SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The day before her enshrinement into the Naismith Hall of Fame, Teresa Edwards sat with a reporter who produced photos of her first Olympic Games back in 1984.
"I didn't know that I was supposed to be nervous," Edwards said, shaking her head and laughing as she remembered the 16-year-old self she was looking at in those pictures. "I didn't know any better."
Five Olympic Games and a Hall of Fame career later, Edwards knows now.
"I never knew I would be here," Edwards said, a humble beginning to her acceptance speech for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Edwards took the stage Friday night at Symphony Hall and spoke with eloquence and passion, using rhyme and rhythm to pay tribute to those who helped her build one of the most decorated careers in the history of women's basketball.
She was the youngest player to win a gold medal in Olympic basketball at the age of 16 in 1984, and she was the oldest to win gold 20 years later.
Edwards finally copped to her nerves behind the microphone Friday night. Even as she walked into the Hall two hours earlier, nearly swallowed up by Dennis Rodman's entourage, she had insisted she was feeling relaxed.
"OK, I'm nervous now, I got there," Edwards confessed, her voice cracking with emotion.
Escorted by longtime friend Charles Barkley and personal hero Ann Meyers-Drysdale, Edwards was honored for an unmatched résumé of success on the international stage. The only American basketball player to play in five Olympic Games, Edwards has four gold medals and a bronze. The video presentation before her speech included testimonies by many of her Olympic teammates, the women's game's greatest players.
"Why USA Basketball is so strong is because we had a leader like Teresa Edwards for such a long time," fellow Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper said.
Edwards' college coach from Georgia, Andy Landers, has called Edwards "the greatest competitor to ever lace up high tops in women's basketball."
Edwards said she has always considered herself a competitor first, but she paid tribute to the pioneers of the women's game, the women who preceded her into the Hall and the players who played "half-court, three-on-three in a skirt."
She acknowledged NBA commissioner David Stern and thanked him for the WNBA, and then honored her basketball heroes Julius "Dr. J" Irving and Michael Jordan.
And then she turned to her family, in particular to her mother, Mildred Edwards, who raised four children and "moved mountains."
Finally, she sent a shout-out to her hometown of Cairo, Ga., with "Cairo's in the Hall of Fame, baby!"
Edwards' celebration in Springfield will be short and sweet. She has to get back to work as the new coach of the WNBA's Tulsa Shock, having taken over in mid-July following the resignation of Nolan Richardson. The team has yet to win a game since she took over. She will be on the bench Sunday when the Shock play in Minnesota against the first-place Lynx.
But coaching the Shock is hardly her only commitment. If Edwards wasn't in Springfield or running the franchise in Tulsa, she'd probably be in London right now. The U.S. Olympic Committee has asked Edwards to serve as chef de mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Edwards will provide leadership to the U.S. athletes and serve as a U.S. representative to the International Olympic Committee.
On Friday night, Edwards called her induction, "The beginning for me -- to no end."