This summer, two Volunteer legends joined the Boston Celtics organization. One was Grant Williams, the star forward for UT basketball who was drafted with the twenty-second pick in the NBA Draft. The other was Kara Lawson, who was hired as an assistant coach for the Celtics.
At just the age of 38, Lawson has already had a remarkable career filled with accomplishments both on and off the basketball court.
It all started when Lawson, a native of the Washington D.C. area, decided to play women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee in 1999. She found her place on the team early in her career, earning the starting point guard spot as a freshman under coach Pat Summitt.
Coach Summitt, known for her intensity and fervor, pushed Lawson early on to become a leader, even though she had a very reserved personality at the time. Summitt especially wanted to make Lawson a confident, effective communicator.
“I was a really shy kid,” Lawson told The Tennessean, “and she’d have me talk to the team just on random topics.”
Lawson quickly took to this leadership role, becoming a standout on a very talented Lad Vol team. She was a gifted scorer, especially from behind the three-point line, and during her four years at UT she never averaged less than 11 points per game.
While she never won a championship with the Lady Vols, she helped lead the team to three Final Fours, ultimately falling to the UConn Huskies each year.
Outside of Thompson-Boling Arena, Lawson was also an excellent student. Her senior year, she was an Academic All-American and received the Torchbearer award, the highest student honor at UT.
In 2003, after earning her degree in finance, she was selected as the fifth overall pick in the WNBA Draft. This was the beginning of a successful 13-year playing career in the WNBA.
It didn’t take long for Lawson to do well in the league. In 2005, just her third year as a pro, she won a WNBA title with the Sacramento Monarchs.
Her skills on the court earned her a spot on the 2008 USA Olympic team. At the games in Beijing, she helped Team USA take home the gold, leading the team in scoring with 15 points during the gold medal game.
But in the midst of this incredible success as a player, she was working on another career — broadcasting.
In 2004, Lawson joined ESPN as a women’s college basketball analyst. Over the next few years, she worked as studio analyst at variety of games, both men’s and women’s.
Then, in the 2006-07 NBA season, she became a courtside reporter for ESPN’s NBA coverage.
During that season, on January 12, 2007, her colleague Tom Tolbert’s flight was delayed, and Lawson had to step in as color commentator for a game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Washington Wizards. In doing so, she became the first woman to call a nationally televised NBA game.
It was an opportunity that happened purely by chance, but you can imagine that Lawson was grateful for the ways Pat Summitt pushed her years before.
And all of this, mind you, was happening during her professional playing career.
After years of both playing and commentating, Lawson retired from the WNBA in 2015 to focus on her career as a broadcaster.
In 2017, she was offered a job as the color commentator with NBC Sports for her hometown NBA team, the Washington Wizards. This made her only the second primary female TV analyst in the NBA.
Now, her roles have expanded beyond just basketball. In 2018, Governor Bill Haslam selected her as a member of the UT Board of Trustees, where she sits as the youngest member.
After some coaching experience with USA Basketball, Lawson was hired this June as an assistant coach with the Celtics. She is part of a small but growing contingent of female NBA assistants across the country.
With her athletic ability, focus and determination, Kara Lawson has managed to become a player, Torchbearer, gold medalist, commentator, trustee and now coach. Still under the age of 40, Lawson has a lot more opportunities ahead of her, and it will be fascinating to see where she goes next.