Meet Zaila Avant-garde, 2021 Spelling Bee champion and basketball world record holder


Zaila Avant-garde has dreams of being a WNBA champion someday.

For now, she’ll settle for a spelling bee title.

The 14-year-old from Louisiana won the 2021 Scripps Spelling Bee on Thursday night. She earned the victory by correctly spelling Murraya, which is defined as “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees” and is more commonly known as orange jasmine or orange jessamine.


She was elated after finishing the competition with relative ease. She joined Jody-Anne Maxwell as the only Black winners in the bee’s 96-year history.

Avant-garde said that the bee was not her top priority. Even still, she found time to spell 13,000 words a day to prepare for the competition.

“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words and that usually takes about seven hours or so,” Avant-garde said in an interview with “We don’t let it go way too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.”


Basketball is her main focus. She holds three Guinness World Records, including one for most basketballs dribbled simultaneously (six).

Avant-garde also has skills on the court, as you can see in this Instagram post.


And she’s hoping those skills will take her places.

“Basketball, I’m not just playing it. I’m really trying to go somewhere with it. Basketball is what I do,” Avant-garde said. “Spelling is really a side thing I do. It’s like a little hors d’oeuvre. But basketball’s like the main dish.”


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