Three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes in a media day interview with SBN's Swish Appeal.
For better or worse, Tulsa Shock wing Sheryl Swoopes is among the most recognizable names in women's sports at least partially for the thing that shows up in the opening paragraph of her Wikipedia entry: her immense talent on both ends of the court earned her lofty comparisons to NBA legend Michael Jordan and the honor of becoming the first woman to have a shoe line named after her.
Yet unlike the other supposed "heir apparents" in basketball, Swoopes has carved out her own niche in basketball history, winning four WNBA championships with the Houston Comets teams that dominated the early years of the league as well as three MVPs and three WNBA Defensive Player of the Year awards after winning a NCAA National Championship at Texas Tech.
However, her career took a jarring turn when the Seattle Storm unceremoniously released her early in 2009, on the weekend before her contract would have become guaranteed.
"I think initially, things just kind of happened really fast," Swoopes said in a media teleconference announcing her return to the WNBA back in March after a two season hiatus. "And to be honest with you, when Seattle released me I thought there was an opportunity for me to go and play somewhere. Don't know with who or where. And then when that opportunity didn't happen, it just kind of hit me. Like, ok, now it's time for me to move on and I've just got to figure out what else I'm going to do and where I'm going to go from here. That was a couple of years ago. It' probably took me a minute to deal with it and to understand what had just happened."
Swoopes had been one of a trio of All-Star signings for the Storm in 2008 - which included current Storm forward Swin Cash - and seemed to position her for a fifth ring and the franchise for their second WNBA title. Unfortunately, injuries to Swoopes and their other aging stars led to a disappointing first round loss to the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round of the 2008 playoffs.
"What a lot of people don't understand, and again I don't want to continue to talk about what happened in Seattle before or anything like that, but what a lot of people don't know or realize is that my last two seasons in the WNBA, I played injured," Swoopes said. "When I was with Houston I had a bad back. I was getting injections in my back just to make it through practice. I finally took a summer - I went and did back surgery and when I came back Seattle signed me and I wasn't 100%. I think Coach Agler knew that and understood that, but I came back."
Now at age 40, Swoopes returns to Seattle as a member of the Shock for a preseason game (Sunday 2 p.m. at KeyArena) to face the team that released her into what Tulsa World writer Jimmie Tramel described as "exile" and eventually made the type title run that many people expected her to be a part of back in 2008.
While past reports have described Swoopes as "hurt and disappointed", that chapter of her legacy is in the past now.
Swoopes is ready for the Shock's preseason contest with Seattle. | Tulsa World
Two WNBA seasons passed and nobody took a chance on a three-time league MVP who needed back surgery in 2007.
Then Shock coach Nolan Richardson decided he could use - on and off the court - a 40-year-old veteran. Swoopes was asked following a recent practice if she feels like she has anything to prove in her return to Seattle.
"No. That was three years ago," she said.
Championship glory isn't likely to figure prominently into this latest chapter of Swoopes' legacy. In the Shock's first season in Tulsa after relocating from Detroit, they struggled to a league-worst 6-28 record amid constant roster and lineup changes.
As she said in the media day interview above, her primary goal this season is simply to help the team win more games than last year, whether that be from contributions of the court or a championship mentality off of it. Nevertheless, Swoopes is clearly appreciative of the opportunity to finish out her career on her own terms.
Sheryl Swoopes is Ready to Shock the WNBA in Tulsa - Swish Appeal
"I just think sometimes when we are in a situation or when things are kind of given to us, we might not appreciate them as much," Swoopes said. "But then when things are kind of taken away from you regardless of how it was taken away - whether it was your fault, someone else's fault, whether you could control it or not - and to be given a second opportunity or another chance, I just think you kind of appreciate that a little bit more."