Tina Thompson ready to retire
Legend looks forward to spending even more time with 8-year-old son, Dyllan
Tina Thompson finds herself on the couch in her Seattle home some evenings, bone weary and feeling the toll that nearly two decades of year-round professional basketball has taken on her body. And her 8-year-old son Dyllan will come downstairs.
"He'll say, 'You look tired, Mom,'" Thompson says. "Then he tells me to get some rest and that he'll come down and check on me. And I see him peeking in on me."
Still, when Thompson told Dyllan that this would be her last WNBA season, that she would be retiring, he cried.
"He doesn't want me to retire, but he sees that I'm tired," Thompson said. "I think once he sees that we will be able to do things more, go to the park, and run around for as long as we want. Or go out on bikes or go swimming and not have to worry about whether I have a game tomorrow, or that I don't need ice and rest all the time, his perspective will change."
Because Thompson's mind is not changing. She's not budging, no matter how productive she has been in a 17-year WNBA career, becoming the league's all-time leading scorer and the only player in its history to tally 7,000 points and 3,000 rebounds.
She is the WNBA's last original player. She was the No. 1 pick in the inaugural 1997 draft. She won four championships in Houston, two Olympic gold medals and was a nine-time All-Star. And Thompson's final season has been anything but a fade into the sunset. She has been the anchor on the floor for a Seattle Storm team missing its two brightest stars -- Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Thompson, 38, is the Storm's leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. This is her best season since 2010, when Thompson played in Los Angeles.
"I could score 30 points a night, and it would not change my decision," Thompson said. "As great as it looks -- I know some people think I could play five more years, and I appreciate the confidence -- but you do not wake up with me in the morning. You are not there when I swing my legs over the bed and put my heels down. Your opinion would change.
TWO LEGENDS READY TO RETIRE
After 15 seasons in the WNBA, Katie Smith's career will come to a close Sunday as New York plays its regular-season finale. Tina Thompson, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA's inaugural draft in 1997, heads to the playoffs with Seattle. Her 17-year career will end when the Storm's season ends.
"It does not feel good. I feel tired all the time. Does it stop the things I have to do for my team? No. But at the same time, I don't always want to have to dig deep and push through. I'm over it."
The truth is, this legendary career might have been over a lot sooner, had it not been for the bright, easygoing little boy who has been around the world and back with his mother in his lifetime.
"He's absolutely allowed me to have the career I've had," Thompson said. "If he wasn't comfortable to be in any setting in my life, I would have changed it. Dyllan is my priority. The fact that he's been so adaptable has allowed me to have the longevity I do have."
Thompson was preparing to head into her ninth WNBA season with the Houston Comets in 2005 when she announced she was pregnant. After giving birth to Dyllan in May, she returned to the court two months later, admittedly nervous about how she was going to juggle her new role as a mother with her old one as a basketball player. Dyllan's father, Damon Jones, is a former NBA player. Thompson has always been her son's primary caregiver.
"The timing wasn't the easiest, but I was having a baby and I was going to have to work it out," Thompson said. "I decided almost immediately that Dyllan was going to travel with me. I couldn't play and not have my child with me."
And so it was that Dyllan became part of the team, every team, that Thompson would play for in the next eight years. He was a regular on the bus, in the locker room, on team flights and hotel rooms. He curled up in the laps of coaches and teammates, sat through more games than he could probably count.
"I didn't sleep much, I remember that," Thompson said of those early days. "Even now, I don't remember how I did it."
She did it with the help of her mother, Lady, who often traveled with her and still comes up to Seattle to be with her daughter and grandson during this final WNBA run.
"We are like a little crew," Thompson said.
Thompson had Sheryl Swoopes as a role model for motherhood when she was in Houston. Later, Thompson mentored Candace Parker, who gave birth to daughter Lailaa before her second WNBA season. In fact, Thompson was a role model for many, even before her teammates became mothers.
"I watched her closely," Parker said. "A lot of the things I do with my daughter, not being afraid to have her along for the ride or having her in the mix is reflective of what Tina did with Dyllan."
Parker spent a lot of time with Thompson and her son long before her own daughter was born. Parker was in the room when Dyllan took his first steps.
"I was always around them," Parker said. "It was cool to learn from her and then come back and be the only mother on the [Olympic] team in 2012 [in London]."
Bird was Thompson's teammate both on the U.S. national team and on Spartak Moscow in Russia during the long WNBA offseason.
"Tina has done an amazing job with Dyllan," Bird said. "He is her priority. I'm lucky to be able to spend time around them. He has always been great, even as a 2-year-old. He's so laid-back. He rolled with the punches better than some of the adults do. He literally brightened our days.
A look at key moments in Tina Thompson's 17-year WNBA career (via WNBA.com):
• April 1997: Selected No. 1 overall in inaugural draft
• August 1997: Helped Comets win inaugural championship
• September 1998: Won second straight title with Houston
• July 1999: Named West starter in inaugural All-Star Game
• September 1999: Comets clinch three-peat
• July 2000: Named All-Star Game MVP
• August 2000: Helped Houston win fourth consecutive title
• July 2001: Top vote-getter among Western Conference players in All-Star voting
• August 2004: Helped Team USA win gold at Athens Olympics
• June 2006: Named to WNBA's All-Decade Team
• August 2008: Won second gold medal with USA Basketball in Beijing Games
• March 2009: Signed with Los Angeles Sparks
• August 2010: Became the WNBA's all-time leading scorer
• July 2011: Named one of WNBA's top 15 players of all time
• February 2012: Signed with Seattle Storm
• September 2012: First WNBA player to score 7,000 career points
• May 2013: Set record for most games started (437 starts)
• June 2013: Set mark for most games played (464)
• August 2013: Third WNBA player to reach 3,000 career rebounds
"He's honestly one of my favorite people to hang out with."
Thompson, a Los Angeles native who played at the University of Southern California, said Dyllan has "adapted unbelievably" to their basketball life, the only one he knows.
"It's as if he was made especially for me and my life," Thompson said.
Thompson's three seasons in Los Angeles after the Comets folded made family life easier. Dyllan was able to stay with relatives, spend time with his young cousins, enroll in school. This summer, as it turned out, he spent a lot of time in L.A. while Thompson traveled with the Storm.
But the past few seasons overseas, Dyllan was with his mom in Korea. Thompson home-schooled him, a task that sometimes left her retreating to the bathroom to take a few deep breaths to vent her frustration.
"Being his mom and his teacher was hard," Thompson said. "But we got a routine going."
Thompson said her son has managed to "have a good time wherever he is."
"He makes friends easily, he plays with kids of all ages. He's great with adults. He enjoys every environment he's in."
But Thompson acknowledges that Dyllan is at an age now where he might want to play a sport, and his attachment to his friends grows stronger. It's time to do something new as a family and treasure the memories of what they've already had together.
"I feel like it's worked out perfectly," Thompson said. "He's been able to experience things that kids just don't have the ability to experience. It's his reality. He is friends with LeBron [James] and Dwight Howard. He hangs out with Chris Paul. He gets to see people for who they are. He knows they are exceptional players, but he doesn't want their autograph. He's close with Sue and Diana [Taurasi]. He just has these experiences and they are very normal to him. He realizes it and he loves it, but he's not affected by it.
"It's awesome, and also very weird."
Dyllan will begin third grade when he and Thompson arrive home in Houston at the end of the WNBA season, the end of a legendary career, the end of the days when his mom was a professional basketball player, one of the best of all time.
"I know he's going to miss it," Thompson said. "He loves being in the arena. He revels in it. We've had an amazing experience and of course there have been sacrifices, but I've been able to mother him. That's my No. 1 job and I've been able to do that his entire life. So it all balances out."
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