Thursday, March 12, 2009
Thompson headed home to L.A.
LOS ANGELES -- Tina Thompson was a player without a team. Now, the WNBA veteran is coming home to join the Los Angeles Sparks, and wearing No. 32 in honor of Magic Johnson.
Her signing was announced Thursday, 3½ months after Thompson's former team, the Houston Comets, were disbanded.
"It's a pleasure to be home again," she said after being greeted by applause at a news conference. "I've been away quite a while now. The feelings are a little overwhelming. I never expected to be in this position."
She starred at Morningside High in nearby Inglewood before going on to Southern California, where she and new teammate Lisa Leslie played together. Thompson is the WNBA's second-leading career scorer behind Leslie.
Thompson, who was the league's No. 1 overall draft pick in its inaugural season of 1997, averaged 18.1 points and 6.9 rebounds for the Comets last season.
She was expecting to finish her career in Houston. Instead, the franchise shut down in December when new owners couldn't be found.
"It was a complete shock," Thompson said. "It was definitely disappointing because the history in Houston was so rich."
The 34-year-old forward led the Comets to four league championships, while averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds during her 12-year pro career.
"I was very close to retiring. I wanted to end everything there," she said.
Thompson said she had discussions with San Antonio, Connecticut and Washington before signing a multiyear deal with the Sparks. Financial terms were not disclosed.
"I will take it as it goes and re-evaluate at the end of the year," she said, patting her 3-year-old son Dylan, whose head rested in his mom's lap.
Family played a big part in Thompson's decision to come home. Her mother, who lived in Houston during the season, lives in Los Angeles, as does her 89-year-old grandmother, who attends Thompson's games.
"My basketball ties are very strong here," she said. "There's nothing like being at home."
Leslie figured in Thompson's decision, too.
"Lisa kind of cornered me at All-Star weekend in Phoenix," she said. "I had to decide whether I wanted to play again. I was so burned out and I had played so much basketball and I was tired."
Thompson's presence gives the Sparks four Olympians on their roster. Along with Leslie, Candace Parker and DeLisha Milton-Jones helped the U.S. win a gold medal at the Beijing Games. Seattle had five Olympians on its team last year.
Parker, last season's rookie of the year and league MVP, is expecting her first child and is expected to miss at least part of the season that begins in June.
"The acquisition of Tina Thompson obviously puts me back in the hot seat," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "I'm not going to go as far as saying I'm guaranteeing a championship, but I believe every year we can win a championship."
Los Angeles won back-to-back WNBA titles in 2001 and '02.
"Tina, you've always been on my wish list," general manager Penny Toler said. "It's going to be great. We're about to make a run."
Thompson will be wearing No. 32, with Johnson's blessing. His number is retired and hangs in the rafters at Staples Center, where the Sparks and Lakers play.
"I've always been a big fan of Tina's going back to her days here at USC," Johnson said in a statement. "With her championship experience down in Houston, she has what it takes to help Lisa, Coop and the Sparks bring a championship back to L.A."
Thompson said she'll have no problem playing alongside Leslie, who figures to get most of the attention in what will be her final season before retiring.
"I'm probably the opposite of Lisa when it comes to the idea of the press and the attention," she said, adding that she tried to discourage the Sparks from having a news conference to announce her signing.
Thompson's appearance Thursday was low-key, with no trace of her famous red lipstick on her unadorned lips.
"I only wear the lipstick during games," she said, smiling.