Granny style: Can an 84-year-old make the WNBA? She’s got their attention


Shirley Simson, an 84-year-old mother of four, grandmother of 14 and great-grandmother of 10, stood inside the lobby of Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel & Casino on an early January afternoon waiting for her ride. She wore bright pink athletic shorts with the phrase “SPORT DRIP” printed all over, a white single-leg sleeve running down her left side, a white shooting sleeve on her right arm and a white headband with “CANDY” in its center tying back her gray hair. Alongside two of her grandchildren, Shirley planned on making a 20-minute trip to Henderson, Nev., where the Las Vegas Aces are headquartered. She hoped to work out inside the WNBA team’s facility.

Before the trio departed, a teenager — “a young lad,” in Simson’s words — spotted her near the hotel’s entrance and asked for a photo. She had never been stopped like that before. She was surprised, but she obliged anyway.

Simson has lived almost all her life in obscurity. For around four decades, she was a registered nurse in southern British Columbia, Canada. Now retired, she gardens, plays bridge, creates stone sculptures and participates in two book clubs. Despite her age and height — she was once 5-foot-6 but says she’s shrunk to 5-4 — Simson is also a basketball player. Or, rather, she is trying to be one.

She’s hoping to become a WNBA All-Star. “To me, life is worth living,” Simson says. “I just think you should make the most of it because you’re only here for a certain length of time.”

In mid-October, Simson’s journey to the professional ranks began. Her grandchildren, Parker, 25, and Hunter, 21, pitched her on it, and she was immediately game. “I was enjoying being with them,” Simson says, “and I was always somebody into things a little bit zany anyway.”

They film her practicing at their local recreation center then share the edited videos on the Instagram and TikTok accounts of their basketball accessory brand, Court Candy, which they founded in the summer of 2020. They are aiming to produce at least 50 videos of her, presenting it as a series with each titled “Grandma to the WNBA.” Simson voices over her footage, using Gen Z phrases like, “I’m strapped,” “I started cooking,” and “chef Curry with the pot, boy.”

“I don’t know what it means, but they don’t understand lingo from my era,” she says.

The project is aspirational, of course. Simson’s grandchildren hoped it would bring more awareness to their company. But it was also a way for her to get in better shape after undergoing a left knee replacement last March. Most importantly to the trio, it allows them to spend more time together.

“She’s one of our best friends, genuinely,” Parker says.

Simson last played recreational basketball in nursing school six decades earlier. In her first workout back, she struggled. “I was hopeless,” she says. “I couldn’t dribble. I couldn’t get it to the basket, unless I was doing it granny style.” That didn’t deter her, however. Nor did it turn off consumers. Her progress has subsequently attracted the attention of millions.

The series debut received nearly 2 million views on TikTok alone. Three other videos have gotten more than a million views on the social media platform. Three videos on Instagram have crossed the 500,000-view plateau. Simson says she doesn’t really understand social media. “I don’t have enough time in my life to do all that,” she says. Nevertheless, she appreciates that people have followed along. Parker and Hunter frequently show her the comments. “We think that’s the coolest part for her,” Parker says. They are overwhelmingly positive. “I’m delighted that people have taken interest because one of the main factors is, if you’re moving, you’re grooving,” Simson says.

Her workouts start earlier than any standard WNBA or college practice. On training days, Simson wakes up at around 5:30 a.m. and begins getting ready. By 7 a.m., she’s on the court, outfitted not only in her grandchildren’s accessory brand but also their basketball sneakers, which she wears only after putting on two pairs of socks and inserting an extra in-sole. Her grandchildren run her through her drills, like two-ball dribbling and pin-down shooting. She practices both underhand and overhand jumpers. She’s still using an eight-foot hoop; they hope to eventually reach WNBA regulation.

Shirley Simson works on her agility with guidance from her grandchildren. (Courtesy of Court Candy)

In one video, Simson pushes away her walker. In another, she lifts free weights and does split lunges. She practices her vertical jump — it’s 0.67 inches — and completes a three-cone drill in just over six seconds. Multiple videos show her racing through a step ladder, sometimes with a basketball, which she says is among the most difficult exercises. “Baba, you’re 84-years-old. You’re doing great,” her grandchildren tell her when she struggles.

The WNBA has started taking notice of Simson. In December, the Connecticut Sun commented “Grandma… where you at?”

“That was like holy crap,” Hunter says. Soon after, and following Simson’s urging during a video itself, the league’s official account left eye-emojis on its Instagram and TikTok content. Liberty star Breanna Stewart even shared a video of Simson on her Instagram story.

Still, the Simsons’ Las Vegas adventure didn’t exactly pan out as they hoped. Without an appointment, Parker says a security guard at the Aces facility turned them away. Instead, they filmed a video on the sidewalk outside.

The Simson grandchildren hope the project creates more opportunities for “Grandma Shirley,” who they recently launched a separate Instagram page for. It’s called “EasyMoneyGranny,” a play on Kevin Durant’s “easymoneysniper” handle.

They’d love to see her receive an invite to a WNBA All-Star Game or for her to play a ceremonial role at the draft. “We just want to have it lead to some cool adventures for her,” Parker says.

That prospect excites Simson, though it produces some worries too. She’s asked her grandsons: “What if somebody wants me to actually come and then I’m not good enough? What if a team takes me and I play lousy?”

They respond: “Baba, don’t worry, they’re not gonna expect you to be dunking and doing crazy stuff.”

It also doesn’t help quell any nerves that a family vacation and a holiday cold temporarily halted Simson’s workouts. But having recovered and settled back in at home in British Columbia, her journey to the WNBA will continue.

“Those of us who are fortunate enough to still be alive, we should show people that old people can do things and old people can have dreams,” Simson says. “Though we might forget a lot, we sure know how to do a lot too.”

(Top photo of Shirley Simson: Courtesy of Court Candy)

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