INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Last summer, Erica Wheeler had the entire sports world in tears.
The once-forgotten professional prospect out of Rutgers University miraculously earned a spot on her first career WNBA All-Star Game roster.
WNBA coaches from around the league voted the point guard in — and she delivered: 25 points, 7 assists and one Most Valuable Player trophy.
“I use my mom as my motivation,” Wheeler said during the postgame interview with ESPN. “I lost her when I was in college to cancer, so I just keep moving because I know she’s watching me more than ever.”
“This one’s really for you, mom.”
With that performance, followed by the emotional words postgame, Wheeler officially had scrapped her way from a tiny professional league in Puerto Rico and into the hearts of anyone up for a good story.
“I’m so proud of her,” Fever General Manager Tamika Catchings said. “She put a post up earlier today, just kind of talking about how far along she’s come in the last five years. I would even argue, how far she’s come in the last year.”
Wheeler’s chance to follow up her career year hasn’t happened just yet. The WNBA season is set to start in July, with all teams playing in bubble format in Florida much alike the NBA’s plans during the coronavirus pandemic. But, Wheeler is busy running the point on a more important task.
“Me and Anthony Walker from the Colts, we went and did a peaceful march and it was amazing to see more of the white community out there than the blacks,” Wheeler said. “Nobody’s expecting the world to change completely in one night.”
“If anybody knows that, I know that, because just coming from my career. It takes four or five years to get where you want to be.”
Statistically, Erica Wheeler is one of the top-two undrafted players in WNBA history.
However, her lasting legacy in Indiana may have just come two weeks ago.
During a joint virtual town hall meeting between the Pacers and Fever, Wheeler shared her life story and much of what she has had to deal with in her daily life as an African American woman.
Her words brought tears across the two clubs.
“I want to personally thank someone, right now, from the bottom of my heart,” Pacers President Kevin Pritchard said during a zoom call that followed with local media. “When Erica spoke… it was part of the most powerful hour I have ever had in my entire life.”
“I think it was fitting for me to do it,” Wheeler said. “I mean, sometimes you’re just placed in a spot where you just don’t know if you’re ready, and you really are ready.”
Sometimes our dreams are delayed for a reason.
Mom knows this moment — belongs to her little girl.