
Donovan, who played center, eventually committed to Norfolk’s Old Dominion University, which at the time held the No. 1 ranking in women’s college basketball. The then-17-year-old told The Washington Post that her ultimate goal was to make the 1980 women’s Olympic team.
Not only did Donovan make the 1980 Olympic team, but she also earned a spot in 1984 and 1988, helping lead the United States to two gold medals.
At Old Dominion, she was a powerhouse and was instrumental in securing a national championship title for the Lady Monarchs in 1980.
When she retired as a player and turned to coaching, her success continued. In 2004, while coaching the Seattle Storm, she made history as the first female coach to win a Women’s National Basketball Association championship.
Four years later, in Beijing, she helmed the U.S. Olympic team, this time as head coach, and led the American women to another gold medal.
As news of Donovan’s death spread, players, coaches, teams, journalists and fans took time to honor her.
“Anne was a giant in every sense of the word, and I know the women’s basketball community is saddened beyond words by this tragic news,” said Val Ackerman, who was the WNBA’s first president.
Social media was quickly inundated with tributes from every corner of the sports world as admirers remembered her.
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist DeLisha Milton-Jones tweeted, “My heart literally has hit the floor with an overwhelmingly instant feeling of grief.”
On Facebook, Michelle Brooke-Marciniak, a former WNBA point guard, called Donovan a “TRUE players coach in every sense.”
“She is the kind of coach you look back on and you are grateful for the balance she brought to you as a player,” she wrote. “Anne knew what we needed as players, was very tough yet was never unfair or unreasonable. She cared and we knew it and you wanted to run through brick walls for her. “
Aside from the Seattle Storm, Donovan coached WNBA teams in Indiana and Charlotte, which she led to the 2001 WNBA Finals, New York and Connecticut. She also returned to the collegiate level to serve as head coach at Seton Hall University from 2010 to 2013.
Beyond her achievements, Donovan is remembered for her character and dedication to the sport, many praising her for her humility and integrity.