It is hard to imagine a 7-2 basketball player flying under the radar, but that’s exactly what Margo Dydek did prior to the WNBA’s pre-draft camp in April of 1998.
Despite playing professionally in Europe for six seasons before making her way to the United States, the Polish native was a virtual unknown to American basketball audiences.
It doesn’t seem possible now, with fans able to watch games on YouTube channels, and exchange 4k video with a few clicks of a cell phone, but only one head coach at the pre-draft camp had seen any kind of film on Dydek. To top it off, she was listed as being 6-6 in the league’s press materials—a full eight inches shorter than her actual height.
When Dydek finally did walk into the gymnasium at Moody Bible College that April, a star was born, albeit a somewhat reluctant one.
The Utah Starzz understandably made the 23-year-old Dydek the first pick in the 1998 WNBA draft. She averaged 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds as a rookie, while setting the WNBA record for blocked shots in a season with 114. That record stood for 16 years until Brittney Griner swatted 129 shots in the 2014 season.
Her nickname prior to entering the league was Ppych—the Polish word for a sweet, whipped-cream-covered cake—and that fit her personality to a T. Despite her height and 85-inch wingspan, the soft-spoken Dydek never dunked in a WNBA game. She told Sports Illustrated midway through the 1998 season “I don’t try to dunk yet in a game. Some people want sensation, but I don’t like the newspapers or the interviews or the cameras. I saw video of [my one professional dunk in Madrid a year earlier], and I don’t like it. So I prefer to leave that to (Michael) Jordan.”
Dydek would affectionately become known as “Large Marge” while with the Starzz, for whom she played her first five seasons in the league. She moved with the team to San Antonio for the 2003 and 2004 campaigns, before being traded to the Connecticut Sun on draft day, 2005.
Dydek played with Connecticut for three years, and hung up her high tops briefly after giving birth to her first son, David, in April of 2008.
During her first ten years in the WNBA, Dydek led the league in blocked shots nine times, played in two All-Star Games, and was named to two WNBA All-Defensive Teams.
She signed with Los Angeles on June 3, 2008, but played just two games with the Sparks in what would be her last year in the WNBA. Dydek still holds the WNBA’s career blocked shots record with 877.
In 2010, Dydek and her husband, David Twigg, welcomed their second son, Alexander. Sadly, on May 19, 2011, Dydek suffered a severe heart attack while pregnant with the couples’ third child, and was placed in a medically induced coma. She passed away eight days later on May 27, 2011. Dydek was 37-years old.