Former Portland Fire shooting guard Jackie Stiles opened up about her WNBA Draft experience and the pressures that come with being a franchise player.
On April 20, 2001 Stiles was selected No. 4 overall by the Portland Fire.
Even when she heard her name called on draft night, she was still in disbelief that she was now a professional basketball player.
“I was like, ‘Wow. I made it, I’m playing professional basketball, I’m going to be in the WNBA?’"
To be surrounded by my family, my college coach -- it was just a moment I’ll never forget,” Stiles said.
The 2001 WNBA Rookie of the Year had her professional career cut short due to so many serious injuries and a total of 13 surgeries.
In 53 career games played, Stiles scored 603 points on 38.2 percent shooting including 40.6 percent from three-point range.
Stiles put up her best numbers during her rookie season, averaging 14.9 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting to go along with 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists. She also shot an efficient 43.1 percent from long distance that year.
Stiles recalls draft night as having such an overwhelming and amazing feeling come over her.
To get paid to play basketball and then to go to Portland to play for Linda Hargrove, it was just an incredible blessing and a moment I’ll never forget. -- Portland Fire guard Jackie Stiles
Stiles has always appreciated how the Portland Fire organization was run and how much they made her feel welcome in Portland.
“It was just a First Class run operation,” Stiles said of the Portland Fire. “It was such an honor to be a part of their organization, the way they did everything was just phenomenal and I was just blown away. The city of Portland was so welcoming to me. It’s crazy that you’re suddenly getting told where you’re going to live for the next couple of years, or however many years, and you don’t really know anybody, but they made me feel right at home. They were just so personable, so welcoming, and I’ll never forget how they made me feel.”
Stiles was thankful for the Fire's support, but also mentioned, “I had kind of the pressure on me, being the quote, ‘franchise player.’ I’m like, they are calling me that?'"
But Stiles, realizes she put a lot of extra pressure on herself.
"I never told people this because they would think I was crazy, but internally I wanted to be the best that ever played the game. And that’s so crazy looking back, but that was my internal goal and that’s why probably my body broke down because I was like ‘other people take days off, I’m not gonna take a day off.’ I just had the extreme drive to do that. And, really I feel like in college when I played USA Basketball and made different USA Basketball teams that kind of showed me that hey, this is possible [of making it to the WNBA] if I continued to keep working and learn as much as I can from my coaches, but I knew it was going to be really difficult."
At the age of 41 now, Stiles is an assistant coach for the University of Oklahoma women’s basketball team. Her heart goes out to this year’s draft class who don’t get to experience the full-blown draft night and will have a virtual draft instead due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It breaks my heart that they don’t get to experience the live draft in person, to get to feel the emotion and you just don’t get to feel the emotion as much when it’s virtual, but that being said at least they have an opportunity and at least they have their health right now, knock on wood. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon, but it does break my heart that they don’t get that opportunity to be there in person and experience a live draft because it’s something that I will never, ever forget."
Stiles said she is still extremely grateful for everyone in her life that made so many sacrifices for her to be able to live out her basketball dreams.
Now the 2020 WNBA draft class is about to feel that same sense of gratitude.