Sheryl Swoopes' finishing move
In 2009, founding WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes was waived by the Seattle Storm. This season, Swoopes is making a return to the league with a new team, the Tulsa Shock. She's acquired almost every accolade the league offers: seven All-Star appearances, four titles, three MVPs and three defensive player of the year awards. She's a three-time Olympic gold medalist and the first female basketball player to have a sneaker named after her: Air Swoopes. Now Swoopes is back to write her own ending to an illustrious career.
espnW: How did you feel when you were released from the Storm?
Sheryl Swoopes: I was surprised, but at that point there was nothing I could do about it, so at that point I moved on to other things in my life.
espnW: During your two-year hiatus from the WNBA you played in Europe and Russia. Is there a huge difference from the WNBA style of play and the style overseas?
SS: Coming back to the WNBA style of play, I had to get used to intense practices, one-on-one play and full-court defense. We didn't do any of that overseas. I told myself I can't quit. There are so many women out there relying on me to represent them.
espnW: What thoughts went through your mind when contemplating a comeback?
SS: I never really officially retired from the WNBA, I just left the doors open. When [Tulsa Shock] coach [Teresa] Edwards approached me about returning, I kept thinking, "Do I really want to do this?" I talked it over with my family and prayed about it. When God said, "This is the path I want you to take, and this is the plan I have for you," that was all the confirmation I needed to return to the WNBA. This is what God wants me to do, so I left it in his hands.
espnW: How will life change for your family now that you are returning to the WNBA?
SS: My son, who will be 14 years old in July, understands the demands basketball puts on me. He knows that Mommy is not just a mommy anymore, she is a professional athlete. I'm also blessed to have my mother there for me. She is very supportive and helps take care of him. That eases my mind and takes a lot of pressure off of me.
espnW: By returning to pro sports at 40, you've become an inspiration to many women. Do you have any advice for women who still desire to be an athlete but think their athletic prime has passed?
SS: I've always been a firm believer in mind over matter. If you don't believe you can achieve, your body will start to believe this and you'll be stuck. You have to be positive, and I'm not just talking about athletics, this also applies to life. I'm 40, playing against girls half my age. But they keep me young. My age may be 40 but my body doesn't feel like it.
espnW: Now that you're 40, does your body work as well as it used to? Have any parts of your game suffered?
SS: When I got on the court, I found out that I'm not as quick as I used to be and can't jump as high. But my shot is still there; I can never really lose that. It's like riding a bike.
espnW: Preparation is key in life and sports, so what did you do to get in shape for this season?
SS: I really didn't have lots of time to get ready. I had a good two months to get conditioned before training camp so I did lots of running and ballhandling drills in the gym and at home. My routine was work out in the morning, then weightlifting and running at night.
espnW: Now that the season has begun, how are you adjusting to coach Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" system, which includes full-court pressure defense and quick offensive plays?
SS: I love his system. It's a great system for anybody who is an athlete. It's not a system where the ball has to go through certain players. With the system he runs, it's kind of a free-for-all. If I were about 10 years younger, I would have loved to play in a system like this. Now, I'm just glad I survived the week of two-a-days in training camp.
espnW: Does playing with younger girls make you feel like a mother figure on the team?
SS: I don't feel like a mom. I feel like a veteran leader they can talk to. I also try to inform them about the importance of being prepared for life after basketball. Some of us have played this game all our life and it can be taken away in the blink of an eye. What will you do then? We need to be prepared for that.
espnW: How many years do you think you will continue to play basketball?
SS: Honestly, I haven't even thought about it. I'm just focusing on this year and seeing how my body feels at the end of the season and we will go from there.
espnW: When we look back in 10 years, who will have had the better comeback: Michael Jordan, Brett Favre or Sheryl Swoopes?
SS: [Laughs] I haven't even looked at it like that. Others consider it a comeback, but I don't. I think I can still compete with the best of them and I can still play. This is my chance to go out the right way.