Wideman's father, John Edgar Wideman, an African-American author and professor, is the first 2-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and a professor at Brown University. A Rhodes scholar, he grew up in the working-class community of Homewood in Pittsburgh. He also played 4 years of basketball for the University of Pennsylvania, where he was All-Ivy League. Her mother, Judith Ann Goldman, grew up in a Jewish family in Great Neck, NY, and studied for her law degree in midlife, graduating at age 52.
Wideman lived in Laramie, Wyoming, where her father taught Creative Writing at the University of Wyoming, until she was 10 years old. In 1986 she moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where her father accepted a tenured teaching position at the University of Massachusetts.
Wideman started on the Amherst Regional High School Varsity team for 6 straight years, beginning in 7th grade when she was 4'6" and 80 pounds.
In her senior year, leading her team to the High School State Championship, Wideman averaged 17 points, 6 steals, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds per game. In the State Championship game, she scored 27 points, had 14 steals and 8 assists, and pulled down 7 rebounds.
In 1992–93 Wideman was named USA Today First Team High School All-American, Converse High School All-American, Nike High School All-American, Kodak High School All-American, New England High School Player of the Year, Massachusetts High School Player of the Year, and High School All-American by the WBCA. She participated in the WBCA High School All-America Game in 1993, scoring 10 points.
Her high school basketball team was the subject of a book, In These Girls Hope is a Muscle, by Madeleine Blais (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995, ISBN 0-87113-572-8). While in high school, Wideman published poems on the complexities of her racial identity in her high school newspaper. Shortly after the Los Angeles uprisings of 1992, she wrote and published a poem titled Black.
Wideman attended Stanford University, where she was an outstanding basketball player. While at Stanford University she completed a double major, earning a B.A. in political science and African-American studies in 1997.
Professional basketball career
A 5'6" point guard, the smallest player on her college team, Wideman was selected as the 3rd overall draft pick by the Los Angeles Sparks in the inaugural WNBA draft of collegiate players in the summer of 1997.
Upon graduation from Stanford, and during the offseasons of the WNBA, Wideman founded and directed the Stanford Athletic Alliance. This bi-weekly program paired young women from East Palo Alto with players from the Stanford Women’s Basketball team for individual mentoring sessions, as well as group sessions that allowed the young women to explore various academic areas through hands-on experience. The program continues to run on the Stanford campus.
In 1997 Wideman founded and implemented another youth program called, ‘hoopin’ with jamila’. This program combined basketball skills clinics with a reading and writing program targeted at young women of color incarcerated in the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. The program was funded by Nike. USA Today honored Wideman as "Most Caring Athlete" in 1998, in large part because of the success of the program. It also earned the National Council on Crime and Delinquency “Community Award,” given each year to programs that attempt to provide creative alternatives to juvenile incarceration.
Wideman graduated from New York University Law School. She now works as a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society in New York City.
Wideman was featured on CBS Sports' "Where Are They Now?" segment of Pride, Passion and Power on January 18, 2009 hosted by Trey Wingo. In it she talks about translating her leadership on the basketball court to the legal court room.
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- Smith, Gary (March 17, 1997). "Out of the Shadows". Sports Illustrated. Time, Inc. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
- "Stanford Fast Break Club - Where Are They Now?". www.stanfordfbc.org. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
- "The Connecticut Forum - The Connecticut Forum". www.ctforum.org. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
- "Wideman, Jamila". Jews In Sports.org.
- Wideman, Jamila (2001-08-12). "Perspective; A Basketball Journey to the American South". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
- "CBS Press Express | CBS SPORTS BULLETIN BOARDS". www.cbspressexpress.com. Retrieved 2016-12-07.