Anne Donovan, the Basketball Hall of Famer who won two Olympic gold medals in the 1980s, has died. She was 56. According to ESPN.com, Donovan’s family confirmed her death on Wednesday evening, and released a public statement that read:
While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being. Anne touched many lives as a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and coach. Anne was a person with strong faith, courageous spirit, a giving heart and love for everyone.
Given Donovan’s age and active lifestyle, many are wondering what her health status at the end of her life. How did she die? What was her cause of death?
According to the family’s statement, Donovan died of congestive heart failure. “We are so proud of her accomplishments as a women’s basketball player and coach,” the statement read, “but even more proud of her character, integrity, humility and kindness.” There were no reports of health issues plaguing Donovan prior to her death.
Donovan was a highly decorated basketball player during her career. She won a national championship with Old Dominion University in 1980, and went to three Final Fours overall. She was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, and became a member of the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2015.
As a player, however, her most celebrated achievements came when she won a pair of Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988. She was also part of the 1980 Olympic basketball team, but they were not allowed to travel to Russia due to a boycott. In an interview with WNBA.com, Donovan said that she never dreamed she would be able to achieve all that she did in her career.
“There are some real memorable highlights in my history that, in my mind, are such milestones”, she said. “Winning a national championship in college and being on the Olympic platform getting a gold medal. Visiting the Hall of Fame and going into the Hall of Fame. Some of the things that have happened to me … years before I would watch the Olympics and watch people get gold medals and never dreamed that it would be me.”
Donovan went on to say: “I watched basketball hall of famers and never believed it would be me going into the Hall of Fame one day. I don’t know that I ever could’ve imagined just how blessed my life would be.”
After she retired from playing in 1989, Donovan became an assistant coach for Dominion University, and then a full-time coach of East Carolina University in 1995. She eventually made the leap to the WNBA in 2001, where she stayed until 2015. During her time with the WNBA, Donovan won a title with the Seattle Storm, was the first female coach to win 100 games in a single season, and retired as the coach with the third-most WNBA victories in history.
Donovan also coached a number of Olympic women’s basketball teams, and won a third gold medal in 2008.
Despite her commanding presence on the court, Donovan insisted that she was the exact opposite in her personal life. “I’m a total introvert,” she told ODU Sports. “That’s the label I put on myself. It’s a conflict I’ve wondered about all my life. I never suspected I’d get into coaching. When I did, I loved it. But the core of who I am, when I leave the court and go home, is a pretty solitary life.” She is survived by her siblings and her parents. She was not married at the time of her death.
Several WNBA colleagues and fans have taken to social media to pay tribute to Donovan, including former players Sheryl Swoops, Delisha Milton-Jones, and the Seattle Storm organization, which stated: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of former Storm head coach Anne Donovan. She will be truly missed, and we extend our most sincere condolences to the Donovan family.”
Read the most heartfelt reactions below: