Anne Donovan, who won Olympic gold in women’s basketball as a player and a coach, died Wednesday of heart failure at 56.
“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,” Donovan’s family said in a statement. “Anne touched many lives as a daughter, sister, aunt, friend and coach.”
A towering presence on the court at 6-8, Donovan led Old Dominion to an AIAW national championship in 1980, teaming with Nancy Lieberman. She was also a member of the U.S. Olympic teams that won gold in 1984 and 1988.
After college, she played five seasons professionally in Japan and one in Italy.
She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
The youngest of eight children, Donovan didn’t plan to pursue a career in the game after playing.
“I never suspected I’d get into coaching,” she told USA TODAY Sports in 2008. “When I did, I loved it. But the core of who I am, when I leave the court and go home, is a pretty solitary life.”
Donovan started as an assistant coach at her alma mater, Old Dominion, for six seasons. Then she spent three as coach at East Carolina.
An introvert, Donovan said she found her space on the sidelines.
“That basketball family is the reason I got into basketball,” Donovan said. “So when I left my family I went into a different family where I could be myself, expand a little bit and get comfortable in my own skin. And I think that’s what has been so addicting for me. The basketball business for me, it’s my own family, my own way, and it’s very comfortable. It’s not a stretch at all.”
She coached the Seattle Storm to a WNBA title in 2004 and the U.S. Olympic team to gold in 2008.
“If she’s an introvert, she’s done an excellent job coming out of her shell,” Olympic point guard Sue Bird, who also played five seasons for Donovan with the Seattle Storm, told USA TODAY Sports in 2008. “Anne is a real players’ coach. She’s in tune. She knows when we need a day off or when we need to go hard.”
Donovan was the first female coach to win a WNBA title, and at 42, also the youngest.
She also spent time with the Philadelphia Rage, Indiana Fever, Charlotte Sting, Storm, N.Y. Liberty and Connecticut Sun during her time in the WNBA.
Donovan left the league for a three-year stint with Seton Hall before returning, this time with the Sun. She coached there for two seasons and retired in 2015.
Contributing: Erik Brady
Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner