'It takes a village.' Fever assistant Karima Christmas-Kelly navigates first season with baby

Indiana Fever Assistant Coach Karima Christmas-Kelly poses with her son, Zayn, at media day on May 1.
Indiana Fever Assistant Coach Karima Christmas-Kelly poses with her son, Zayn, at media day on May 1.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Fever assistant coach Karima Christmas-Kelly can’t believe it’s almost been a year since she had her son, Zayn.

"It's just been an amazing ride so far," Christmas-Kelly said. "I can't believe it's my first Mother's Day. I was like, 'Oh, it's really like my first one.' I'm just excited about that."

Christmas-Kelly, who is going into her second season as an assistant on Christie Sides’ staff, got the job offer just after she found out she was pregnant in January 2023. Around that same time, her husband, Austin Kelly, got an offer from Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White to be an assistant coach, too.

It was both of their dreams to be on the coaching staff of a WNBA team. For them both to achieve it, though, they would be 850 miles apart in one of the most crucial times of their lives.

But they knew they could make it work.

From 2023: When she played for Fever, he was a practice player. Now they're married and WNBA coaches.

“We kind of just had that conversation like, ‘If it's something that excites you, if it’s something that you truly want to do, like, there's no reason to hold back.’” Austin Kelly told IndyStar in May 2023. “And so, you know, that opportunity first presented itself, and then once we made the decision for her to move forward, then Steph reached out. So it was kind of like the stars were aligning. We would obviously have to be apart during the summer months, which would be tough, but we get to spend the offseason together.”

Christmas-Kelly went into labor just before the 2023 All-Star break, having their baby in early July. Both of them took a short amount of time off right after Zayn was born, but Kelly eventually needed to go back to Connecticut to finish the season, where the Sun advanced to the playoff semifinals.

It was a chaotic couple of months at the end of last season, Christmas-Kelly said, but after everything finished, the couple settled into their home in Nashville for the six-month offseason.

“The offseason definitely was special to get back together and get into a routine,” Christmas-Kelly told IndyStar last week. “And to see how much he's grown so far, like, he's walking, he’s nine months, 10 months now, this has been a blur. But I'm just excited to have him in this situation.”

The couple spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and the first months of 2024 together, soaking in time with their baby. Eventually, though, Kelly had to return to Connecticut for the draft and training camp, while Christmas-Kelly headed to Indianapolis.

Zayn is going to mainly stay with Christmas-Kelly throughout the season, and she has the help of her dad in Indianapolis. He and other family members have come together to watch Zayn when Christmas-Kelly is at practices or games, and sometimes helps to bring him along to Gainbridge Fieldhouse or on road trips.

“I have great family members, great friends that come in and out and help me you know, just be able to take care of him so I can still do what I love to do,” Christmas-Kelly said. “Especially this season, my dad is actually staying with me the whole season, to have just you know, stability there, having that same person there. Of course, family members will come into town, travel with me, so I have them with me on the road. It’s like they say: it takes a village and my family and friends have been like that great driving force for me, and especially with him this year.”

Christmas-Kelly also gets a lot of support from her fellow coaches and players — Sides’ partner has two kids, assistant coach Jessie Miller and her partner have two kids, as well as assistant coach Paul Miller and his wife.

Katie Lou Samuelson, who signed with the Fever this past offseason, has a baby girl, Aliya, who is about the same age as Zayn. While the kids haven’t met yet, the two are hoping to set up a time this season.

“Something that's special about this organization is just that we definitely tap into that family dynamic and being able to have our kids around when those moments or availability are there,” Christmas-Kelly said. “So it's just a good situation to be in, and they treat him like their own. We're always just ready to bring all the kiddos in and just have a good time.”

Of course, Zayn staying with Christmas-Kelly means Kelly isn’t able to see him as much as he would like.

Christmas-Kelly said they FaceTime every day, working around their coaching schedules, and it helps the Fever open the season against the Sun for the second-straight year. With the help of family, Zayn will be traveling to Connecticut for the season-opener on May 14, and then the Sun come to Indianapolis for a return game just six days later on May 20.

The two teams play each other again on June 10 and Aug. 28. While the matchups are front-loaded, the couple is going to try and find time during the season — including the Olympic break, which stretches from July 21 to Aug. 14 — to see each other.

“It's been pretty tough,” Christmas-Kelly said. “I think the only thing that really saves us a lot is that we play each other so early in the season, so it's not as much time in the front end being away from each other and him being able to see Zayn again, but, we're trying to do the best that we can.”

Follow IndyStar Fever Insider Chloe Peterson on X at @chloepeterson67.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Fever assistant Karima Christmas-Kelly navigates first season as a mom