Pat Summitt distributes copies of "Sum It Up"
Floods of chatter abruptly turned into momentary silence.
Hundreds of patrons awkwardly weaved in and out of bookshelves at Barnes & Noble on Kingston Pike instantly locked onto a legend.
Fans donning different shades of orange, light blue and the occasional “We Back Pat” purple rose to their tiptoes.
Countless darting eyes eagerly peered over the wooden shelves in hopes to catch a glimpse of Pat Summitt.
Greeted by the hush of anticipation, the iconic women’s basketball coach strolled over to a fold-up table sandwiched between two large piles of books.
Glancing up at the crowd, Summitt offered a soft smile and a warm wave.
Downpours of applause followed.
“I’m so nervous,” a fan near the front of the line murmured as she snapped a photo.
Settling into her seat, the woman who was merely introduced as “quite simply the most successful college basketball coach ever — period,” by ABC’s Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America” Tuesday morning scanned the restless audience.
“How you doing?” Summitt said as she mounted her chair.
Summitt would repeat the question to what seemed to be every one of the wide-eyed fans approaching the table to retrieve a copy of her new book, “Sum It Up,” which hit shelves Tuesday.
The memoir, co-authored with Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, tells the tale of Summitt’s humble beginnings to a storied 38-season coaching career.
Time after time Tuesday, the long-time Tennessee coach handed over a copy of her pre-signed book, posed for a picture and offered a departing “bless your heart,” or a gentle “thank you.”
But for Knoxville-native Kim Swindle, the 376-page hardcover merely scrapes the surface of Summitt’s story.
Hiding beneath the shade of a Tennessee visor bearing the signatures of Andraya Carter, Kamiko Williams and several other Lady Vols, the 50-year-old let out a faint chuckle.
“There’s not enough pages in the world,” she said. “She’s just a pioneer, a legend. All you need is 30 seconds with her to understand what I feel. She’s a friend, teacher, icon, role model — a hero, my hero.”
In one way or another, Swindle’s words were echoed throughout the line.
“You can’t sum up what Pat Summitt has done,” Sheila Swabe of Madisonville said. “She paved the way for so much more than basketball. So much more than a few pages can explain.”
Wearing a purple “We Back Pat” T-shirt paired with a miniature bobblehead Summitt pin, Jacki Sturdivant was avidly reading her electronic copy of “Sum It Up” on her tablet while pacing in line.
Glancing up, already at page 109, she talked about Summitt’s legendary coaching career.
She mentioned the 1,098 wins, the eight national championships, the countless banners flying from the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters and then paused.
Quickly collecting her thoughts, she grinned.
“She’s a legend. Can’t put a number on that,” Sturdivant said. “The top of my bucket list is crossed off each time I meet her. She’s my heroine for what she’s done for women. Not women’s sports — women.”
Jennifer Douthat of Greeneville arrived at 10:30 a.m. to claim the coveted first spot in line with her 8-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, by her side.
“I’m excited about everything,” Kaleigh said, shyly swaying side-to-side. “I’m excited to meet Pat Summitt, not very nervous.”
At 4 p.m. the ropes were lowered for fans to approach Summitt.
Some gingerly walked up to her table, arms folded, timidly batting their eyes. Others greeted her with variations of enthusiastic waves and handshakes.
But whether initially blushing or babbling, all departed the table wearing a uniform smile, book clenched in hand. “What a lady,” Brenda Kerns of Knoxville said as she left Summitt’s side.
Riley Blevins is a freelance contributor.