Medina Dixon is a national champion, Olympic medalist, Pan American gold medalist and world champion basketball player.
She passed away Monday at the age of 59 from pancreatic cancer. She’d been living in Boston, Massachusetts with her wife and daughter.
“[Medina] was the pioneer. Especially in Massachusetts, where she established the standard for women’s basketball,” her brother Robin Dixon told The Boston Globe. “Sometimes you need that trend-setter to establish a foundation that others can build on, and she’s created a lot of opportunities for the young ladies in the state.”
Dixon is a Boston area basketball legend, and her collegiate career began at South Carolina before she transferred to Old Dominion, who she competed for at the height of its national prominence (outside of the Ticha Penicheiro years). She played for ten years professionally, in Italy, Israel, Japan and Russia.
A current Boston-area player called her an inspiration. Former teammate and opponent Kim Mulkey said Dixon was ahead of her time, like Cheryl Miller. Even the comments of articles of her passing are all positive, beautiful remembrances and condolences.
“When I think of Medina, first of all I think of her beautiful smile,” Mulkey told ESPN. “She was always laughing about things in the huddle and on the floor. Just a great person to be around.”
She has dealt with epilepsy since November 1998, when she had her first seizure, which made her nervous to go out alone, until she received a service dog.
“It caught me by surprise,” she said. “I thought I was much stronger than that. I think most athletes, world class athletes, you never think of being injured or having anything that can harm you.”
She also shared that she lived with diabetes and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2018.
On a March 2021 panel with her former teammates and friends, Dixon shared more about her career and lived experiences, including her personal and family influences and why she chose to take part in a clinical study and why would send letters to schools that would recruit her asking about her Black population at the school.
The best and most thorough story I’ve read on Dixon was written by Kurtis Zimmerman; it’s how I learned about her two or so years ago. He does a great job of describing her career, playing style and personality.
She knew she was good and wasn't afraid to say it.
“I can't honestly say Cheryl is the best," she told Sports Illustrated in 1985. "I know most everybody else does, but I think there are five players who are above the rest—Janet Harris [of Georgia], Cheryl, Lisa Ingram [of Northeast Louisiana], Tracy (Claxton) and, of course, me.”
Her style of play was the type “who will put people in the seats,” according to Marriane Stanley.
Regarding that style of play? Sports Illustrated wrote, “She jumps off one foot, controlling the basketball with one hand and slapping it into the other palm. It's certainly exciting for the fans, but some basketball purists, and in a few cases her own teammates, have pleaded with her to use the old-fashioned two-handed method. But Medina isn't easily persuaded.”
That 1981 SI piece describes Dixon as “cool” and says she had the nickname “Ice Woman” and “Rocket,” the latter given to her by Cheryl Miller during the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials. Though she was the second to last cut for that Olympic team, and did not make the 1988 team, she made the 1992 team and won a bronze medal.
Dixon has also been described as “smooth, effortless and all finesse.”
“But I'm not here to live up to anyone's expectations,” she said.