Kara Lawson’s basketball resume resembles a movie script.
As one the nation’s top recruits coming out of West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia, she won two NCAA national championships at the University of Tennessee under the late coaching legend Pat Summitt. She played more than a decade in the WNBA, winning a championship in 2005. She also won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 for the USA women’s basketball team.
But even with all those accolades, the 36-year-old Washington Wizards analyst for NBC Sports Washington continues to make history, being one of only two women working full-time in that capacity in the NBA. She already has 14 years of previous broadcast experience at ESPN on television and radio analyzing college and professional basketball.
While she continues to study and analyze basketball, she co-chairs the Pat Summitt Foundation advisory board with former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.
Even with basketball and community service work, she maintains a cross-country marriage with her husband, Damien Barling, who co-hosts a radio show in Sacramento.
One day after the Wizards lost at home to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 7, the D.C. area native chatted about a normal routine, social issues and of course, the Wizards.
Here are some of Lawson’s thoughts, in her own words:
‘It’s just normal’
I think back to when I was a kid. I know how powerful seeing something is, whether you admit it or not. Seeing someone in a spot, even if it’s subliminal, gives you affirmation that like, ‘Hey, that’s something I can do.’ That’s something that is out there for me. When I was kid and I saw women playing basketball and I saw Jackie Joyner-Kersee lifting weights. When I saw Robin Roberts. I didn’t think I wanted to be a host. I didn’t want to be on TV, but you look at it and say, ‘Hey, that’s possible.’ Maybe not for me, but for whoever. Someone that wants to do it. I think now it is a point with the WNBA being around for 21 seasons, it is very normal for most people in society to have a respect for a professional basketball player who is a woman. That’s normal now. I think it brings more of an awareness and lends itself for being consuming a broadcast where the woman is the analyst. It’s my 15th year, so I’m not new to people. They’ve seen me before. They are familiar with some part of my journey, especially in this area. That familiarity helps with being ok with it that a woman is doing the games. I didn’t have an expectation either way. I have been pleasantly surprised to have easy it has been, not the job itself, but the stuff surrounding it in terms of interaction with the players, coaches and the front office and the fans and social media. I haven’t had any issues. I think that speaks to the evolution of society in itself. It took me two weeks, or three weeks [into the Wizards job], one of my friends asked me, ‘Well, how is it in practice? Is it weird?’ It doesn’t feel any different. It’s just normal, which is what you want it be.
My last season was in 2015. Although social issues have been around for decades, but in terms of the athletes really stepping forward and saying, ‘I want to be a part of the conversation and I want to bring awareness to this,’ that started after I stopped playing in 2016. The WNBA was one of the leading forces before [former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick] even did what he did. I was an observer just like you were. I wasn’t in there having those conversations in the locker room with players. While I’ve had those conversations in my personal life, I kind of just missed that piece of it [as a player]. I would hope that every person would want to help each other. It’s definitely made me look more internally and say, ‘What are you doing to help bring about change in your own way?’ Everybody’s way is going to be different on how they can impact positively. I’m one of the co-chairs along with [former NFL quarterback] Peyton Manning with the Pat Summitt Foundation. A lot my charity work in recent years has been centered on helping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, which afflicts most older people. But diagnoses are happening younger and younger. I’m involved in not just the events, but also planning. It’s good when you take ownership of something and do your best about positive change in the community. That’s a lesson we all should learn from. Every citizen should be more active in trying to help people and trying to decrease the inequality that exists.
It’s a team that came into the year with high expectations. Most people have said [the Wizards] has underperformed. In fact, they would say they have underperformed. I think what we all do is we take for granted is how hard it is to be an elite team and how easy the elite teams make it look. You watch Golden State play, or you watch Cleveland play, or you watch that type of team play. The Wizards are a team that aspires to get to their level. You’re like, ‘Yeah, just beat Dallas on Tuesday. That’s nothing. Beat L.A. [Lakers] on Thursday. We’ll go 4-0 on this home stand.’ It’s not that easy, even though records may look a certain way. Every night in this league guys are good. Dallas was 1-10, but look at that team. There are guys on that team that can hoop. It’s like the ultimate theater. That’s what makes this job fun. You get a chance to observe and see. [The Wizards] have these three guys in John and Brad and Otto that are signed for the next four years. There’s a roster certainty of guys that improve and they have not just from statistically, but from a maturity standpoint, work ethic standpoint. They continue to grow every year and that should make you excited. That should make you optimistic in where this team can grow. This team hasn’t hit their ceiling and that’s exciting. In the NBA where there’s so much turnover now from team to team, you actually have a group of guys you know will be on your team and can root for and invest your time and spirit into. With this team, I feel like you can take that leap of faith and buy in with this group. It’s been well worth my time and investment to be around these guys. I hope the fans see it, too.