Tina Thompson has a simple reason for deciding to retire from the WNBA after this season: she's just looking to slow things down.
"I'm just simply tired," said the Seattle Storm forward, who announced in the opening week that her 17th year in the league would be her last. "I'm tired of the long days. My son is 8 years old and now his life is a little more complicated. He has activities and things, so the older he gets the more things get added to my plate. ... I'm just at a place where I want to do something a little less strenuous both mentally and physically."
Thompson, the last remaining player from the league's debut season in 1997, has accomplished a lot in her career. She was part of the Houston Comets team that won the league's first four championships, she was selected to the All-Star team nine times — winning the midseason contest's MVP honor in 2000 — and she is the league's all-time scoring leader with 7,146 points entering the weekend.
New York's Katie Smith, who also has said she is retiring after her 15th season in the WNBA, is second on the career scoring list with 6,313 points.
So, with about 23 games remaining in her final season, how would Thompson want to be remembered?
"Probably more than anything that I was a consummate professional," the 38-year-old forward said. "That I played the game without regrets and I respected it. I gave everything that I had when I was out there. ... The accolades and stuff like that were just a product of hard work."
Above everything — the team titles, two Olympic gold medals, and individual honors — Thompson said she's most proud of her longevity.
"Of course we won championships, the whole first dynasty thing and all that kind of stuff. That's all great," she said. "(But) I've been blessed to play 17 seasons. That's just not something that happens all the time and I've been able to do it almost injury-free, and at a very high level. I know that I'm very proud of that."
Along with her scoring prowess, Thompson is third in career rebounds with 2,296 — just 87 behind Taj McWilliams-Franklins for second — and 3-pointers made (715), and ninth in blocks (357). Not bad for someone who wasn't thinking about a basketball career before the NBA announced its intent to start the women's league in 1996 after the popularity generated by the U.S. national team's gold medal-winning effort at the Atlanta Olympics.
"I was studying to take the LSAT and I was preparing to go to law school," Thompson said. "All this happened when I had already kind of had my life planned out. (Then) I was just expecting to play in the WNBA a few years, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing and I didn't want to pass it up. I wanted to at least give it a shot.
"I hadn't planned on playing professional basketball overseas or anything like that. I had only aspired to play Olympic basketball. ... I could have never thought it would be like this and I would have been able to do the things that I have done."
Now, the Los Angeles native — who was teammates with former Sparks star Lisa Leslie in high school (Morningside in Inglewood, Calif.), college (Southern California) and the WNBA — says her options after the season include pursuing a career in broadcasting.
She hasn't ruled out still going to law school, though she knows it will be tougher now than if she had done it right after college.
"I don't know if I would practice law in a court room or anything like that," she said. "By the time I finish law school I'll be early to mid-40s. ... It'll be a longer process than it would have been (earlier). ... It's not something that I've said I don't want to do, I still have those aspirations. I'd have to figure out how I could get it done."
Thompson also isn't sure if she'll continue playing overseas in the winters, saying she's had offers, but hasn't decided whether or not to take them. For now, she's just thinking about having "a normal schedule."
Thompson acknowledged this season hasn't been easy, as the Storm are without injured stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Still, with a mix of youngsters and veterans like Thompson, Tanisha Wright, Camille Little and Temeka Johnson, Seattle entered the weekend fourth in the Western Conference, 2½ games behind first-place Minnesota and 1½ games ahead of fifth-place San Antonio.
"Lauren and Sue have been the face and energy behind the franchise for such a long time," Thompson said. "We know we're going to be more of a blue-collar team and we're going to have to grind games out, so that's the personality we're taking on and everyday we're working at it."
Thompson is on the verge of finishing her final visits to Eastern Conference cities in the next few days, having played at Atlanta and Connecticut last month and Indiana and Chicago earlier this week. The Storm play at Washington on Saturday and wrap up a four-game trip at New York on Tuesday. She still has at least one game left in each Western Conference city.
Thompson said she's not approaching the last visits any differently than before and isn't accustomed to the attention that comes with it.
"The fanfare, it's really not my personality or who I am," she said. "But I appreciate the WNBA and what it's given me. ... So, the motive behind me announcing my retirement at the beginning of the season was just me giving myself the opportunity to say kind of farewell and the fans being able to do that for me, the respect and appreciation I have for them supporting me and the WNBA throughout my career."
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