Taj McWilliams-Franklin is a hard person to miss in a crowd.
Standing 6’2” (and three quarters) in flats, though she prefers heels during Dallas Wings games, the team’s assistant coach radiates an energy that is seemingly limitless. The six-time WNBA All-Star joined the Wings from Connecticut, where she was coaching at Post University. Her role with the Dallas Wings is the latest step in a career that has taken her from balancing young motherhood and basketball at St. Edwards University to having a successful career in the WNBA, where she won two championships, with raising strong and successful daughters.
An Army brat raised in Georgia, Florida and Hawaii who spent her formative years in segregated Augusta, GA, Taj didn’t begin playing sports until 15. Though she planned on playing sports in college, she envisioned a career as a writer or in the FBI. All these plans changed when she found out that she was pregnant with her first child, a daughter named Michele, before heading to school.
As a collegiate athlete, Taj found a network of assistance through her teammates, college professors and university administrators who provided a safe place for Michele while Taj practiced and went to class. The help went up all the way up the hierarchy to the president of the college, who played a pivotal role in welcoming the small family during a time when most schools weren’t equipped to support students who were also parents.
“It was important to me to be the person that raised my daughter,” Taj says of her early years of motherhood. “It was definitely a community effort to raise Michele. There was always someone there to step in and give me help; they understood that I was a mom first, then a student and an athlete.”
While in school, Taj had a second daughter, Schera, whom she put up for adoption. After finishing her studies in the 1993, years before the WNBA launched, Taj went to play on the international basketball circuit in Germany, Israel and Luxembourg. Michele remained in the care of Taj’s mother and her then-boyfriend, and Taj describes these years as a “struggle,” when phone calls to home often cost hundreds of dollars.
When she returned stateside, Taj played in the American Basketball League as part of the Richmond Rage (later the Philadelphia Rage) from 1996 to 1998 before joining the Orlando Miracle as a 1999 draft pick. During her playing career, she won championships with the Detroit Shock (2008) and the Minnesota Lynx (2011). She also had another daughter, MaiaSimone, in 2003 with husband Reginald Franklin.
In 2012, Taj joined the coaching staff at Rice University, followed by coaching stints at the WNBA New York Liberty, Boston University and Post University. As part of the Dallas Wings staff, Taj is close to her husband and youngest daughter in San Antonio, as well as her eldest daughter, who is now 28.
Of her career in sports, Taj says “Basketball helped me develop my own voice and who I wanted to be as an ambassador of this sport, of young mothers, of those who struggle ever day or grew up with less than. I’ve felt the guilt of being a mom and an athlete. But I’m also privileged that I have the opportunity to do this – play and coach – and also be the mother and wife I want to be.”