Betty Lennox Shares Her Heart
The former WNBA Finals MVP spends her offseason giving back.
by Ben York
In a world where professional athletes are known for having gaudy homes, flashy cars and countless material possessions, Betty Lennox has broken the mold.
This off-season, Lennox is interning at Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City for the second time.
Ask yourself this – how many professional athletes can you name that would do something similar? Certainly, the list wouldn’t be very long. In a society where we hear far more negative things regarding sports stars, Lennox’s passion for benevolence is a refreshing story.
“To be able to meet the families, build their homes along side them, and seeing their happiness is truly the best part,” says Lennox of her experiences with Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity is a 501©(3) non-profit Christian ministry working to fulfill the dream of home ownership for low-income families across the world. Lennox is currently in the middle of her second internship for the Kansas City affiliate and loves every minute of it.
“It’s really about the volunteers,” Lennox said. “To see volunteers come out every week is unbelievable. It’s amazing to see how dedicated they are. To do something like this for so many less fortunate families is so great.”
Lennox has always made a point to aid those less fortunate since she understands, first hand, how difficult life can be. One of nine children in her family, she learned the value of hard work and sweat equity growing up on a farm in Hugo, Oklahoma loading hay bales for entire days. With five older brothers, Lennox quickly developed a competitive spirit and fire that has led to an incredibly successful WNBA career.
Though, for as much as she has accomplished in the WNBA, one could make a legitimate argument that she hasn’t fully received the level of respect she deserves as a player. With a resume that includes Rookie of the Year, WNBA Champion, WNBA Finals MVP, and All-Star Lennox has proven to be a key ingredient for success wherever she goes. There are very few who are faster with the ball than Lennox and far less who do a better job of creating their own shot. Lennox’s endlessly energetic style of play, especially with such a small (yet, deceivingly strong) frame is quite unique in the WNBA.
“I’ve used that [lack of respect] to motivate myself and it has gotten me to where I am today,” said Lennox. “God has blessed me with the chance to play over 10 years in the WNBA and I have to give all the credit to him. One of my goals before my career is over is to always strive to get better and get to that level of respect that the Candace Parker’s and the Diana Taurasi’s have. I take basketball very seriously and will always have that focus and motivation to get better.”
After (by their standards) a disappointing finish in the Western Conference Finals in 2009, the Los Angeles Sparks will need a big year from Lennox in 2010 to get to where many people think they can – the WNBA Finals. With the retirement of Lisa Leslie and Michael Cooper handing over the coaching reigns to Jennifer Gillom, the Sparks are in a state of transition.
“Lisa [Leslie] will truly be missed,” Lennox said. “She did so much for the game and everyone has so much respect for her. Also, Michael Cooper will be missed and he’s done a lot for the Sparks organization – a truly good person on and off the court. But, the future is still bright. We still believe we have the right tools and keys to win a championship. Jennifer Gillom is an excellent coach and will bring a fresh, new perspective to the team that I think we need. We’ll have a few new players, a couple new pieces, but I think we’ll surprise a lot of people. It’s all about checking our ego’s at the door and uniting around a common cause – winning.”
There is still a drive that is unmistakable in Lennox for getting over that proverbial hump, for always improving. It doesn’t matter that she’s already won a championship in the WNBA. That was yesterday – no time to be content. The mind-boggling work ethic she learned growing up, that nothing should be taken for granted, is evident in her character today. Quite simply, there is always something that Betty works to improve.
Even as a young woman in college, Lennox realized she’d need to do better in school in order to complete her degree. Because of this, Betty made the difficult choice to take a year off playing ball to focus on her studies and earn a degree in Psychology.
“Looking back, and I was very young then, I’m proud of myself for making that decision,” Lennox said. “I give a lot of credit to my family for keeping me on track and helping me focus on class while giving up a year of basketball. I know I’m not able to play basketball forever. I’m glad I did that and believe it’s going to pay off in the end.”
For Lennox today, the same drive she possesses to get better on the basketball court has carried over to her own non-profit foundation. The Lennox Foundation 22 focuses on helping children get past neglect and abuse while assisting various shelters and homes with their educational programs. Like her insatiable thirst to improve her game, Lennox has a similar desire to help children going through these unfortunate horrors.
“The foundation is a very, very big part of my life and career,” Lennox said. “I’ve been very involved. I see the foundation being my focal point in life when I’m done playing. The foundation raises as much money as we can for neglected and abused kids, but there are so many more that we need to reach. We have to show these kids that they are loved and needed.”
Lennox may very well play another 5-7 years in the WNBA. And while her focus is still on becoming the best player she can be, Lennox would be just as happy being known for her charitable legacy as she would a prominent figure in the WNBA.
That type of passion and enthusiasm isn’t something you can teach. For Lennox, it’s simply a part of who she is.