Saturday, May 7, 2011

After forced hiatus, Sheryl Swoopes set for WNBA return

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sheryl Swoopes has returned — but one of the biggest stars in women's basketball history doesn't see it as a comeback.

  • Three-time WNBA MVP and four-time champion Sheryl Swoopes, who last played with the Seattle Storm in 2008, signed with the Tulsa Shock last month.

    By Elaine Thompson, AP

    Three-time WNBA MVP and four-time champion Sheryl Swoopes, who last played with the Seattle Storm in 2008, signed with the Tulsa Shock last month.

By Elaine Thompson, AP

Three-time WNBA MVP and four-time champion Sheryl Swoopes, who last played with the Seattle Storm in 2008, signed with the Tulsa Shock last month.

Swoopes, one of the originals of the WNBA and one of its most successful players, will be playing for the Tulsa Shock this summer after a two-season hiatus.

"There was the misconception out there that I retired after the 2008 season," Swoopes says, "but that was never the case. I wasn't done with basketball yet, and I'm still not done."

She had won four championships, collected three MVP awards and played in six All-Star Games. She was the first player assigned to the Houston Comets when the league began in 1997 and was a mainstay of the league's first dynasty from 1997 until 2007, when the team disbanded.

Swoopes signed as a free agent with the Seattle Storm before the 2008 season. But it was a one-and-done deal and Swoopes found herself without a team and out of the league she helped put on the map.

"I admit I was pretty bitter in 2009," she says. "And I was also confused. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I had never made any plans beyond basketball."

Swoopes says it was a spiritual time for her. She prayed for guidance and had long talks with her mom about her future: "I came to realize that God had other plans for me at that time."

And there were some tremendous benefits to the forced break. Swoopes got to spend quality time with her son Jordan, who turns 14 in June.

Jordan Eric Jackson has a strong connection to the WNBA as mother and son made debuts in 1997. Swoopes helped lead the Comets to the league's first championship in 1997 shortly after giving birth.

By Bob Child, AP

Sheryl Swoopes, shown here at the 2005 All-Star Game, shows off her MVP trophy to her son Jordan. Swoopes helped launch the WNBA in 1997, the same year Jordan was born.

Jackson grew up with the league, a regular attendee at games who traveled with his mother as a youngster. But as a full-time WNBA player and a core member of three Olympic teams, Swoopes knows she missed out on some important moments in her son's life.

"As bitter as I was about my career (in 2009-10), it was such a blessing to be able to spend so much time with my son and really be a full-time mom," she says.

Swoopes pursued other interests, making plans to start a sports agency and forming a medical supply company, which her brother will manage while she gets back to basketball.

She played overseas in Greece in 2010 and had come to accept that her WNBA career might be over. That all changed earlier this year with a phone call from an old friend.

Teresa Edwards, an assistant coach with the Shock and a former Olympic teammate, called Swoopes in February to inquire if she still wanted to play professionally. Swoopes was unsure. But after a long conversation with Shock head coach Nolan Richardson, Swoopes decided to pursue the opportunity.

Richardson brought Swoopes to Tulsa for a workout and was convinced she could contribute to the second-year team.

"Sheryl's been there and done that," Richardson says. "I thought her style of play and the way she approaches the game would be a good fit for the team. I'm not looking for 40 minutes from her, but I really believe she can help us … and she will be a great leader for the younger players."

Swoopes also believes she can still be a valuable contributor, even if she just turned 40 in March. Perhaps not be a fast as she was when she dominated the league on offense and defense — winning three Defensive Player of the Year awards — Swoopes says her skills are still there. And so is her basketball knowledge, an asset for the young Shock.

"I think I have a lot of experience and a lot of things I can teach some of these young kids, not just about basketball but about life," she says.

"I've accomplished everything a person can accomplish on a basketball court, but I never thought about the future when I was younger. I never made plans for the next stage in my life. It was a wakeup call, and I don't want these younger players to end up in the same boat that I was."

One young player Swoopes could help mentor is 20-year-old center Elizabeth Cambage, the No. 2 overall pick in last month's WNBA draft. The 6-8 center from Australia is likely to be a focal point of the Shock's offense, and Swoopes wants to do what she can to help take the pressure off the rookie.

"Cambage has so much potential," Swoopes says. "I'm really excited to get out on the court with her. And I hope to give her a few assists, both on the court and off."

Swoopes also relishes the ability to give back to the fans, then end her career on her own terms, although she quickly points out that this isn't a farewell tour.

"I don't' know how much longer I will keep playing; obviously this season in Tulsa will determine a lot," Swoopes says. "But I wouldn't have signed with them if I didn't think I could still play. I may be older, but the competitive fire is still there and I'm excited about the possibilities."


WNBA moms and their offspring
More than a dozen WNBA players have children:
Player Team Children
Kara Braxton Phoenix Mercury Son Alena born Jan. 2005
Helen Darling San Antonio Silver Stars Triplets Ja-Juan, Jalen and Neveah
born April 2002
Marie Ferdinand-Harris Phoenix Mercury Son Cedric born June 2006
Marion Jones Tulsa Shock Son Monty born June 2003; son Amir born July
2007; daughter Eva-Marie born June 2009
Taj McWilliams-Franklin Minnesota Lynx Daughter Michele born Sept. 1988; daughter
Maia born Jan. 2003
Candace Parker Los Angeles Sparks Daughter Lailaa born May 2009
Jia Perkins San Antonio Silver Stars Daughter Aalirah born June 2004
Andrea Riley Tulsa Shock Daughter Tiana born March 2011
Scholanda Robinson San Antonio Silver Stars Daughter Aishida born Jan. 2003
Sheryl Swoopes Tulsa Shock Son Jordan born June 1997
Tina Thompson Los Angeles Sparks Son Dyllan born May 2005
DeMya Walker Connecticut Sun Daughter Zachara born April 2006
Le'coe Willingham Seattle Storm Son Derrick born Feb. 2001

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