STANDING TALL: How WNBA Player Ruth Riley Copes with Championship Stress


Sunday night I watched in awe as the Minnesota Lynx pounded the Atlanta Dream 84-59 in game one of the 2013 WNBA Championship. These amazingly talented athletes made the game look so effortless and fluid. Me, I’d be lucky to make a basket granny style on a Fischer-Price I Can Play Basketball.

I am rather petite… well… short, really. I name it and claim it.  The vertically challenged gene is a powerful part of my DNA and part of my identity. Of course, I knew early on that I would never play hoops or volleyball competitively without humiliating myself, so it may come as a surprise that I am a huge basketball fan.

Oddly enough, my love of the sport didn’t come about until I became a writer in 2005. With the publication of my first book, How Do You Know He’s Real, ( I had the opportunity to interview several professional basketball players. I discovered we had a strong connection that wasn’t due to a shared prowess on the court; it was because of our shared Christian faith. I spoke with NBA players Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic), Mike James (Chicago Bulls), Andrew DeClercq (retired), and WNBA greats Alana Beard (Los Angeles Sparks), and Ruth Riley (Atlanta Dream).

Ruth Riley was brought back to the front of my mind on Sunday night when she began her quest for her third WNBA championship on Sunday against my beloved Minnesota Lynx. It wasn’t a great night for the Atlanta Dream, but it was fun seeing her in action.



At first blush, Ruth is nothing short of intimidating.  A hair under 6’ 5” and weighing in at 198, the 12-year veteran center is a powerful force. (I’m only 4’ 10”… you do the math.) We certainly can’t forget that she also received gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games.

Being in the spotlight with thousands of sports fans analyzing your every move can be daunting, but her faith in God keeps Riley grounded, gives her hope, and boosts her confidence. “I think it would be very easy, if you didn’t have faith, to get caught up in success that’s only measured by wins, or by stats, or by points,” she shares.  I think my faith really gives me something to go back to and really check in some ways as to what my priorities are. It gives me confidence, because I know that I’m fulfilling a purpose that God has for me.” Her peace stems from her understanding that God loves her whether she wins or loses.

Ruth’s passion extends off the basketball court to the far reaches of South Africa. In addition to teaching basketball clinics, she is also a spokesperson for Nothing But Nets, a global grassroots campaign to raise awareness and funding to fight malaria, a leading cause of death among children in Africa. Funds raised through the organization go toward the cost of purchasing long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets. For more information, check out

Game 2 of the WNBA Championship airs tonight at 7 pm on ESPN2.

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