Jewell Loyd and her Team USA teammates look on during the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 Group B match between Nigeria and USA at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on February 9, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.
Jewell Loyd and her Team USA teammates look on during the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 Group B match between Nigeria and USA at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on February 9, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.The Olympics have always held significance for USA basketball player Jewell Loyd -- and not just as a sporting event.
With a mother who used to run track, Loyd says, "We didn't watch a lot of television growing up, but any time the Olympics were on, we would always watch it."
This time around, it will be Loyd competing in the Games while her family watches from a television set -- as Tokyo 2020's Covid-19 precautions will not allow fans to travel to Japan.
Loyd is taking that disappointment in stride, because just being named to the USA roster is a huge accomplishment.
"Being named an Olympian is like the highest honor, right?" Loyd, a three-time WNBA All-Star with the Seattle Storm, told CNN Sport.
And without her nearest and dearest, there's a little extra motivation for the shooting guard: "Whenever I think of the Olympics, I think of my family, and it keeps me humbled and hungry."
This year the International Olympic Committee modified its rules to accommodate for athlete protest before events, if not on the podium.
When asked about the wider trend of athletes speaking about social issues, Loyd said: "The generation that we're in now, they're not afraid to speak up.
"We're understanding that we have the ability to reach the masses and educate people -- but it's really about how you do it. If it comes from a place of love, understanding, and acceptance, then that's OK."
It's something Loyd and other WNBA players are no strangers to, dedicating their 2020 season to Breonna Taylor and the Say Her Name campaign.
"Playing basketball with this platform, having her name on our jersey, it made it known it was bigger than us. It's bigger than basketball, someone's life was lost, was taken," says Loyd.
With the league using their platform to shine light on issues like police brutality and voting rights, it was also educational for the players in another sense.
"From an athlete's perspective, we have a voice. I think they're understanding the power that they have, that they're not just pick up the ball and dribble," says Loyd.
"They're not just here to do my job and go home. People are accepting who they are, their access to things, and understanding that we can have an impact. And that's a beautiful thing, that we can change the curve or the way things are adapting and moving," says Loyd.
Loyd has been working on finding her voice and her lane since coming into the league in 2015, when she won Rookie of the Year.
Early in her career, Loyd, who is dyslexic, starred in an ad campaign for the education non-profit Eye to Eye, raising awareness for those with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning disabilities.
"My passion is always to give back, to impact the next generation, and figuring out how to do that in my own way."
During the early stages of lockdown in 2020, Loyd met with Lakers assistant coach and personal trainer Phil Handy, who asked to record and post a workout online -- telling her that people wanted to see what it was like to train as an elite athlete.
After positive feedback, Handy and Loyd put together a session for their training app 94feetofgame, and using Loyd's nickname the "Gold Mamba" workout was born.
"It was amazing, seeing the comments from parents and kids -- especially during the quarantine, when you couldn't really do anything, but you could go outside and pick up a ball and dribble."
Loyd got comments and video feedback from all over the world, and while appreciative of the virtual training space she had created, she was also looking for a physical space as well.
"I always wanted to have some kind of gym that allows kids to be themselves and have great mentors," says Loyd.
So when brother Jarryd, a former college standout at Valparaiso, found out a childhood gym was up for sale, the two jumped at the opportunity to take ownership.
"I grew up playing in this gym, it's called the Warehouse and it's a special place for me because that's where I started to believe that I can be more than just a high school basketball player or a college basketball player."
Loyd, a two-time WNBA Champion, hopes she can inspire that feeling in others, though that isn't the only reason for the gym's existence: "It's okay if they come there and don't become a Division One athlete, but if they become a better person ... that's a win for me."
The building, tucked away in the suburbs of Chicago and not far from the highway I-94, offers a space of her own for the next iteration of basketball players.
Loyd, who already has courts named in her honor at Proesel Park in Lincolnwood, Illinois, wanted it to be a building that created a sense of belonging.
"All the things that I work with ... it's really based on community building, a community of safe spaces and empowering kids to believe in themselves and achieve their goals. People need people, and that's what it's all about."
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