JUST DO IT: Marshall coach Dorothy Gaters, featured in a short Nike ad. | Nike

Dorothy Gaters — the winningest basketball coach in Illinois High School Association (IHSA) history — was allowed to share some of her abundant wisdom in a short promotional video Nike released last week in time for the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday.  

“I think if you consider a person equal to you, then you will treat them with a certain amount of respect and dignity,” Gaters says — her calm, dignified tone a fitting soundtrack to a black-and-white tableau that puts in stark relief Chicago’s two sides: one that’s overwhelmingly poor and darker-hued; the other wealthy and overwhelmingly white. 

The short ad opens with an expansive shot of the sky followed by the city’s famous skyline foregrounded by Lake Michigan. Gaters voice intermixes with the sound of water rippling and wind howling. 

“I think if you consider a person equal to you, then you will treat them with a certain amount of respect and dignity,” Gaters says before a freighted pause made heavier by the U.S. flag rippling in the breeze. 

“If we don’t have a mindset of fairness, we can’t translate that into the next generation,” the prominent coach continues as the sound and sight of the city’s ‘L’ train signal an ironic transition — a sidewalk view of the city’s relatively impoverished, racially segregated West Side, where Marshall High School is located. 

Gaters has coached the lady’s varsity basketball team at the school since 1976. She’s amassed more than 1,000 wins, 24 city championships, eight state titles, seven Coach of the Year selections from the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and even more accolades than space allows. 

Gaters hosted her annual MLK Classic basketball tournament, which features top high school girls and boys basketball teams from across the state, between Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day). 

Each team in the tournament was decked out in Nike’s new apparel and footwear that’s part of the company’s new EQUALITY campaign. 

According to Nike Communications Manager Hetér Myers, EQUALITY is “an initiative in which Nike encourages people to take the fairness and respect they see in sport and translate them off the field.” 

Along with select apparel and footwear, the initiative also includes a series of short promotional films — the first of which was released last year featuring LeBron James and Serena Williams, and which aired during the Grammys and during the NBA All-Star weekend.

The short film that Nike released this year featuring Gaters will air on Nike Chicago social channels. 

Just seconds into Gaters’ moving soliloquy, another side of the city comes into focus — the side where Gater has coached and where her players battle on the courts for championships and off of the courts for survival; where streets and blocks cry out for investment.

“Equality,” Gaters says. “It looks like boys and girls playing together — black and white; kids interacting; men and women getting the same salaries. There’s work for the greater benefit, which is our children. And I think as coaches, we have a responsibility to remind them, people made a lot of sacrifices for you to be able to participate in this sport at a higher level.” 

This isn’t the first time that Gaters has been featured in a Nike advertising campaign. In 1997, she was cast in the role of coach Pamela Scott in a 10-part ad campaign called “A Championship Season.” 

According to a Chicago Tribune article published at the time, the campaign “follows the fictional Charlestown Cougars during a girls high school basketball season.” 

The ad, the Tribune explained, was to be shown during “women’s sports events, prime-time programming and such teen-oriented shows as ‘Buggy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Moesha’.” 

Nike spokesperson Kathryn Reith told Tribune reporters at the time that the company “wanted a female coach,” because there “aren’t many opportunities for girls to see women as coaches.”

Considering that perspective, Gaters’ most recent starring role in a Nike production is something of a bookend. 

“The dream has to grow,” Gaters says during the EQUALITY film. 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com