The 51-year-old died on July 7 following a bout with pneumonia, and had previously been diagnosed with cancer in 2013
Family and friends filled Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday to celebrate the life of former WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Nikki McCray-Penson.
The retired basketball player and coach died on July 7 after suffering from pneumonia, according to Knox News. The 51-year-old had previously been diagnosed with cancer in 2013.
Former Olympic teammates and current colleagues in the coaching world said she made an impact wherever she went.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was among those who spoke in honor of her friend, who served alongside her for nine seasons as an assistant.
"Thomas, you gave Nikki everything she wanted — everything," Staley said, addressing McCray-Penson’s husband. "Thank you for sharing her with us. When I think about you and her, the only thing that I come up with is godly. You were godly ... I know Nikki was a lot. She was a lot, but she was a lot of love. I do regret that I didn't get a chance to verbally tell her I love her. But we lived it. We lived love."
Tiffany Mitchell, who once played for the WNBA Hall of Famer, reminisced about her former coach.
"I don't think she realized the impact that she had on me when I was 15 and 16 years old, and she would always show up for me," Mitchell’s former teammate Shelbretta Ball shared on her behalf. "I could always turn to the sideline and count on her sitting there and smiling and sometimes sneak in a little wave."
McCray-Penson began her basketball career in 1991 at the University of Tennessee. After her time as a college-level standout, she played two seasons in the American Basketball League, where she was an MVP and won the league's championship in 1997.
She won two Olympic gold medals playing for Team USA in 1996 and 2000, and went on to play nine seasons in the WNBA, where she was a three-time All-Star during her time playing for the Washington Mystics. She also played for the Indiana Fever, the Phoenix Mercury, the San Antonio Silver Stars and the Chicago Sky during her time in the league.
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Most recently, she served as an assistant coach for Rutgers University women's basketball.
McCray-Penson leaves behind her husband, Thomas L. Penson, and son Thomas Nikson, and numerous other family members, according to her obituary.
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