The first woman basketball player inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame (in 1992), Nera White of Macon County has become a legendary figure in the annals of women’s basketball. Born in Macon County on November 15, 1935, she attended Macon County High School, where she started on the high school team as a freshman. She was the most valuable player for her high school district in 1954 (there was no girls’ state tournament at that time). Upon graduation in 1954, White enrolled in the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. Peabody did not have a women’s basketball team, so White instead joined the amateur team sponsored by the Nashville Business College in 1955.
Nashville Business College, part of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), was a major national power in women’s basketball throughout the 1950s and 1960s, largely due to White’s talents. She led the team to ten AAU national championships, with eight of those coming in consecutive years, from 1962 to 1969. According to several accounts, White was a dominating center, standing six feet, one inch, in height and possessing both incredible quickness and an uncanny sense of the court. Her biography in the National Basketball Hall of Fame calls her the pioneer of modern women’s basketball. White was named an AAU All-American a record fifteen times. She also competed successfully in international tournaments and was named the most valuable player at the 1957 World Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
White retired from competition in 1969; that same year officials elected her to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. She is also a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and was ranked seventh in the Sports Illustrated listing of the fifty greatest sports figures in Tennessee history in 2000. Her hometown of Lafayette has named the high school gym the Nera White Gymnasium in her honor.