Legendary women’s college basketball coach Pat Summitt will be buried at a private ceremony in middle Tennessee on Thursday. This tribute was written by Cierra Burdick, who was among the former players who traveled to Knoxville to spend time with Summitt before her death on Tuesday.
It was Saturday night. We had just finished playing San Antonio. My heart was full and my mind was set on one thing … Pat. News had gone public that she wasn’t doing too well. Some thought she wouldn’t make it through the weekend; time was of the essence.
Unable to sleep, I called Coach Cooper [Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper] at 2 a.m., early Sunday. “Hey Coach, sorry to call you so late but …” I couldn’t get the rest of the sentence out. Overcome with tears and days of built up emotion, I sat on the floor of the hotel hallway, attempting to pull myself together. As best as I could, I continued with the conversation.
“Pat isn’t doing too well … They don’t know how much time she has left,” I said.
Not wanting to abandon my team, but also feeling obligated to follow my heart, I asked Cooper what he thought I should do.
Thankfully he replied, “Burd, I think you should go.”
That’s all I needed to hear. I thanked him, ended the call and immediately booked the next flight out from San Antonio to Knoxville. I got into town at 1 p.m. and rushed from the airport to the retirement home [where Summitt had been living]. I got to Pat’s apartment. Dozens of Pat’s former players had stopped by at all hours of the day and night to see their leader. It was my turn now.
The caretaker brought me into the apartment and escorted me to Pat’s room. I sat next to the bed where she laid. She was sleeping. It was peaceful.
I took a glance at her. Her face was strong; her hair was long. I rested my head on her bedside and began to cry. I knew she would have wanted me to be strong, but my emotions were high. I took a minute and then proceeded to talk to her. With my hand on her arm, I let her know how grateful I was to be a part of her program. I thanked her for taking my family and me in as her own. I thanked her for paving the way for the Lady Vols and for women’s basketball. I thanked her for helping me grow as a player, as a person.
While I was talking, the caretaker that was standing in the back of the room interrupted me. “Cierra, she’s moving her feet,” the caretaker said. “That’s her way of responding to you. Talk louder.”
I knew Pat could hear me. But to have her respond in that way … That was special. I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace. She had just assured me that everything was going to be okay.
As I prepared to break from our huddle one last time, I left Pat with these final words, “I love you, Coach. I am who I am largely because of who you are. Thank you.” I kissed her on her forehead, took a deep breath and prepared for the next play, just as I did so many times before.
That may have been my last huddle with Coach, but her values, her passion and her love will live through me forever.
Rest easy, Big Time. You will be deeply missed. I love you.
Burdick plays for the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. She played at the University of Tennessee from 2011-2015.
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