The germ of an idea was first planted in Ivory Latta’s mind during a 2008 visit to the White House, when children’s book author Charles R. Smith leaned across the table he and the WNBA player were sharing with first lady Laura Bush and said, “Have you ever thought about writing your story?”
The Washington Mystics reserve point guard, then playing with Atlanta, had just finished her second year in the WNBA and was a special guest at the National Book Festival. She had spent her weekend surrounded by more than 70 authors, illustrators and poets who converged on Washington to share their love of reading. When Smith made his suggestion at the Saturday morning author’s breakfast, Latta didn’t think much of it.
The idea sparked almost a decade ago will come to fruition Friday, when Latta’s autobiographical children’s book “Despite the Height,” written with Smith, will go on sale. It tells how Latta – always the smallest girl on the playground – pushed through the obstacles that came along with her diminutive size to become an elite athlete.
“I have camps all the time, and I love kids, they’re my passion,” Latta said after practice Friday as the Mystics (4-2) prepared to face the Atlanta Dream (4-1) at Verizon Center on Sunday. “It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I finally put the pieces together and got a great team behind me that’s going to be out there promoting the book for me. I’m really just spreading my word.”
The book details how pint-size Latta, who is listed at 5 feet 6, relied on a positive attitude and work ethic to play through the criticism and doubt that plagued her basketball career from a young age.
The point guard was South Carolina’s player of the year in high school before crossing state lines to play in college at North Carolina, where the chirping she had heard growing up swelled into a roar.
“All my life, AAU, high school, right before I went to North Carolina. I had people saying, ‘You’re too small to play in the ACC, you’re gonna get crushed, they’re gonna kill you,’ ” Latta said. “I experienced it a lot, all kinds of stuff.”
She is now a two-time WNBA all-star in her 11th season in the league. This season she is averaging 9.0 points per game, and her three-point percentage of 41.7 leads all Mystics who have received regular playing time. Her success has given her some wisdom to share.
“When I got to schools and talk to kids, I hear a lot of kids talk about how they get bullied, how they’re not accepted because of how they look, the color of their skin, how big or skinny or tall they are,” Latta said. “My thing is, no matter what anyone says to you, you can be whatever you want to be. You just can’t give up, you can’t dictate your life based on what other people are going to say. And I know at a young age that’s hard for them to understand, but eventually they will.”
The book was four years in the making, between writing the story and finding an illustrator and publisher.
Latta hopes the book inspires kids to embrace what makes them different. And at 32, the point guard also takes pride in adding a new line to her resume.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said. … I look back on my career and all the things that I’ve accomplished just by staying positive, working hard and being motivated by all the negativity that was talked about me. And look, I’m 5-5, 5-6 on a good day. Despite that, there’s so much I’ve accomplished.
“I didn’t want to just tell a story, I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to get it out there and help some kids.”