PUBLISHED January 3, 2020 | News
I was retired. I stopped playing after 7 years of stints in the WBL, WABA, USBL (Men’s Professional League), the Harlem Globetrotters and the USA Women’s National team. I had done it all.
After retirement, it was about spending time with my family and doing TV work as an analyst and broadcaster. I was enjoying it but there was always that itch to one day play again.
In 1996, I was sitting with Magic Johnson watching one of the games at the 96’ Olympics and he asked “are you going to be playing in the WNBA?” At that time, I was 39 years old. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if I could do it. But, when Magic asked me if I thought I could play, I simply answered ”yes.” However, I didn’t know if I’d actually decide to play.
Months from the WNBA starting and I still didn’t have a decision. The driving force was my family.
When I returned from the Olympics, I remember coming home to my three-year old son TJ and I asked him ”what does mommy do?”
He thought for a second and responded ”mommy does TV.”
It was at that moment that I wanted to play again. I wanted him to know what I did as an athlete. I wanted my son to see me play and wanted him to understand what it meant to play.
So I told TJ to tell his father, who was in the other room at the time, that I was coming out of retirement.
”Mommy is going to come out of retirement.” I overheard TJ tell Tim.
I knew that if I was going to play, that I needed to be in incredible shape for the WNBA to take me seriously and give me an opportunity. And so I did. I returned to the court and I was eventually drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in 1997 in the Elite Draft. At 39, I was the oldest player in the WNBA’s inaugural season.
At 39 (and then again at 50), I was able to come back. We made the playoffs and the most important part was my son getting to see me play again. He had never seen me play. So it was important for me to wear that number 10 on my back and for my son to see me on the court.
When you play the game for as long as I have, nothing really fazes you. You become the ultimate professional in your routine, respect and how you prepare for practices and the game. I was not only a role model to my son but to amazing and great women who were playing professionally for the first time in the WNBA. But, when my son was able to watch me play, I had a very different outlook on the game and what it meant for him.
TJ would show up to games dressed in my uniform. He’d have the headband, the uniform, everything. I could hear him yell on the sidelines cheering for me to shoot or for my teammates to pass me the ball. For me, It was a very memorable time in this game that I have loved since I was 9 years old. I had the three things I loved most, god, my family and basketball. Rarely, in any profession, do you get that opportunity where passion, work and family all intersect. But, I was blessed to have that.
It created special bonds with my family and more specifically, my son. He got a chance to see me in action and watch me do what I love. That decision to play again was one of the greatest in my life because of what I was able to give and show my son.
To NBA Commissioner emeritus David Stern. I am deeply grateful to you for fulfilling your promise to me in 1984. That promise was – that before his time in the NBA came to an end, there would be a WNBA. His hope that I would still be able to play in it one day. His phone call to me, the day of my first game, I won’t ever forget. There was so much emotion in his voice when he told me how proud he was of me.