Women’s basketball has come a long way in the last 10 to 15 years, and Anita Kaplan Fiedel is one of the women who has helped it do so. This conversation with my friend is a touching look into what it was like growing up tall as a girl, how basketball helped her fit in and find her sense of purpose and identity, and what happens when a perceived liability is turned into an asset. Her story lends credibility to the belief that everyone is gifted uniquely and that if you do the work to find those unique gifts, you’ll find your purpose and discover fulfillment you never knew was possible.
A career of distinction and dominance in women’s basketball.
Anita achieved excellence on the basketball court at every level. Even though Anita, who was 6’4” in eighth grade, was never the best athlete in the gym – not even close – Anita ran the paint with advanced footwork, I.Q., and a deadly hook shot that she practiced in sets of 100s in her driveway – a shot she made without looking so many times that her teammates nicknamed her “Radar.” Anita earned the highest of high school rankings in becoming a Kodak, Street and Smith and Parade high school American. We were on an AAU team in high school that drew hundreds of college scouts to our games. All 10 out of 10 players on our team received full Division I scholarships. During her career at Stanford University, Anita was an All-Pac 10 center on a team that appeared in the Final Four three out of four years and won a national title in 1992.
Turning a perceived liability into an asset as a dominant force in women’s basketball.
About being tall – as a child and as a girl: “I was tall from the get-go. By Kindergarten I was 4’ 11”. And my parents, my Dad who is 6’ 7” saw this opportunity and he said, ‘You can either suffer and be the only tall girl and not make anything out of it, or you can put it to some good.’ So I started playing basketball when I was 5, in the driveway with my Dad. And his thing was, just get out there and shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot. He hammered it home, ‘If you love something and you work hard enough for it, you can attain anything.'”
What can replace such a distinguished basketball career?
It’s hard to imagine what could come next following a basketball career like Anita Kaplan Fiedel had. How do you top it? How do you live the rest of your life knowing that the thing you loved so much and excelled at is a thing of the past? For Anita, it was not hard to find the right replacement for all of that success once she began to have children.
About transitioning out of basketball: “After my MBA, I focused in finance and accounting and went to work in the finance and accounting world and didn’t enjoy that – even less than marketing. Then I had my three children. I was working when I had my twins, and felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown because here is something that actually filled the void. Motherhood for me replaced basketball as something that I care so much about and am willing to put so much that I have into.”
Outline of This Episode
- [1:28] My introduction of my friend, Anita Kaplan Fiedel.
- [3:10] Where Anita grew up and what it was like being a tall girl.
- [5:11] The moment when Anita knew what she wanted and that she could achieve it.
- [9:15] Anita’s experience in AU basketball – what she learned and enjoyed.
- [14:58] The pressure of the college scouting process and why Anita loved it.
- [23:23] Anita’s favorite moment in her college career: a tournament at UNLV.
- [24:27] Highlights from winning the national title at Stanford.
- [35:00] What Anita would change if she could: try to have a life outside of basketball.
- [37:40] The thing that separated Anita from everyone else on the court.
(Thank you to Freddie Astairefor his awesome intro music.)
AF: I was tall from the get-go, and by kindergarten I was 4’11”. My dad is 6’7” and he saw this opportunity. He said, “You can either suffer and be the only tall girl and not make anything out of it, or you can put it to some good.” So I started playing basketball when I was five in the driveway with my dad. And his thing was just “get out there and shoot and shoot and shoot.” We didn’t focus as much on the defense as we probably should have especially in the beginning. He just hammered it home. If you loved something enough and you work hard enough for it you can attain anything.
AF: I realized that this was a real possibility and he took me to Fanny’s. It’s a pizza place I don’t know if it’s still in Albany, and he asked, “Do you want it? Do you want to do this? It’s your choice but you have to make the commitment. You have to make the commitment now. We do AAU. We commit to this and I’ll help you anyway I can.”
AF: I got to the point where I’m a post player so I always had my back to the basket where I didn’t have to look at the basket. I just had to look at the ground and I knew exactly where the basket was. I would just be so repetitive with my shots.
AF: My dad said, “Okay, you have to make 100 in a row you cannot move from this spot until you make 100 in a row.” And I would do that when he was gone too, I don’t know it was just what I wanted. It wasn’t mandated on me it was just I wanted to know that I could make a basket without looking at the basket.
AF: No. That’s it. It wasn’t as personal. For me, everything was personal in defining my values and in my evaluation of myself. (16:37)
AF: Yes, Tara knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. She recruits the style of person (19:34) that is personally motivated. She is not, she does motivate people, but you have to want it. She is not going to recruit somebody who is looking for a mom. She is after the people who like me, like you, want it. And they want to be the best and they’re going to be harder on themselves than anybody else will. She understands the full picture and she’s not going to be your mom and she is not going to take care of you like that, but she is going to get you to play the best you can and she cares about you. She wants you to do well because if you do well she does well. But it’s a mutually beneficial agreement to the situation.
So there were, I would say, three different types: the mentally weak, and the physically strong; and then also the mentally strong as well as physically strong. They did the best. And then there were the jerks who all tanked.
Then after my MBA, I focused in finance and accounting and went to work in the finance and accounting world and didn’t enjoy that—even less than marketing. Then I had my three children. I was working when I had my twins, and felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown because here is something that actually filled the void. Motherhood for me replaced basketball as something that I care so much about and am willing to put so much that I have into.
Everyone has his or her own thing. If you have that one thing that you can focus on, and do it better than anyone else—not that I was better than everyone else—but if you could do it really, really well, that can set you apart. And my thing was just to stand in the gym and figure out the spot on the floor and be able to shoot the ball without looking at the basket. They called me radar, they’re like, “How does she know?” It’s because I had done it so many times.