Simone Edwards, the first Caribbean and first Jamaican player in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), has died of ovarian cancer at the age of 49. The former Seattle Storm player in the WNBA, who was diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer in early 2021, died at her home in Florida on Thursday.
“We are saddened by the passing of our very own Simone Forbes,” the Seattle Storm posted on Twitter. “Our Jamaican Hurricane was a warrior on and off the court. With her indefatigable energy and optimism, she brought happiness to so many. Our thoughts and condolences are with Simone’s family and loved ones at this time.”
Known to fans as the “Jamaican Hurricane”, Edwards’ involvement with basketball was the result of a chance encounter at a high school event. She did not play basketball in high school. She was spotted by two American college basketball coaches after competing in a track meet in Jamaica. They offered her a basketball scholarship to the USA, largely based on her height and athletic abilities. And that began her journey toward becoming the first Caribbean and first Jamaican player in the WNBA.
After learning basketball for a year, Edwards accepted a scholarship to Seminole State College in Oklahoma. Edwards first grabbed everyone’s attention on the court while playing for Seminole State College, leading the team to an undefeated conference record, ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association Top 10. While there, she received numerous top sports awards and became the First Kodak All-American in the school’s history.
She then became team co-captain at the University of Iowa and after graduating, Edwards was selected by the New York Liberty in the 1997 inaugural WNBA season. She competed internationally, leading teams to championships trophies before signing with the Seattle Storm in 2000 and eventually becoming a WNBA champion in 2004.
In 2006 when she retired from the league, she was selected to represent her home country, Jamaica, at the 2006 Caribbean Basketball Confederation Championships. Edwards won the country’s first-ever gold medal. In 2014, she returned to the team as head coach, winning yet another gold medal at the championship. Prior to that, she joined Radford University as an assistant to Head Coach Jeri Porter from 2007 to 2008.
Off the court, Edwards spoke out on issues of bullying, self-esteem and sexual abuse. In 2000 while with the Storm, she founded the Simone4Children Organization to educate and uplift children, providing school supplies, clothing, and food to underprivileged children. Edwards also started a girls’ empowerment movement in Jamaica called Girls Untapped and became the director of the national basketball for youth, both male and female, in Jamaica.
The professional athlete recently authored her memoir “Unstoppable: A Memoir of Adversity, Perseverance & Triumph,” through her company, Diverse Writers Room. She details how she was able to “find the inner strength to maintain hope in the face of opposition.”
In 2017, the Jamaican government awarded Edwards with the Order of Distinction (OD), which may be conferred upon any citizen of Jamaica who renders outstanding and important services to Jamaica and upon any distinguished citizen of a country other than Jamaica. That same year, she accepted the duties of spokesperson for Caribbean American Heritage Month to highlight the contributions of Caribbean Americans.
The 6’4” former center also started a basketball academy to help and motivate underserved children in her home country Jamaica to learn the game of basketball as a vehicle to get scholarships and learn communication skills, among others.