Kim Mulkey is brave. She took a leap of faith in 2000 that would define her. Twenty years later, it would land her in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame along with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. She would become the first person in NCAA women’s basketball history to win a national championship as a player, assistant coach, and head coach and the third NCAA women’s basketball coach to win three national championships.
From an early age, Mulkey was athletic and driven. She was one of the first girls in the US to play baseball with boys. When she was 12 years old, she played two years of Pony League baseball and made the all-star team two of the three years. In high school, she led the basketball team to four straight championships.
Mulkey is more than sports. She graduated as her class’ valedictorian with a perfect 4.0-grade point average. She received academic honors as an inductee into the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic Hall of Fame for her achievements at Louisiana Tech. She has the brains to go along with her athletic prowess.
Mulkey’s coaching career naturally started at her Alma Mater, Louisiana Tech, where she was an All-American point guard leading the team to two National Championships. She started out as an assistant and then moved to associate head coach where she helped the team get to four Final Fours and one championship in 1988.
Mulkey’s life would take a drastic shift years later making the biggest decision of her life and changing the course of her history. She was the heir apparent to Leon Barmore, who had been Tech’s coach for 20 years. She wanted a five-year contract, they would only offer her four.
“I went through every feeling imaginable,” Mulkey wrote in her 2007 book, Won’t Back Down. “I got out of my chair, onto my knees, and begged that man for a five-year contract. Tears were flying everywhere. It was humiliating.”
When Lousiana Tech wouldn’t change its mind and give her a five-year contract, she decided, “It was time to go.”
She took a giant leap of faith. She left the only state she had ever lived in for a basketball program in Texas that had only won seven games the year before she arrived, was last in the Big 12 Conference, and had never been invited to the NCAA tournament. Looking back it seems like the obvious choice, but to leave a program over one more year on her contract takes guts. To Mulkey, it was about loyalty and she wanted hers reciprocated. She had been at Tech for 15 years and she had been waiting for that head coaching job to open.
Mulkey was ready to be a head coach and destined for success. What she did for Baylor women’s basketball is unprecedented. She completely overhauled it. In her first year, she led the Lady Bears to their first-ever NCAA tournament bid. They have gone to postseason play and won 20 games every season since her arrival.
In 2012, Mulkey made NCAA history by leading the Lady Bears to a perfect 40–0 season, the most wins in college basketball history, men or women. She won the NCAA national championship that year as well as in 2019, becoming the third coach to win three or more NCAA Division I women’s basketball championships, joining Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Tennessee’s Pat Summitt.
She told ESPN in a recent interview, “Thank God for unanswered prayers. I would never have made the money I make now, have the resources I have now. I would never have known it. I give the analogy that you don’t know what wine tastes like if you’ve never tasted it. So you’ll keep drinking Cokes and water.”
Mulkey rose from her knees and became a legend on the court. It was her bold choice to leave Louisiana Tech that defined her and put her in the Hall of Fame. Her story leaves me wondering though, why wouldn’t Louisiana Tech give her one more year? Boy, they sure missed out.