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Shaunie Henderson Is Playing The Long Game

Shaunie Henderson isn’t new to the game. The mother of five was thrust into the public spotlight behind the shadow of a famous husband, endured merciless rumor mills, and rebuilt her life on her own terms while the world plotted on her downfall. Today, she’s a one-woman empire, having spawned a cultural revolution with the reality series Basketball Wives, as well as the six spinoff shows created in its wake.


Lauded by some and critiqued by others, Henderson’s brainchild launched the careers of women who, too, were once lost behind the romantic figures in their lives. Allowing larger-than-life personalities like Tami Roman, Jackie Christie, Evelyn Lozada, and Draya Michele to create lucrative careers of their own. Lifting the veil of the once-only glamorized life of those linked to the world’s most famous athletes was a risk and often left Henderson in the crossfire of criticism. However, the show’s longevity—11 seasons and counting—speaks for itself.

In 2022, the mogul married Pastor Keion Henderson of The Lighthouse Church, marking a new chapter in her life and bringing about a new chorus of dissenters. What did she know about being a first lady? About as much as she knew about executive producing a hit TV series back in 2010, one would guess. Nonetheless, she boldly stepped into another spotlight, never cowered, and embraced her position in a world that never planned to accept her.

Now, with the release of her memoir Undefeated, the multi-hyphenate adds author to her resume in a major way. Aside from the headlines, the book offers a real look into the making of a modern Renaissance woman whose resilience is key to her success. Having sidestepped every offense thrown her way, Henderson has proven time and time again that she plays by her own rules. And, more often than not, she wins.

xoNecole spoke to Shaunie ahead of the book’s release about what she’s learned on her journey, her favorite Basketball Wives moments, and what she would tell her younger self.

xoNecole: Why choose to be so deeply personal at this point in your life?

Shaunie Henderson: It was a bit therapeutic for me. I think just being able to write down things that I never actually talked about made me more comfortable. I started the journey of writing this book, probably around 2018 and I stopped out of fear. I picked it back up on and off. And finally just decided to knock it out and see how I feel about it. I just felt good writing about everything, finally. I think that as I wrote it, I realized I wished somebody had told me some of these things a little earlier in life. Maybe, I would have done better and made smarter decisions. I know I needed to go through my journey so that I could end up exactly where I am right now, but I also think that with a little guidance, your journey can be a little easier.

xoN: You share a lot about what you’ve learned along the way in 'Undefeated' but if there’s one thing that has been the most pivotal to where you are today, what would be that thing?

SH: You're not always going to come out on top, but I really live by the name of my book, Undefeated. It’s how I feel about anything that I enter into. It can be kind of addicting to have that feeling of being undefeated and just wanting to win all the time. But you got to realize that the experience, the journey, and the opportunity whether win, lose, or draw— it's never a loss. You never lose. You gain something out of it, even if it's just the wisdom of knowing what not to do.

xoN: When you're in the public eye, people tend to write their own narratives about who you are. Is there a certain level of freedom in knowing that sometimes you can't change people's minds no matter what you do?

SH: I think that comes eventually. There was a time that I very much cared, and it would bother me. When I first started Basketball Wives, everyone was on Twitter saying exactly what they felt, and they used to eat me up. I would be in the comments arguing with people. It’s easy to think that you just “don’t care,” but you just develop thick skin after a while. At this point in the game, I’m numb to it. Plus, I am absolutely positively convinced that people love content with no context. They want to take five words out of a sentence of 12, make it into what they want so they can have an opinion online, argue with people in the comments, and get more attention that day than they’ve had all month.

What I do care about are the opinions of those I genuinely love and care about. I care about their perspective.

xoN: One thing you bravely address in the book is the personal cost of the lifestyle that a lot of people covet. What advice would you give to a young Shaunie or any woman who might be looking at certain lifestyles, desiring that, and not understanding what comes with it? 

SH: If I was talking to the younger Shaunie and I was in the same situation, I would just say, ‘Don't forget you.’ I got lost, and I didn't realize I was drowning in that shadow. I just never established anything for me. I didn't establish a business. I didn't establish a purpose. I wasn't even looking for one and didn't know how to find one. I was a mom of five, a wife, and all those things. And it was great. But there were times where I was just bored out of my mind. So I would encourage young me to realize that I still matter. And that I have to put myself in a position to realize my purpose. I would go after some goals and career aspirations. You have to fight for those and really push for them when you’re in a situation where it’s easy to get comfortable.

I would have also put something aside for me that wasn’t given to me. I would have established some level of independence. Because when it’s cut off, it’s over.

"I got lost, and I didn't realize I was drowning in that shadow. I just never established anything for me. I didn't establish a business. I didn't establish a purpose. I wasn't even looking for one and didn't know how to find one. I was a mom of five, a wife, and all those things. And it was great. But there were times where I was just bored out of my mind. So I would encourage young me to realize that I still matter. And that I have to put myself in a position to realize my purpose."

xoN: There was a significant time between your first marriage and your current one. What behaviors did you have to unlearn in order to enter into a healthy relationship?

SH: I had to learn how to soften myself and allow my husband to lead me. I had to let him be a gentleman. I was single for a long time and became totally dependent on only myself. I didn't have anybody opening my car door and making sure that gas was in my car or that it was washed. Things were done around the house because I either told my sons to do it or did it myself. So to have a man in my life that made me feel so safe and secure, I just became real dainty. Women need to have that trust in their partner.

xoN: You’ve occupied a lot of spaces in your life in a non-traditional way. For example, you wrote about not treating new basketball wives and girlfriends the way that you were treated or not being what people think a “first lady” should be in the religious sector. How much of that is intentional?

SH: I think that's just who I am. I can’t say I intentionally go against the grain. In the book, I talk about things from my childhood, like my dad being late all the time. I was totally opposite with my kids when they were in school. I was always there early. My mother is not affectionate, and she doesn't verbally say, ‘I love you,’ but she does things to let you know. That's the way she shows her love.

But because I missed that 'I love you' and hugging and kissing, I do that with my kids. I try to always give what I needed myself. There were basketball wives who weren’t very nice to me, so I went out of my way to make sure that once I was a wife that I didn't treat anybody else like that. No one was going to feel like that on my watch.

xoN: I imagine it’s a little more difficult to establish your own rhythm in a church setting.

SH: As far as being first lady, now, I'm not knocking how any first ladies decide to operate but I just knew that the idea of what that usually is was not me. And, to be honest, rightfully so. I'm probably the only first lady that created a reality show that has been on television since 2010. My life is not remotely close to that of most first ladies. We've experienced completely different things. Most of them have been pastor’s wives for a long time, this is all new for me. I come with an entirely different journey; that wouldn’t lend itself to being a traditional first lady.

xoN: 'Basketball Wives' has always been heavily criticized for its portrayal of women on the show. It’s not the first or only of its kind, but what do you think gives way to the ire that this show, specifically, gets?

SH: We just tend to tear our own people up for whatever reason. When I started Basketball Wives, it was really a matter of survival for me. I was in desperation mode. I needed the show to be successful because I had to figure out how I was going to live and provide a life for my children. Basketball Wives is a platform and it is a space for women to have the freedom to be and say and do what represents them. And what that is, is their decision, right? I just provided the platform for it to happen.

I knew that I had lost my voice before, and I wanted to provide a space to ensure that other women didn’t lose theirs. Again, what they decided to do with the camera time and who they decided to show up as is on them, but here's the platform, and I think for many women, it has been just that. It’s boosted them into a space in their life where they're able to make money and branch out into other opportunities that they may not have had otherwise.

"When I started Basketball Wives, it was really a matter of survival for me. I was in desperation mode. I needed the show to be successful because I had to figure out how I was going to live and provide a life for my children. Basketball Wives is a platform and it is a space for women to have the freedom to be and say and do what represents them. And what that is, is their decision, right? I just provided the platform for it to happen."

xoN: So what have been your most cherished 'Basketball Wives' moments?

SH: It was probably the day after the infamous fight between Tami Roman and Evelyn Lozada. Evelyn had coined the “non-mf factor” phrase, and production had broken up their fight the night before. Me and her were on the beach, and Tami called to see what I was up to. I told her I was with Evelyn, and she said she was coming to meet us. I'm thinking I'm about to be in part two. There's no security, we were off for the day and I was sure it was about to be horrible. Tami gets there. She’s already got her cigarette lit, her bob is bouncing as she walks up to us, and I just remember her saying, ‘What y’all heffas doing?’ It was just like nothing had happened at all. It was like they fought, they got it out, and she was off to the next thing.

Those type of moments I wish people could experience and see that although things happen that seem outrageous, it’s all love. It doesn't always end up perfect. But for the most part, we have had a really, really good time.

xoN: Lastly, what do you want people to walk away from 'Undefeated' understanding about Shaunie?

SH: That my resilience has shaped me into the Shaunie I am today. And I honestly believe that it's all in God's timing. We might not understand it as it's happening, but he does all things perfect. I can sit back now and be the happiest version of myself that I've ever been, with the understanding that it was just God's timing. It all had to happen the way it happened because now I'm enjoying where I am. And I would have never been able to accomplish being as intentional about everything that I do without the journey that I experienced to get here.

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Feature image by Keith Majors

 

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