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tina thompsonThe first time I saw Tina Thompson play basketball, I was impressed by two things. First, her versatility on the court and second, her ruby red lips.  Thompson epitomized the notion of “Pretty Tough” and I was riveted by this athlete who proudly flaunted her physicality and personality.  When she played with the LA Sparks, it was always a rush seeing her tear down the court and shoot – her pursed lips a beacon of focus and strength.

This week, the 38-year old Thompson hung up her uniform – but probably not her MAC Diva lipstick – for good.  When the Lynx defeated the Storm to sweep  the Western Conference semifinals, Thompson bid adieu to fans in an emotional farewell.   Lynx players posed with Thompson after their victory demonstrating both awe and respect.

The first No. 1 draft pick in league history, Thompson wrapped her championship- and gold medal-winning career as the lead scorer for her play-off team.   She is the last of the WNBA’s charter members still playing, but even after a stellar season that proved she still has it, she is ready to walk away. Not because she can’t play anymore, but because after a record-setting 17 seasons she wants new challenges.  Thompson retired on her terms but has left an indelible mark on women’s sports.

Growing up on the courts of Robertson Park in West Los Angeles, Thompson played on the perimeter against her brother and other neighborhood boys. In high school, as a teammate of Lisa Leslie at Morningside in Inglewood, she moved inside. Together, she and Leslie would go on to play at USC and much later reunite with the LA Sparks. Apparently it was at USC that Thompson first sported the red lipstick – and after a really good game it became part of her uniform for the next two decades.

Something about Thompson’s process certainly worked. On Monday, she ended her career as the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, four-time champion and the only woman to play in every season of the professional league. She proved she not only could hammer with the best around the rim, but she could step outside with a long-range jumper. Thompson’s WNBA record 7,488 career points and 16,000+ minutes played stand as a statistical tribute to her ability and durability. She has nearly 1000 more points than No. 2 Katie Smith.

Diana Taurasi, who was Thompson’s teammate in this year’s All-Star game said:

“When Tina retires, no one should be able to wear Diva ever again in the WNBA. I think her jersey should be retired in every arena. If you play in the WNBA, that should be your goal: to be like Tina Thompson.”

Before the WNBA came calling Thompson was working toward becoming a lawyer at USC. That career path is not out of the question, although her son Dyllan is her primary concern now. In her last post-game press conference Thompson reveals that while  the basketball chapter of her life is now closed, it can’t be replaced. Throughout her career, and her life, she has had no regrets and it is that philosophy that drives her as a player and a mom.  A true legacy and considered by many to be the ultimate player, Thompson will be missed on the court but never forgotten.

Thompson, who went out in style,  said that now that basketball is behind her, all job offers are welcome. Somehow I don’t think she’ll be unemployed for long!

Her reflections:

September 24, 2013
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