Spence Upper School students, faculty, staff, athletes and coaches were starstruck from the moment Rosalyn Gold-Onwude arrived at Spence to speak at an assembly. And, she in turn, served up equal measures of charm and wisdom in sharing her story as a Stanford University basketball star who now holds court as an NBA broadcaster and analyst.
Gold-Onwude, who was born to a Russian and Jewish mother and Nigerian father, began playing basketball when she was four. Playing for Stanford University combined her love of the sport and athletics. After graduating, she launched her career in sports broadcasting, through which she has hosted ESPN’s First Take and served as a basketball analyst across the NBA on TNT, Pac-12 Networks, NBA TV, MSG Networks, NBC Sports and the 2016 Rio Olympics on NBC. She also she played for the Nigerian national basketball team in 2011.
Gold-Onwude started with heartfelt shout outs to residents of each New York City borough, including her Queens hometown. She also prompted Upper School students to find out their academic and extracurricular interests, all the while lifting up Spence students’ energy and enthusiasm. Gold-Onwude’s visit to Spence was arranged by Coach Janele Henderson who joined her on stage with two students, Indira T. ’20 and Lucy M. ’23, who led the conversation and questions.
Coach Henderson began the panel discussion by asking Gold-Onwude about the role her family played in her career and education.
“My love for sports started with my mother,” said Gold-Onwude, who explained that, at a time when there were few opportunities for girls to participate in sports leagues, her mother took it upon herself to spearhead neighborhood girls’ teams by posting flyers around their community inviting other mothers and daughters to join them at a local gym. Both of her parents were deeply invested in Gold-Onwude’s career success and education, although her father’s enthusiasm for basketball came later, Gold-Onwude added.
“I’m so glad my parents pushed me, and it was a good precedent, because now, as I make decisions, I don’t always go for what’s comfortable, and that’s where I think growth happens,” Gold-Onwude underscored.
The two student panelists then posed questions to Gold-Onwude, ranging from how she uses her platform on national television to share her cultural identity, to the impact of her education on her career and how she copes with setbacks.
“How important is it for you to share your culture with the world and in what ways do you do so?” Indira asked Gold-Onwude.
“I’m of mixed race and very proud of every single part of me,” Gold-Onwude emphasized, noting that when she takes a national or international stage to interview NBA superstars, she wants to make sure she is “being myself” and representing all aspects of who she is—from her roots in Queens to her Nigerian and Russian backgrounds.
Gold-Onwude further explained that she chooses to “use those moments powerfully.” For example, when she addressed a global audience during the NBA finals, she highlighted a story about successful African-born players in the NBA, “because the pipeline from Africa to the NBA is still so small.”
“I’m very intentional with what I’m wearing,” Gold-Onwude added, explaining that she often dons African Ankara fabrics and “sometimes, as a black woman, I’m wearing my hair in protective styles.” “I make sure that these styles have a place on a national TV in a professional setting…and belong there next to the biggest stars,” Gold-Onwude emphasized.
“There’s absolutely room in this world for you to be great at what you want to do, exactly as who you are,” Gold-Onwude proclaimed to enthusiastic applause. “Sometimes you are encouraged as broadcasters to talk a certain way or look a certain way, and I hope that I can make it being myself.”
The conversation continued with a question from Lucy about Gold-Onwude’s experience as a student and basketball player at Stanford and the lessons she came away with.
Gold-Onwude explained that she had to learn to balance her academics with basketball and manage her time effectively. Playing basketball while studying full-time “taught me how to go hard every single day,” Onwude shared. “Hard work is one thing. Most of us know how to work hard. Basketball… taught me consistency.”
Indira followed up by asking Gold-Onwude how she has coped with injuries and setbacks throughout her career.
“You can’t do anything alone,” Gold-Onwude began, explaining that when she injured her ACL and had to miss a basketball season at Stanford, she worked with a sports psychologist, who “helped me learn how to handle what I can control and focus on the little steps day-by-day.”
“It is so easy to look up and see this huge mountain of rehab,” Gold-Onwude continued, but “my sports psychologist worked with me on finding small tasks and small wins every day.”
Gold-Onwude shared that she also reached out to the people in her life for support. “I have a village of great family and friends…. I’m always supported by a community,” Gold-Onwude said.
After the Q&A from the panel, students in the audience had the opportunity to ask Gold-Onwude their own questions.
One student wanted to know about Gold-Onwude’s experience being a woman in a male-dominated field.
“Preparation gives me confidence,” Gold-Onwude said. “Remind yourself that you belong. I often do that. ‘I belong. I am good at what I do.’ And sometimes, as females, we can have those negative talk moments in our head, so I just come in there knowing that my preparation is my foundation.”
Other questions led Gold-Onwude to talk about her career in broadcasting.
“I knew I wanted to stay close to the game that I loved,” Gold-Onwude shared. “I can’t tell you how many different types of careers there are in the fields that you love...you have to be creative about getting to them.” “Be relentless about what you care about.”