Legendary American striker Mia Hamm is a hat-trick magician. Unlike most selfish strikers, the humble scorer was committed to team dynamics. She was able to play any position on the field, usually better than her peers. But when she met Brandi Chastain and Michelle Akers, she knew she’d found her squad.
Hamm always put the team first. As a result, she played with some of the greatest Women’s National Teams the world has ever known.
Mia Mania swept American pop culture in the late ’90s. With multiple World Cups and Olympic medals to her name, Mia Hamm was an international soccer star when she retired in 2004. Where is this American hero now, and how did she get there?
Who is Mia Hamm?
Mariel Margaret Hamm was born in Selma, Alabama in 1972, the same year the United States passed Title IX. Young Hamm, a military brat, had a unique childhood. Her father, Bill Hamm, was an Air Force pilot and her mother, Stephanie, was a ballerina. The family lived in Alabama, Texas, Virginia and Italy. Hamm wore corrective braces to cure her clubfoot, an inborn abnormality. She began playing soccer while living in Florence. Later in life, Hamm became famous for her footwork.
The Hamms adopted Mia’s older brother, Garrett Hamm, when Mia was 6 and Garrett was 8. They became fast friends and loyal siblings. Later in life, Garrett was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. It’s a debilitating disease that attacks all blood cell types. Garrett tragically passed away in 1997, one year after Hamm won her first Olympic Gold medal.
The Hamms moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1977. Mia proved the toughest kid on the block. She played wide receiver and cornerback for the middle school football team but switched to futbol in high school.
Hamm racked up hat tricks at Notre Dame Catholic High School for two years before moving to Burke, Virginia, where she won a state title with Lake Braddock Secondary School. Hamm stayed on the east coast for college. She joined an NCAA college soccer powerhouse, the University of North Carolina Tarheels, in 1989.
Mia Hamm played forward for the UNC Tar Heels for four years. Unbelievably, her NCAA record is 94-1.
Hamm left Chapel Hill arguably the Greatest Tar Heel of All Time. She scored 103 goals, won four consecutive NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship titles, was honored as ACC Player of the Year three times, won one ACC Female Athlete of the Year and won one All-American honor. Hamm sat out the 1991 season while winning the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Mia Hamm: Women’s National Team Legend
The 1991 World Cup wasn’t Hamm’s first rodeo with the U.S. Women’s National Team. She became the youngest player in USWNT history while in high school at the age of 15. When Hamm won the first-ever Women’s World Cup, she scored goals against Sweden and Brazil. The U.S. women defeated Germany in the semis then China in the finals. It was the beginning of a beautiful rivalry.
Hamm and the National Soccer Team were back in the 1995 WWC held in Sweden. In a wild tournament that saw Hamm temporarily playing goalkeeper when Brianna Scurry got a red card, the U.S. Women settled for third place.
They avenged their losses a year later in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. They again defeated China. But this time, for Olympic Gold. (Hamm didn’t play in the final due to injuries suffered earlier in the tournament.) The gold medal match took place at Stanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, yet another reason to love the Dawgs. Briana Scurry ran naked through the streets of Athens to celebrate the win.
Hamm scored her 108th international goal in 1999. The goal marked the most ever in an international competition by a soccer player, breaking a tie with Italian Elisabetta Vignotto. (No. 108 is the video at the top of this section.)
Hamm played in the famous 1999 Women’s World Cup Final, scoring a goal in the penalty shoot-out. Over 90,000 fans packed the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. With 18 million more cheering from home, the U.S. Women once again defeated China, this time in a thrilling overtime shoot-out. Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal and celebrated admirably. The 1999 World Cup Bra Celebration is one of the most iconic moments in American sports history. Mia Hamm and the 99ers remain untarnished by time.
Hamm and the USWNT followed up their 1999 WWC Trophy with Silver Medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. SARS forced the 2003 Women’s World Cup to the States, but that didn’t matter. Hamm and the squad finished in third after losing to Germany in the semi-finals.
In 2004, Hamm scored her 158th and final goal for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. Her international goal-scoring record stood till 2013. Fittingly, fellow American Abby Wambach broke Hamm’s record. Wambach and Hamm were teammates in 2004 when they won gold at the Athens Olympics. Those games marked the last appearance of the USWNT’s Fab Five together on the pitch?Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett.
Hamm, ever humble, habitually defers to her team’s greatness over her own in interviews. But there’s no denying that if the U.S. National Team were the NBA, then Hamm would be Michael Jordan.
MJ or MH?
Comparisons to MJ are easy to make. But Hamm can back her claim. She’s won as many awards as the GOAT, including the U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year Award (five times in a row), World Player of the Year and the Honda-Broderick Cup for Top Female Athlete.
Pele named Hamm one of his top FIFA Female Players of the Century along with Michelle Akers. The National Soccer Hall of Fame, World Football Hall of Fame and Women’s Hall of Fame all have busts of Mia Hamm. She won ESPN ESPYs for Soccer Player of the Year and Female Athlete of the Year, three in total.
Mia is more like Mike than most. Both Olympic game medalists are former Tar Heels sponsored by Nike. Phil Knight was so enamored with Mia that he named Nike’s largest building after her and compared the star to Tiger Woods. Mia was just as marketable as Mike, sparking her own Mia Mania frenzy. While Mike was still selling shoes, Hamm was moving towards the future. She released Mia Hamm Soccer 64 in 1999.
Mia Hamm was ‘have her own N64 video game’ famous. Mike can’t touch that.
Hamm had sponsorships from Barbie, Nabisco, Dreyer’s Ice Cream and this little company called Gatorade.
Hamm and Jordan appeared together in a large swath of Gatorade ads but are mostly remembered for their “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” spot. The ads were wildly popular. Gatorade brought the ads back in 2021 with Abby Wambach and Usain Bolt. Jordan and Hamm hammed it up with brief cameos.
Hamm’s dreams unfolded before her very eyes as she played soccer. Now, the 49-year-old Hamm spends her retirement helping other young girls realize their dreams.
Mia Hamm Now
Before Hamm retired from professional women’s soccer, she helped found the Women’s United Soccer Associated (WUSA) in 2001.
Hamm took less than the league’s maximum salary while playing for Washington Freedom, so the extra funds could be for developing other players, helping the association grow. She led the Freedom to the WUSA Founders Cup in 2002 but lost the match to the Carolina Courage. WUSA crumbled in 2003. Hamm retired from professional soccer in 2004.
Hamm has been heavily involved in non-profits since her retirement. She founded the Mia Hamm Foundation to raise money for cord blood transplants and women’s youth soccer. She’s involved in Athletes for Hope and once hosted a Celebrity Soccer Challenge in Los Angeles to raise funds for the charity. Kobe Bryant (RIP) was one of the game’s participants.
Like many athletes, Hamm can’t stay away from the game in retirement. She is a global ambassador for F.C. Barcelona while working for A.S. Roma and the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. She runs TeamFirst Soccer Academy alongside teammate and friend Kristine Lilly. Hamm also knows Will Ferrell. They both own a stake in the MLS’s Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), alongside Magic Johnson. Ferrell is a renowned sports fan with interests in soccer and baseball alike.
Hamm is married to former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. The pair met while attending an unspecified Harvard event sometime after Hamm’s divorce from her first husband and college boyfriend, Christiaan Corry. Garciaparra and Hamm have twin girls and a son. The family resides in Southern California today.
Hamm made headlines in June 2021 when her rookie card sold for more than $34,000, easily becoming the most expensive female sports card ever.
Mia Hamm put American soccer on the map. She’s still doing so in retirement. It’s a fitting life for one of the greatest goal-scorers in American history, a women’s sports legend who still pushes herself towards greatness today.