Known to fans as the “Jamaican Hurricane”, Simone Edwards’ involvement with basketball was the result of a chance encounter at a high school event. She did not play basketball in high school. She was spotted by two American college basketball coaches after competing in a track meet in Jamaica. That began her journey towards becoming the first Caribbean and first Jamaican player in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
But getting there was tough. Growing up poor in Kingston, Jamaica, in a gang-infested village, she knew she wanted to achieve more to enable her to help her mother who was working so hard to cater to the family, doing all kinds of menial work. Edwards at the time had heard of athletes going on scholarships to the U.S. and she wanted the opportunity for herself so that she could help take care of her mother and her three siblings.
So when two strangers walked up to her offering a Basketball scholarship even though she didn’t actually know the game, she grabbed the opportunity.
“I just said yes”, Edwards recalled in an interview.
The two strangers, who introduced themselves as basketball coaches, approached her while she was competing for her high school in the 100-meter event at the national high school girl’s championship. They offered her a basketball scholarship to the USA, largely based on her height and athletic abilities.
“All that was required was that I learned in one year,” she said. “Basketball was the platform that offered me a way out, and the opportunity to get a higher education so that I could help my mom and to break the cycle of abject poverty to which we were accustomed.”
After learning basketball for a year, Edwards accepted a scholarship to Seminole State College in Oklahoma. She recounted arriving in the U.S. with a suitcase of warm clothes and $100 which her family raised for her. She lived in the dorm on campus and even though she felt out of place from the beginning, she was able to fit in thanks to her teammates, coach and mentors who became her support system.
Edwards first grabbed everyone’s attention on the court while playing for Seminole State College, leading the team to an undefeated conference record, ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association Top 10. While there, she received numerous top sports awards and became the First Kodak All-American in the school’s history.
She then became team co-captain at the University of Iowa and after graduating, Edwards was selected by the New York Liberty in the 1997 inaugural WNBA season. She competed internationally, leading teams to championships trophies before signing with the Seattle Storm in 2000 and eventually becoming a WNBA champion in 2004.
In 2006 when she retired from the league, she was selected to represent her home country, Jamaica, at the 2006 Caribbean Basketball Confederation Championships. Edwards won the country’s first-ever gold medal. In 2014, she returned to the team as head coach, winning yet another gold medal at the championship. Prior to that, she had joined Radford University as an assistant to Head Coach Jeri Porter from 2007 to 2008.
Off the court, Edwards has been speaking out on issues of bullying, self-esteem and sexual abuse. In 2000 while with the Storm, she founded the Simone4Children Organization to educate and uplift children, providing school supplies, clothing, and food to underprivileged children. Edwards has also started a girls’ empowerment movement in Jamaica called Girls Untapped and has been the director of the national basketball for youth, both male and female, in Jamaica.
The professional athlete recently authored her memoir “Unstoppable: A Memoir of Adversity, Perseverance & Triumph,” through her company, Diverse Writers Room. She details how she was able to “find the inner strength to maintain hope in the face of opposition.”
In 2017, the Jamaican government awarded Edwards with the Order of Distinction (OD), which may be conferred upon any citizen of Jamaica who renders outstanding and important services to Jamaica and upon any distinguished citizen of a country other than Jamaica. That same year, she accepted the duties of spokesperson for Caribbean American Heritage Month to highlight the contributions of Caribbean Americans.
At the moment, more than 42.4 million immigrants live in the United States to pursue opportunities and dreams. Many of these immigrants believe in the American Dream and are optimistic about achieving it despite the political climate and threats they face almost every day. Edwards is living proof of that dream.
The 6’4” former center has since started a basketball academy to help and motivate underserved children in her home country Jamaica to learn the game of basketball as a vehicle to get scholarships, learn communication skills, among others.
“Who knows, they could one day become even more successful than Simone Edwards,” she said.