Fran Harris played overseas and in the WNBA for two seasons. For years, she’s called games on TV, most recently on ION Television. She worked as a life coach and was a finalist for Good Morning America’s “Advice Guru.” (If you have a co-worker with bad table manners, she said, politely point out the distracting behavior in a private moment. Some people aren’t aware.) She’s the creator of a sports drink company, Electra Beverages, which she presented on Shark Tank. (Yup, she took Barbara’s deal.) She hosted a series on HGTV, Home Rules. She’s written books and, with a master’s degree in journalism, would write a less clunky intro.

Now, she’s leading a group to bring a WNBA franchise to Austin, where she starred for the University of Texas. That’s where she led an undefeated team to the NCAA championship in 1986. At the university, let’s see, she has served as a professor of—

That’s enough. You get the idea. Fran Harris is an accomplished star.

An athlete’s success, both long-term and short-term, is based on the idea of constant adaptation. The only difference is Harris had to do that early.  

Opportunities for girls in sports were limited in the 1970s and 1980s, so Harris had to pursue other interests. She didn’t start playing basketball until she was 15. Tragedy provided more motivation.

“My mom, Bessie, died when I was 16 years old suddenly,” Harris, 58, said. “So I think I understood, as most people do when they lose something unexpectedly, that life is not promised. My mother was just getting started in her life, as she was 45 years old when she died. She was just getting started with her own business. I think that triggered something in me, like, Hey, you better get going. Whatever you might think you want to do, you need to go and pursue that.”

Harris had a fantastic career at the University of Texas, as she was named to the Southwest Conference’s 1980s all-decade team. But she didn’t begin her WNBA career until 1997, 11 years after her senior year — and with four years’ experience as an account executive at Procter & Gamble on her resume.

The latter sounds preposterous in 2023. Imagine Caitlin Clark graduating from Iowa to become a junior executive at General Mills. But Harris was OK.

“I was actually somebody before I was a basketball player,” she said. “Instead, basketball was ‘a bonus’ that allowed for other opportunities.

“The fact that I didn’t start early meant that if basketball were somehow out of my life for some reason, I wouldn’t be devastated. You have to establish an identity outside of the sport whether you’re 20, 30 or 40. At some point, you’ve got to turn that light on where you go, ‘What would I be if this ball or sport were not in my life?’”

Today, a comparative bounty of opportunities exists at home and abroad as Women’s basketball continues to gain an audience. For example, thanks to the 2023 NCAA Women’s Final Four, LSU’s Angel Reese is now a legitimate celebrity.

That progress comes with a price.

“You’re competing more for deals and sponsorships and endorsements,” Harris said of the brave, new world of NIL. “It’s actually more stressful now, based on conversations I’m having with college athletes and professional athletes.”

When Harris talks with athletes of all ages, a common theme emerges.

“They don’t see themselves outside their sport,” she said. “They legit think they’re always going to be that guy or that girl. That’s the hardest thing. There will come a time when you won’t do that. They don’t want to think about it. I get that. It's meant so much. It’s a part of so much of who you are.”

It comes down, Harris says, to “calling and purpose and mission.” She poses this question: If we spent the day together only doing the things you love, what would we do? Most athletes are stumped with this question “because they’ve never known their life without their sport or trying to do something around their sport.”

The National Basketball Players Association’s “Off the Court” program offers help to retired players in that transition, but it’s important to “find one other lane that you can move in, that you can learn in,” Harris said. Current players, she added, should spend the offseason indulging that curiosity.

“Athletes know how to do things,” she said. “When I tell them how to think about calling and purpose, they don’t know how to do that yet, but they know, ‘Oh, I can find something I’m curious about, and I can pursue that for a year.”

Harris’ pursuits weren’t the result of boredom or a scattered mind. She was making choices about her future.  

Basketball followed Harris into business. The relationships Harris made at the University of Texas “have followed me, literally, for 30 years.”

Longhorns’ legendary women’s basketball head coach, Jody Conradt, once had players submit the names of three team members they considered friends. Harris learned her name appeared on every ballot.

“People want to do business with me because they trust me,” she said. “They want to be part of the sunshine and the aspirations.”

That trust stems from a promise Harris made to herself years ago. She noticed how many people in her business and professional relationships lied. Why did that happen?

She gave an example of a past experience.

“You were in a relationship where you didn’t want the consequences of the truth,” she explained. “I made a decision that if I have to be in a situation where I feel I have to lie, [then] that’s not the situation that I want to be in. I’m not going to do that. I announced to my friends and family that I was never going to lie to them again.”

The decision was a game-changer.

“It’s made more people more aware of their level of truth and honesty and why they do it,” she said. “I can have conversations and relationships, and I know there’s no B.S. in it — well, not from my side anyway...”

Aside from her work to get Austin that WNBA franchise, she is the co-founder of Dallas-based The Athletic Club, which builds and operates multisport indoor and outdoor facilities. Harris is looking to turn her business and branding work with athletes into a company. The name is fitting: Athletes Who Mean Business. 

This phase of her life is about building a legacy. So, what will Fran Harris do next? She doesn’t know. And that’s fine. Uncertainty is a fatal shortcoming on a basketball court. That doesn’t apply everywhere. There’s time to find answers.

“We’re so afraid of what that looks like from the outside, what people are going to think about you or say about you if you display human vulnerability,” Harris said. “That’s not something that’s a built-in part of the creed of being an athlete. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I’m excited about the adventure.”